Defining oneself is never easy. Before the advent of birth, decisions are taken about who we are, who we will be, might be, could be. We are the embodiment of the hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs and desires of our ancestors.
Likewise, after we die decisions are taken about the stories that will be told about who we were, what we were, what we believed in, who we might have been. We then become the embodiment of our progeny and peers. Those that remember us.
The only point at which we get to tell ‘our’ story is when we are alive for a brief period in the span of millennia.
I am thirty-four years old but I have lived many lives. In all of my different roles, whether as a poet, an historian, a diplomat, a mother, a daughter, a wife, runaway, the points of reference are the same. Like all people, I have experienced struggle and overcome it. Not easily, not without pain or grief, or heartache, but with perseverance and a belief that it can be overcome.
In the late 1920s my great-grandmother, Ora Stewart, ran away from Tonga. Half-Scottish, half-Tongan, she was a child caught between two distinct worlds. She didn’t belong in the world in which she lived and pregnant with an illegitimate child (which was illegal in Tonga at that time) she decided to take control of her life by running away. Whenever I think about my own life and the struggles I’ve been confronted with, I reflect on how things are not so dissimilar from Ora’s experience. Like her, my heritage straddles different worlds, like her I ran away from home, and like her I’ve never quite ‘belonged’ to one culture or another.
When I was born in 1982, I’m sure my parents had dreams of a future that included a stable, secure family life. My dad, Bill, was a kind and gentle man with a loving nature. He didn’t have it easy having been adopted out at 3 months old by a mother he never knew. Growing up in East Auckland, he came from a working class family that cherished basic things like owning a pair of shoes. When my dad made it into the New Zealand Kiwis in the 1970s it was a huge achievement for his family and everyone around him. As one of his friends said to me “kids like us just didn’t make it into that kind of national league, but Bill did it and he made us proud.” What wasn’t so public, was the toll that his professional sports career took on him. In the days when you didn’t get paid a cent to represent your country through professional sport, my dad did the hard yards: for the love of the game. Rugby League was his passion and he was proud to wear the Kiwi uniform. But somewhere in the messed up world of professional sport he developed a compulsive gambling addition that led to the end of his marriage and eventually his death.
I’ll never forget the headline that appeared in a prominent New Zealand newspaper a week after my dad’s death “Kiwi league star couldn’t kick the habit.” It broke my heart because my dad was more than his gambling addiction. But it was through this experience that I learnt that when we die, the stories that get told about who we were, what we might have been, and who we could have been, are out of our control.
And so I decided to become a storyteller. But the stories I tell are real. They’re considered, thoughtful and reflect a commitment to the principle of Truth to Power. I write mostly about the Pacific region – because New Zealand / Aotearoa is a part of it. But I write with a worldview that seeks to be global in focus and inclusive in nature. I’m interested in how we are all connected through our humanity and our shared experiences of struggle in its different forms. I write because I only have a limited period of time left in this world and I want to make a contribution to telling real stories that make a positive difference to the world in which my daughter and her children will inherit after I’ve gone.