The stars fell from their concrete pits and burned holes in my empty eyes. All imagination blurred into nothing.
The screws turned on and a new form of life that exists in the horizons of never entered my consciousness. Clever me, I stopped my heartbeat and switched off the pulsars that quivered inside.
I can no longer hide.
Bury my hatchets in the sand, grand visions gone as the dunes blow themselves to smithereens. It’s a careening type of dream that does not stop, but instead bleeds forth forever into the empty sea.
No push and pull of the tides, they no longer strum a glissando of harmony. It’s just me. I do not miss the discordant music.
I used to yearn.
Today the clocks stopped ticking their madness and the pitiful play of pretence danced, daringly close to the edge of the stage… I am no longer really here at all.
I no longer fall.
Instead I call upon my pasts to manifest my present into a hardened future. A solid mass of distance that floats where the sky once washed upon a shore of fiery water. I used to bathe my body in the redness, the madness of caring.
Fearing to walk a robotic pace, a graceless mess of glitter spilled into the space I knew I should occupy. But today that has changed, and I grind my cogs into myself anew.
I don’t care that I am an alien existence, on this planet of feeling. I don’t want to feel anything. I just want to walk.
I no longer stumble, instead I tumble forgetting back into the blackness where it belongs. These songs are just mechanical anyway.
I pray to the void, and it offers its emotions of darkness.
This is where I feel safe.
And so I live again.
I am in my supervisor’s studio today in Davis. She is a Professor in Native American Studies at UC Davis. I am extremely lucky to have the PhD committee I do, all three of them are extremely incredible, which I suppose says a lot about my ability to surround myself with strength.
I have already written about how strange the past few months have been for me… lots of change to deal with and struggle against, or fall into.
The tides have changed, and I am beginning to feel that in many respects, they have indeed changed forever.
A few years ago whilst doing my MFA, I realised that rather than being gay, I am a feminine presence inhabiting a masculine body. Today, I completely reject being described as gay and in fact, I find it offensive.
Part of my PhD journey is to use my creative practice to reformulate my gendered sense of self. It has been difficult, because even though I have a beautiful masculine body that requires little maintenance in order to stay looking quite gorgeous, I have hated it. I have always looked in the mirror and found fault everywhere. In the past few years I have begun to reprogram my mind to love my body, and to see it as something I should nurture and enjoy. It is not easy to live with such extreme dysmorphia, but I tend to think that the commodified reality we live within, body dysmorphia is more common than it should be.
Over the past few years, I have been engaged in a process of gender reassignment. I can’t foresee that I will traumatise my body through surgery, not because I fear, but because I am beginning to love my body as it is. This means, that in order for me to reassign my gender, I need to engage in a process where I commit to my gendered mind as feminine, and my gendered body as masculine, and thus, recontextualise the world around me in order for people to know that I am equally feminine and masculine at once. I suppose my intent is to create a space for a third type of gender. I don’t really believe that my mind and body are of separate genders, but rather I simply accept social dogma concerning gender and the body. Until now of course.
In order for me to do this, I have embarked on a journey of self-love. It started in 2011, after spending time on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Alaska. Not long afterward I was invited to a sweat lodge, and prayed to my ancestors to help me love myself. It was the only prayer I had, and at first the Medicine person was surprised. I figured that if I could love myself, then I could achieve anything, and that if I could achieve anything, then I would be able to do good work for myself and the people I care about in this life.
The strangeness I have experienced over the past few months is part of that process, because I fell into the trap of constantly subordinating the person I am committing to being. It’s interesting how loving another person, can often mean not loving ourselves. Love can be a trap, because we want others to love us, but because everyone searches so hard for external sources of love, nobody is really loving themselves. As a result, we live in a loveless world.
It is the equinox, a time to restore balance. For me, being gender balanced, times like the present are important. These are the times when it is impossible to escape internal conflicting self-dialogues. It can be a nightmare, because to follow my masculine and emotional-self leaves me feeling battered; to follow my logical and often cold feminine-self leaves me feeling devoid of anything.
I have come to the conclusion that the only way forward is to leave my body to feel whatever it needs, and my mind to compute itself to stillness. In the between space, sanity prevails, because really, there is no separation between body and mind. The dualism described by Descartes is a myth, the body is the mind and the mind is the body.
Today I am writing a paper. I have been writing it for what seems like an eternity, and the whole time I have been battling the tension of inner conflict. I keep switching between still ability, and fidgety torment, but today am feeling more like the person I am becoming.
This blog is a place for me to track my process. As an artist I am selfish, in that I make work to help me process my reality. I know I have an audience and I know that people enjoy what I create, but my work is in truth for an audience of one. If I do not create I die. I have posted a resolved work on this blog today, and it is titled ‘Tawhanga’, which is my name. I have posted it here, because although it is a resolved artwork, it is part of another process.
I enjoy this digital artwork because I when I look at it I see myself looking directly back at me. Normally, my self-portraits are in profile or three-quarter profile as a reference to my great-great-grandfather, Tene Waitere. He was a master carver of my tribe, and is regarded as the first Maori carver to enter the global market. He was also the first carver to carve in three-quarter profile. He forever changed my tribes carving style and his powerful influence began the trajectory toward contemporary Maori art aesthetics.
