Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Do you know where you're going to?

Growing up as a pianist, I collected sheet music over the years and played music in my spare time, particularly piano pieces that appealed to me melodically and harmonically.  I wasn't born when Berry Gordy's movie "Mahogany" was released in 1975 but I did have the sheet music for the theme song also known as "Do you know where you're going to?" that I came across in the early 90s when I first started to learn how to play (and I was in my Motown phase).  I am also a huge fan of Michael Masser who wrote the song as he is famous for penning Whitney Houston's songs from the beginning of her career as a solo artist.

I was attracted to the piano arrangement of the song because the music was written in a difficult key to play (yes the G in G flat major stands for "great" NOT!) and I liked the fact that the piece was driven by a series of questions that forced the listener to seriously think about themselves and their reflections on decisions made that impacted on their lives.  Watching the movie again, I could hear where the main melodic motif was cleverly placed or positioned through many scenes, it was Tracey/Mahogany's theme, her quest in the film, the motif resurfacing to remind the audience about the series of questions that the song poses in the chorus and verse:

Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?

Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open doors
What are you hoping for?
Do you know?

The questions ask about the uncertainty of the future in the opening before the bridges remind us about what lead us to the questions - past experiences and past decisions that have shaped our present:

Once we were standing still in time
Chasing the fantasies and feeling all nice
You knew how I loved you, but my spirit was free
Laughing at the questions that you once asked of me

Now looking back at all we've had
We let so many dreams just slip through our hands
Why must we wait so long, before we see?
How sad the answers to those questions must be

Then we return to the questions that force us to look at what we need to focus on, how to transition our hopes, what we aspire to have to what we know is concrete:

Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open doors
What are you hoping for?
Do you know?

2013 may have looked like the bridges of this song, but we can look to the chorus and verse as a map to help navigate us to some answers - in the hope that we don't laugh too hard at the answers before we realise how the sad the answers may be.

Do you know where you're going to?
Who knows.....  let's see what 2014 will bring.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Ground control to Major Tom.....

I'm on holiday at the moment in Sydney, Australia, spending time with family.
A change of scene is always good and I'm finding that when you are on holiday, you become part of someone else's or other people's realities while you take a break from your own.

We went to see "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and found some parallels with the character to my own life and to others around me; people I have the privilege of knowing for a long period of time and those who I observe or interact with in everyday conversations, and that includes strangers.

David Bowie's "Space Oddity" plays at a pivotal moment in Walter's life when he has to make the decision to take the plunge, to move beyond the daydreams or delusions (depends on how you look at them really) and make your own reality.  I won't spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it yet, but it's not the first time that Walter Mitty has made it to the silver screen.  There is an earlier film version starring Danny Kaye.  Ron Howard contemplated doing his portrayal of the character but things didn't work out for him.

As much as Bowie sings about this conversation between Ground Control and Major Tom, I couldn't help but think that at this pivotal moment in the movie, Walter is having this very same internal conversation with himself, even when in the movie starring Ben Stiller, Kirsten Wiig's character sings the song to him to motivate him to change his behaviour and move beyond his unknown.

I guess to avoid the trappings of having these Walter Mittyesque moments ourselves in our own lives, there is an element of risk that is involved.  We must take calculated risks to live the lives we were meant to live.  If we were meant to be overly cautious, what kind of life would that make to lead?  We wouldn't really be leading at all, but spending far too much time playing things safe and not really experiencing all that life has to offer and would that mean if we chose to daydream or have delusions about what we could have, should have and would have said and done, does that mean that we spend too much time living in the never was because we never did?

As we prepare to transition from the end of this year to the new year, there will most likely be moments that you recollect when you were a bit Mittyesque and wish you could have had the courage to do things differently, do things more boldly without the fear of how you are perceived by others.  Life is too short for regrets, so celebrate your triumphs, learn from the trials and continue to move towards the me you are meant to be.

So from Major Manu to Ground Control, rather than say, Planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do, I say, Check ignition and may God's love be with you.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Who can say where the road goes, where the day flows? Only Time....

