It started as an observation earlier this year by our wonderfully, bright middle child. We were having dinner at Kiss Kiss in Balmoral, Auckland, when he turned to me, beaming, fingers covered in sticky rice. “Our family love to party, don’t we? We’re always partying!”
I knew what he meant. We celebrate life to the full, grateful for the existence of each other – we try to make every moment count.
Later that night, while all three boys drifted off to sleep and my partner tapped busily away on her laptop, I thought about the party of my own childhood during the '90s. It had been just the two of us – mum and me against the world – flatting across Aukilani (Auckland) at the beginning of a new dawn for Moana creativity.
I was often the only child flitting around dinner parties, in conversation with galactic talents such as the late Pauly Fuemana, Dr Caroline Vercoe, and Lemi Ponifasio. There was a crackling exuberance edged in razor blade brilliance that generated an energy live enough to raise the dead, it seemed. It wasn’t unusual to observe performance rehearsals in the lounge and hear early drafts of work over the kitchen table.
I was witness to the blank canvases slowly transforming into cultural milestones; soaking up living-room talanoa that would change the arts landscape of Aotearoa forever.
Some of the most powerful memories from that time are small and tender moments through endless uncertainty. My mother created “magic walks”. We would step out of the front door and I was in sole charge of the path ahead. Every corner turned, every golden leaf collected, the eventual decision when to turn back home – I navigated these adventures.
When I wrote The Adventures of Tupaia, I remember coming across initial understandings of differing world views, ways of seeing that appeared incongruous. Those who dared pierce the walls of our heavens, as every island maintained its own star-scape, its own intrinsic pathway to eternity. To leave your own stars was to leave your own story. The narrative remained intact, above your lands, awaiting your return.
We marked our two-year anniversary of being a blended family a few months ago in late July. Two years of my heart expanding to the size of Te Ika-a-Māui, the North Island; two years of learning the depths of love founded beyond biology. “How do I love thee, let me count thy number of nappies changed, to prove this is the real thing.”
We planned an entire week of celebrating with the kids: from visiting penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s to dinner at a five-star restaurant. While swimming at the hotel pool (this was one of the many events that we all unanimously agreed to) our youngest threw his little arms around my neck and planted a huge kiss on my cheek. “You wished for me and I came down to you from a star!” He couldn’t see the tears in my eyes – I blamed it on the chlorine. I watched him kick out away from me, bobbing in his life jacket before returning and paddling off further than before.
Who knew that a month later, the Delta variant would arrive in Auckland or that on day 80 of this unbelievable lockdown I’d pen this very column. Week one we planned movie night – overflowing bowls of buttery popcorn, the lounge completely rearranged into a duvet fortress. Lights out, just like the cinema. That was the easy part, we had to cross the last hurdle of agreeing on a film to watch. I sang out in the dark, something cheesy, made up in the moment, think R&B vintage early '90s: “When are we gonna stop the party?” A little voice replied, “Never, never, never!”
While each week has brought many challenges and the lockdown continuing beyond our expectations (and at times our capabilities) we face the unknown with considerable creative verve. As a bubble we have made new paintings, drawings, poems, stories, raps and songs. Every day has become a magic walk.
The reward of “forgoing certainty” for eventual creative resolution is close to the promise of James K Baxter’s “golden crown beyond the tomb”. To toil and endure despite the conditions in light of something greater. To metaphorically machete a pathway through the long grass of the vā for those who come after us.
In actively operating beyond our comfort zone, living with and within change, piercing through the membrane of our own known stars in pursuit of new stories, we set a course for joy – regardless of the odds.