Actually, he engaged in a lot of firsts and created the pathway I now walk.
I follow a good path, and create my own.
Rainbows kept following me.
It was a funny few days and nights fighting a feeling of light at the end of the tunnel, smoking weed through a funnel. I felt alive.
I looked at the dead me, the ‘me’ who never drew breath, the ‘me’ who lived in that empty whare caring for myselfishmess whilst not caring about anything at all; deaf heart not ever hearing me call. Fall over and over and over again tripping up on my lip as it dragged on the floor. My mother in the real world always said to me, “you had better pick that lip up or you’ll trip over on it”, and so I did. Juju lips of doom feeling dreary, wary of the night-time features hiding in the cupboards with the cobwebbed flies (the spiders had already sucked out all their yellowed juice). But at least they are my lips.
I speak a dime a dozen, frozen in the icicled graveyard. Too much hard yakka, Yackety yack, don’t talk.
Back to the rainbows…
I had been crying a lot that week. I thought I had buried the me that was dead. “Didn’t you die?”, I said. I was sure I watched you cover yourselfishmess with sand at the bottom of the sea…see me never while I rot. But yah, my heart forgot.
There was a whole other me that never lived, and my whole life long he stood next to me, mirroring my gestures. I read this story about the Yellow Emperor who went to war with the mirror people. He trapped them and enslaved them there, and salvaged the world we know. But yah, the Yellow Emperor warned that one day the mirror people would return to haunt us, they’d replicate our lives in ways that would trick us into their imaginary realm…so that we would be their puppets. That was the mirror me, the one I forgot.
He’s just a kid, just a baby, just a little juju lipped little orphan, widowed by time sitting patiently by the window…like those ads on TV of African kids sponsored by Christians. I forgot he was there all along, waiting for me, and all the while mirroring my every move.
Then all of a sudden he was standing next to me, vague and invisible but there all the same. “Hey you hori, my life isn’t a game of catch and kiss the boys, toys on speed whizzing by like flash photgraphy”. “You forgot about me”, he said. And he was right.
There were rainbows following me, and they followed me for two days as I drove home for the first time time time time in my life. No more strife. No more forgetting. No more dying.
…just rainbows following me.
I have been a bit haunted these past few weeks.
Last night I went to bed thinking about kehua, or ghosts, and of course had some pretty freaky dreams filled with zombies and hot sweats. As I was falling asleep, I kept thinking that I must have brought some kehua back with me from overseas, and I struggled to give them names and forms. Since getting back to Aotearoa, I have been smoking a lot of other people’s ciggies, and for me at least, I know that smoking cigarettes is about trying to fill a void.
I have not enjoyed thinking about what this void might be, or what over the past few months has enabled this void to appear. I perceive kehua as abstract places in the human psyche that begin to translate into the concrete realm. I know that over the past few months I have most definitely dealt with a type of emotional loss; I lost something I really really value, but at the same time, I have dealt with that loss in a very constructive way. In my dealing with that loss, I regained the aspect of self that had represented the loss of a particular value, and because I did so by surrounding myself with things I value most, rather than the many addictions I have battled with in the past, I regained a more beautiful and authentic version of what I had initially lost.
So when I woke up this morning I started to ponder again about the kehua I have brought back from overseas with me. Did I really bring kehua back, or is it more likely that I had left them behind before I left?
I suppose, if I am at home, and this is where I am experiencing the effects of kehua, then it makes sense that at home is where they are, have been, and continue to be.
So now I have identified that this, or these kehua have been part of the spatial and psychic reality of my home life, and home past, my task now is to begin to exorcise them.
The most pressing problem, or perceived problem that I have always dealt with in Aotearoa New Zealand is material poverty. I would say that I am quite rich of spirit, but that money has never really seemed important to me, mostly because I have not really ever had any. In the past two years I did manage to get my first full-time job as an artist in residence and tutor at an art school. It was really strange to have a lot of money all of a sudden, and even stranger to be offered a job doing what I enjoy the most. However, when things seem too good to be true, well, they are! The trade-off for having a good income, was having to deal with a huge amount of institutional violence in the form of bureaucracy, hierarchies of management and right-wing governance structures that constantly change. The symbolic violence was fairly easy to navigate. I simply ignored it and refused to fill in forms when they did not make sense to me. Whenever I felt bombarded with emails to do a particular thing by a given deadline, I wrote lengthy emails about why I was not prepared to do so. Even though I enjoyed the money, I resented having little time to make the kind of art that I enjoy. More than anything, I resented the feeling of having to hide the empowering pedagogy I had developed and taught. I realised that the violence was not really coming from people, but rather the institutional structure. Still, I did spend a lot of time angry at people.
In the end, I quit my job to pursue research. After all, how can one write theory about empowerment when enmeshed within oppressive structures.