And who cay say if your love grows, as your heart chose? Only Time.......

Enya's music has always haunted me on different occasions.
I haven't been what you would call a fan, but I've always been aware of her music.

This particular song "OnlyTime" has enjoyed renewed success in the American Top 40 charts thanks to its inclusion in a clever commercial featuring Jean Claude Van Damme showing he can still do the splits (even if it is between two huge trucks, don't try this at home kids!).  I love the simple understated arpeggios in the background that help to articulate the steady pulse.  The characteristic choral synthesiser sounds that provide harmonic accompaniment to Enya's lilting melody is a classic hallmark of her music.  Enya has also featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with her eerie music once again floating its way through Middle Earth.

In this holiday season, (both Christmas and also as we prepare for the impending New Year), the song reminds me about people who you lose and how you will cope with your loss.  It also makes you think about if you are coming to a fork in the road in your life and you are forced to make a decision that could alter the direction of your life forever, will you be equipped to make a decision and how will you know if you have made the right one? (Excuse the lack of punctuation, it's one of those statements where run-on sentences just need to happen!).

I often imagine that Time is an all-seeing figure who makes notes and takes stock of what happens in history, records events and situations that play out.  Does that mean God is the surveyor of Time and that even if bad things happens it's all part of what is meant to happen so people can experience good times, happy times, sad times and bad times?

Will what we do in our Time (because we don't know how much of it we all have as individuals), mean that we have to work smarter to make the best use of our Time as a collective to make things happen that make a positive difference in the world?

I love the way the song has a book end, that the first two questions that appear, are also sung in retrograde, and even the repetitive tolling of the words "only tine", which to me also symbolises that our Time in life will come full circle, from the cradle to the grave, from earth we came and to the earth we return when we die and that repetition suggests like the ebbing of the tide, that we are running out of time.

I guess I'm wondering, when do we get to know what Time knows?
Only Time will tell?

Who cay say if your love grows as your heart chose? Only time.......
And who can say where the road goes, where the day flows?  Only time......
Who knows? Only time...... Who knows? Only time.......

Saturday, 21 December 2013

She's just a girl and she's on fire...

Continuing the theme of sisterhood (and quite timely too with the presence of the stunningly talented Ms. Keys currently on tour in the southern hemisphere) "Girl on Fire" with its message of empowerment for women has multiple layers.

I love the song for so many reasons.  As a songwriter it appeals to my penchant for multiple meanings, word play, word painting, to provide the audience with a picture, moving images in the mind, a story that people can connect with.  Lyrics are important in a song, because as much as you can find expression in the many genres of instrumental music, there is something intimate about using music as a vehicle to "say" something that may not necessarily have the same impact just said aloud.

I love the fact that this female empowerment anthem highlights the duality of women.  The song boldly announces the fierce determination of women, how they can be staunch and gutsy (totally unfeminine characteristics so we've been lead to believe), publicly seen as being no-nonsense, don't-waste-my-time, confident women while at the same privately, women shoulder their own private pain and tragedies.

So how can a girl get to be on fire?  The circumstances that surround private pain and tragedies ignites that "flame that's in her eyes" and people can "watch her when she's lighting up the night".  You can only develop one's own fire, or transform yourself to be on fire based on experiences or situations that will lead you there.  There is the sense that passion and determination to succeed will put a girl on fire, and the loneliness conjures images of coldness and isolation, the opposite of being on fire.

Calling all women out there, enjoy being on fire and don't be afraid to revel in it.
People will watch you and see flames in your eyes, and they will admire you for what you do, how you work and the impact that your fire will have on the world.  In our times of coldness and isolation, (and we will have many moments like this), be prepared to set yourselves aflame again (when you are ready of course) and your fire can either warm others around you in their times of coldness and isolation, or you will inspire others to be on fire and spread like wildfire.

There are too many people out there who spend far too much time trying to put out other people's fires rather than spending time building their own fire.