It was not difficult at all to quit my job and then travel through the US and Canada with very little money. I have found that people are very welcoming when they encounter people who sidestep symbols of value like money, and exchange in things of actual value. It is very valuable to a person when they struggle with academic writing, to have someone stay with them who is able to ghostwrite and edit their research. It is very valuable to a person when they have someone stay with them who is able to help them recover from serious illness with relaxed conversation and good energy. People value those who are able to give time and aroha to their children. People value those who will listen to them when they feel unheard. Most of all, when people have more money and possessions than what most would consider normal, value can be found in honesty and the ability to peel back and describe the many layers of illusion that money and objects create; the simple truth of unconditional aroha through friendship can often be a highly sought after prize.
And so after a few weeks of dealing with an ancient addiction, I have come to know again the kehua of no money. It is hard to ignore material poverty when everyone around me struggles to buy kai, or food for their families, fix their homes, or dodge letters from collection agencies. I have most definitely been feeling poor again, even though to look at me, most people who do not know me would think me abundant with material wealth.
To exorcise this kehua; this age old foe of ‘not having enough’, I am going to drive out to Lake Tarawera to spend time with my ancestors. Whilst there I will internalise the many things of value of project into the lives of those around me, and the intrinsic value of knowing myself to be a good person.
In the history of my tribe, Tarawera was a series of four volcanic peaks which erupted in a cataclysmic fury in 1886, killing a huge number of my ancestors. The few who survived, including my great-great-grandmother Rimupae, great-great-grandfather Tene Waitere, and my great grandmother Tuhipo, did so in a meeting house named Hinemihi. Hinemihi now lives in Clandon Park in the UK. The tohunga, or spiritual worker of the time named Tuhoto Ariki, also a relative who survived, had warned of a terrible catastrophe before the eruption. He kept telling my ancestors at the onset of colonisation in New Zealand, that in our pursuit of money and wealth that the new tourism market of the time had begun to generate, things of real value were being lost. The fiction of money has indeed left a terrible scar upon my tribal landscape, and within my mind.
Time for me to finally fill that void of kehua, and beautify that scar.
Night time beckons as the sun sets; it’s semi-permanent, like a purplepink rinse….inset to black back to back night and day, it’s time to play.
I dunno, but that’s the time for me I think. Blink and you’ll miss it for sure.
I like the verge of the horizon, rising stars fading into a sparkly glitter that pulsates pulsars and quasars, planets colliding into my open eyes that see nothing but imagine what I conjure into tomorrow.
I had this dream the other night. It was weird, lots of zombies eating each other’s flesh, enmeshed in a feast of corpses clamoring for the chance to survive again, dead. I woke up thinking to myselfishmess, “what the fuck Tran?” I spent my waking moments trying to backtrack into dreams of something less like shredded dread…but I couldn’t get the smell of rotting out of my closed eyes. There’s sometimes no goodbyes, just a forward meander into a slumber-filled waking daze.
But yah, being back in the village I am missing my night-time hikoi on the sand meets the moana…a boy and her poi…flick flick flick my wrists into some thumping beatz….they’re eating away at me; leaving my soul bared to the wind that rips my skin into neatly folded retrofittings that I used to wear, but are no longer the fashion.
Fusion of yesterday and next year, that’s the shit betch!
It’s funny to think that I couldn’t even spin my poi a few months ago, and yet now they’re like the spider’s limbs that weave me believing in living again. And again, I have to confess that it all has been happening under the cover of darkness. It all hearkens back to the days when instead of walking the beach, listening to the glissando of the waves that crash passion into my gliding arms as they play the music of the moana, I instead rode my bike into the drunken roamings of “something is definitely up with than blimmin kid …we should’ve sent him to boarding school in Auckland.”
I kid you not. It’s a whole other rhythm these days and to be honest, even though I think I can figure the configured rising pitch and fall from grace, I can finally keep the pace, maker of the olden days before I lived this life I have now, when the world was all steaming mudpools, waka taua spinning mere slicing carcasses of their necessary components; a new moment in time.
Today I am getting really good at the poi.
I have been wondering, as I wander the beach at night in search of the core, listing to and fro…what does aroha look like? I listen to the waves; sometimes they have an answer or two, but I have to drown out the poi rhythms that fill my head so that I can let the perpetual push and pull me into a breathless imagining…am I crowning joy or just a little boy again?
I don’t know for sure because that river looks like it is flowing to a whole other ocean’s boring me to tears the hair from my head as I shriek and howl at the moon to wake me up in a hollow shell that I remember being familiar.
I’ll never find heaven in my aging body.
But yah, gender issues aside, or maybe not, I feel like I need to find the answer, because I feel like I should know the shape of aroha. I know so many shapes and I can tell what they mean, but this dream is elusive. It slips through my fingers as I sip the grains of blackened sand through my toes. The throes of love? Throw them into the waves as they crash, a placenta of seaweed and life on speed burning my nostrils of breathable air, suffocating the life that I once had out from the cracks, plunging myself awake as I shake off the fading memory.
“It’s all in the past” I keep thinking, as I sink into the grains of glitter. There is no future, and if that be the case then the shape of aroha must be in the now. But I can’t see it.
I keep turning my head because I imagine it must be somewhere, buried in the shallow quicksand that laps at my feet, drawing me ever into the void, where I wander in wonderment.