Just don't put out other people's fires.  Start your own.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

We are family....I got all my sisters with me

Growing up with no sisters was nothing different for me.  Being the only girl was (and still is) the norm. Having 6 brothers and no sisters was at times, a challenge.

So what does being an only girl teach you about life?
It teaches you to be independent and fight for your own patch at home (a great life skill to have), but working collaboratively in a bustling Samoan household also meant that having brothers around me made me feel protected and loved.  Primary school was always a fun time because with an older brother at school, no boys would even dare to get cheeky.  Even with the younger brother with me at primary school, he also had a protective streak (comes with attending two primary schools in the other two distinct areas of Auckland - West Auckland and Central Auckland). The other brother was at intermediate school already and the other three brothers were already living overseas.

So how did I learn about being a sister?
Growing up in church with all of your church friends taught you socialisation skills and prepared you for the world.  Growing up with a very large extended family (both sides of the family too, this is quite typical of Samoan families!) allowed opportunities to consolidate my place in how families interact and work together to bring honour to one's family.

It quickly became apparent to me that my mother was a key factor in helping to develop my relationships and connections with my peers, girls my own age, as well as older females who would become role models and mentors.  Through life you may come across 'sisters from different misters' or 'brothers from another mother'.

Attending an all-girls high school was another key factor in helping to develop but I think even more importantly, cement my bonds with the sisterhood.  Going to high school in the early 90s (MC Hammer had just arrived on the scene, Bobby Brown was busy taking every little step) meant that we were just coming out of that era of "girls can do anything".  The feminist movement continued to gain momentum and was quite strong during that time (because the posters on the wall at school told me).

I think I just want to acknowledge all of the strong women in my life who I call "sister" and call me "sis" in return.  Even acknowledging women in their weak moments, because after all, without the weak moments that's how we become strong.

Whether we are sisters in Christ, sisters in arms (you know the causes we've been fighting and continue to rage against the machine!) sisters from different misters, sisters from different races and different places, in the many contexts I am privileged to be included, but thank you all very much ladies for everything that you are and for what you do.  I admire all of the mothers who want the best for their children and teach their children to be strong and smart about life and their choices, because as we know, those choices lead to experiences.

I reflect today on a younger brother who is celebrating his birthday.  And a sister in law who is also celebrating her birthday today.  Her son, my nephew is one of the greatest examples of a how a mother's love, good intentions and hopes have produced such a wonderful well-adjusted and prepared-for-the-world young man,  That is testament to a strong woman with high expectations and zero tolerance for mediocrity (love it!)

Please take the time to acknowledge the sisters in your lives and think long and hard about the value they have added to the richness of your own lives.  No matter where I go or what I do, there is always time for family.  And if you don't have time, it is time to make time.

We are family, I got all my sisters with me - even the ones who have passed on.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Kiwi Samoan, NZ born Samoan, Hamo, coconut, fob, bunga, Pasifika, Polynesian, native, Pacific Islander, overstayer...

What's in a label?

Labels come in the form of brands or products that you have come to know and trust, brands that you may find a particular affinity with, some brands that are endorsed by celebrities you admire and you may even call some of these labels or brands, your favourites.

It can be challenging to deal with labels as an individual or a collective.  Especially when the labels associated with you or your group are negative, derogatory and sometimes even, completely missing  the mark.

In my relatively short life thus far, I have experienced or have been subject to many different labels attached to my ethnicity.  I haven't included "Pacifica" in the title because for me, it mixes English with reference to the Pacific and I guess it seems incorrect (let's be honest, it's actually completely wrong really!) to my sensibilities as a wordsmith.  Ill semantics at its worst or how Amy Winehouse puts it eloquently as "What kind of f***ery is this?"

+Te Mihinga Komene recently shared a link with me entitled "21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis" from buzzfeed.com.  I read through this and chortled to myself as I realised yes, I can relate to that.  The link showed 21 different individuals holding signs of misconceptions or racial stereotypes (at least the most common ones that irritated them).  I reflected on these racial microaggressions and even came up with a top 5 list for myself:

1. You speak really good English!
2. Were you born here?
3. Do you speak fluent Samoan?
4. All Islanders are musical aye?
5. Are you Tongan or Filipino?

Yes these questions have irritated me over the years, these racial microaggressions that can niggle at you and if you let it, can seep into your skin and affect you to your core if you let it sink further enough.

I guess the thing that irks me is that racial microaggressions are commonplace but what about the other types of microaggressions that exist?  Employment microaggressions? Educational microaggressions?  Socio-economic microaggresssions?

It would be nice if we could learn more about each other and appreciate the cultural diversity, ethnic diversity and identity diversity that we bring to the table.  It would just be nice sometimes for people to ask the right questions, hey would it hurt to do a little research or reading before you bombard me with racial microaggressions, know me before you paint me with a broad brush stroke that is probably as thick as my lips or hips or the lucky dips that Pacific Islanders purchase in the hopes of winning the lottery or the hot chips that I eat on the odd occasion.

Kiwi Samoan, NZ born Samoan, Hamo, coconut, fob, Pasifika, Polynesian, Pacific Islander, overstayer.  Kiwis are flightless birds and our national icon but refer to Samoans who are Kiwis through and through, NZ born Samoans are Samoans who are born in Aotearoa, Hamo is a colloquial expression for Samoans, coconuts are hard nuts to crack (lovely term for islanders during the Dawn Raids) but are sweet and refreshing, fob is an acronym for "fresh off the boat" referring to new migrants from the islands and often used as a derogatory term, bunga (boonga) is another derogatory term, Pasifika describes people that the government uses when referring to Polynesians even though they have distinct ethnic groups, Polynesians are people from "many islands", natives are a quaint way of referring to people who are indigenous to the land or from a local area,  Pacific Islanders are people from the Pacific region, overstayers are people who overstay their welcome, hang on... am I an overstayer?

No, I was born here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Rest well in eternal freedom Madiba

Watching the news reports and bulletins about the passing of Nelson Mandela raised to the surface many thoughts and memories I shared with Madiba (yes I know, who could compare their meagre lives to that of such a great yet humble leader?).  The news reports gave important dates about Madiba's life that I found resonated in my own life, and isn't that really what life is all about?  When current events - global disasters or euphoric moments that will ring through history, everybody thinks about where they were during those times.

The 1980s saw the release of The Specials "Free Nelson Mandela" song. I remember dancing along to this unaware of who the song was about at the time and the significance of why Nelson Mandela needed to be free.  Enter John Minto and his like-minded peers and the Springbok Tour of '81.  I couldn't quite grasp the gravity of the situation at the time, but as an adult, I fully appreciate the protest stance in Rugby Park in Hamilton.  In 1990, Nelson Mandela was finally released from his life sentence imprisonment, thanks in part to the political pressure from around the world, especially after the world caught a glimpse of what apartheid meant in South Africa with media footage releasing images of police shooting innocent children.  I wasn't much older than those children who were killed, starting high school at the same time and the news was quickly subsumed by other news - the Auckland-hosted Commonwealth Games.

By the end of my high school career in 1994, Madiba became the first democratically elected black president of South Africa (that blacks could participate in the voting process).   The Rainbow Nation was further invigorated with the Springboks winning the highly coveted Rugby World Cup.  Like many New Zealanders, I was crushed by the defeat (as were the All Blacks who played their hearts out that day) but once again, not until many years later, did I fully appreciate the impact of the win, as depicted in the Clint Eastwood-directed, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon-starring blockbuster film "Invincible".

Madiba had so many quotes as a freedom fighter, quotes to do with survival and self-discovery and such quotes would not have been made possible without being made to sacrifice so much - some sacrifices he made willingly and others he was forced to make.  My favourite quote of Madiba comes from his view on perseverance:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

Leave the journey for others to walk, to conquer their own great hills and once they have, they too can see glorious vistas like you have.  We know that we must fulfil great responsibilities that come with this freedom.

Rest well Madiba, for your long walk to freedom has now ended.
Rest well in eternal freedom Madiba.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I never dreamed you'd leave in summer

It has been just over six months since my husband passed away.
Loma Junior Semeatu passed away on Wednesday 22nd May 2013 at 6:17am.
On November 30th at 6:17pm, it was exactly "six months, eight days, twelve hours".
(Watch Brian McKnight's music video clip - 6-8-12 if you don't get the reference).
The chorus of this particular song says it all for me.

Losing a loved one, regardless of who they are, is always tough, and their physical absence leaves a gaping hole in the fabric of your life.  Depending on the nature of your relationship with the dearly departed, there are a myriad of feelings and emotions that surround losing a mother, father, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter, niece, nephew, aunty, uncle (and that's not even counting those who you loved that are not connected by blood - but you consider family).

You start to think about how much they meant to you in your life experiences together (and how much they continue to mean to you as you move on through life) by remembering things they said to get you through tough situations.

People have often asked me how I have been and wondered if I am ok.
I guess this blog post is for those people that want to know, but have never asked because they either don't know how to ask me or want to ask, but don't want me to know they're asking (you catch my drift....).

My husband and I did not have a conventional marriage - the way our lives were structured was not conducive to people's perceptions of what a marriage should be or should behave, because of circumstances beyond our control.  People close to us knew this - accepted this - and could see quite clearly that we loved each other.

At his burial service, I couldn't say any words.  To me it didn't seem like there were enough words that could encapsulate my love for him, words that could be enough to pay tribute to him.  I could only play music for him.  We had times when we were angry with each other, frustrated with each other, laughed at and with each other, and those non-verbal moments with each other that nobody else understood, but we did with our secretive smiles and raised eyebrows.

One of the many passions we shared together was our love of music.  Loma had such an eclectic taste in music and I was always in awe of his ear, he could play guitar, piano, bass, drums and oh that voice.  All of these things he did naturally and with no effort.  He was always keen to play music to me - some new music discovery he had found. He always wanted to know what I thought about a song and we would discuss what we liked and didn't like about the music.  Now that he's no longer physically with me, I have continued to feel his presence around me.  He speaks to me through music.  It's a very uplifting experience!  One example is, just the other week I was at the Pacific Graduation Celebration hosted by the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland.  I was there to celebrate the achievement of my Master's degree.  Waiting outside the venue, I could hear music wafting out into the foyer.  The song I heard was "Pualena" by Vika.  This was the song that Loma sang to me on our wedding day as I walked down the aisle.  It provided me with a sense of comfort, knowing that he was there to celebrate with me.  The song lyrics speak volumes about his love for me.

Everyday is different and brings with it new challenges.  It took me about two months to remember that he was gone, because I would wake up thinking he was still here.  I had to train my brain to recognise this every time I woke up.  Every time I had great news to share, my instinct was to tell him first, and it took me some time to remember, I couldn't tell him physically.

I often think about this next song by Stevie Wonder.  It reminds me that even though time passes, in your darkest hours, you still feel the pain.  The final note in the song, breaks my heart every time I hear it.  Because it almost sounds like Stevie is trying to hang on to the final note as long he can, like I do with the wonderful memories of Loma.

 "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer" - Stevie Wonder
I never dreamed you'd leave in summer
I thought you would go then come back home
I thought the cold would leave by summer
But my quiet nights will be spent alone

You said there would be warm love in springtime
That was when you started to be cold
I never dreamed you'd leave in summer
But now I find myself all alone

You said then you'd be the life in autumn
Said you'd be the one to see the way
I never dreamed you'd leave in summer
But now I find my love has gone away

Why didn't you stay?

His final words to me were to be happy, that he loved me very much.
He also said that if I find someone else, marry him, because he wanted me to be happy.
I'm not particularly keen on that one.  I can't imagine my life with anybody else.

I guess what I'm saying is, I miss you Loma.  I know you're always with me.
I've got some more work to do down here, but save a space for me when it's time to see you again.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Wind beneath my wings. . .

"I would be nothing without you"..... the last line in one of the verses of the epic ballad "Wind beneath my wings" as sung by Bette Midler in the feel-good movie "Beaches".  The sentiment of the song is a tribute to a friend who has always played a supportive role, always cheered for the successes that the singer has enjoyed, to the point where the singer has also taken their friendship for granted.

In Pasifika cultures, we rarely do anything for ourselves as individuals, as we live, work and breathe as a collective and we are always conscious of representing who we are, defined further by who we belong to as children and where we come from.  Pasifika parents raised with a traditional heritage childhood have the option of passing on their heritage knowledge to their children to the fullest extent or not at all or maybe just a little, to the least extent, depending on what they value about their heritages.

10. Representation (e.g. Successful career pathways reflect on parents).
As is the increasing case for gifted Pasifika students, their success in job pathways and career opportunities raise the status and prestige of the parents, as their success is seen as a reflection on the parents' upbringing and social standing within Pasifika communities.  (Faaea-Semeatu, 2011).

If we deconstruct what representation means, it is about an individual who stands in a place to speak for and act for others, especially in an official capacity.  If I am looking here about how a gifted Pasifika student is seen as a representation of their parents and families, the actions that they make reflects on the family, and in this case, those actions of giftedness in the realisation of talents means that the representation is highly valued and highly prized and most certainly, highly celebrated.

Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are negative connotations associated with poor or bad representation.  I haven't seen this played out with more impact than with the recent comments  made by TVNZ's Andrew Shaw about Polynesians in Auckland.  When other people reflect on the representation of your peoples in a negative sense, what right do they have to speak or act on your behalf?  Note: I use people in plural form here because Pasifika peoples are diverse and have specific ethnic groupings as well as socially constructed identities that embody the diversity within those ethnic groupings. Good to go?  Moving on... what can we make of this? Where to from here?

Be the best of who you are, be the best of what you aspire to be, and be the best example of representation not just for yourself, but also for others who you are in a position to represent (especially in an official capacity - but in saying that, for Pasifika peoples, every time we speak in a public forum representing who we are - we are always in an official capacity).

I guess what I'm really saying here is:

Be the wind beneath people's wings I reckon, and move beyond the wind beneath racial slurs.

Monday, 2 December 2013

(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy

Conspiracy theories aside surrounding the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, there has been no more romanticised political leader than this popular figure of the free world (pre-Obama).  New Zealand female singer/songwriter Shona Laing had an unlikely hit with "(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy", describing the tragedy that befell the dynamic leader, implications of his death and the future of democracy (more emphasis placed on the cost of freedom and peace for humanity and a civilised society).

It makes me think about how you define leadership.  Whether we're talking about heroic or distributed, leadership and what qualities of leadership are deemed important or effective for that matter, to encourage and empower people who look to you to lead.

9. Leadership (e.g. Faithful service progresses to leadership).
Gifted Pasifika students are seen as leaders once they have served faithfully in their church and family contexts. Once other members of the community or village have seen that they have served faithfully, expectations and obligations to lead follow. (Faaea-Semeatu, 2011).  

I think about the mantle of responsibility that being a leader brings.  In my own context as a Samoan, leadership is defined through service to others and a great leader is able to listen to sound advice, be an advocate for his or her people and be the conduit or agent for change.

O le ala ile pule ole tautua.  This is a well known Samoan adage that translates as "the pathway to leadership is through service.  John F. Kennedy was well on his way to strengthening the road to equality for African Americans in his great nation and for some this was not the pathway they envisioned America to walk.

In your own spaces, think about how you lead and if you act as the advocate for your people and become the conduit or agent for change.  Leadership is not about power, it is about being able to stand up in adverse times and situations that test your character and may even shake you to your inner core.
I'm glad I'm not a Kennedy, but I will take from John F. Kennedy, his passion for social justice and the ability to make decisions that although for some are unpopular or take them out of their comfort zone, but allow their fellow man to experience empathy by walking in another man's shoes.