So, my laptop died.
It was never quite the same after I mailed it home from New Zealand. For a while, I had one consistently good USB port, one which was dodgy, and one dead. Then the other day, I noticed that my laptop wasn’t charging…even though it was plugged in.
Unplugging, re-plugging, and all sorts of fiddling did nothing. To make matters even more fun (whee!), I’m currently in Virginia on a three-week interning spin with my dear friends Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. So, a bit far from home.
Fortunately, Pip and Tee are wonderful people. They drove me to Best Buy and waited while the Geek Squad determined that they might be able to ship my laptop back to Canada, where Future Shop might be able to possibly replace the power port to maybe extend my laptop’s life another couple of weeks.
And then they patted my shoulder as I coughed up the money for a new laptop.
There is never a good time, but this could have been better (oh hai, MFA tuition). But the most striking part of this whole experience was transferring the files from the old machine to this new one. The issue wasn’t one of space (again, wonderful friends that Pip and Tee are, I had the use of all the external drives I could ask for).
No, the main issue was time. Once that battery goes, the old machine’s done.
(And yes, I know about pulling hard drives…but I’m in Virginia. I’m not sure how or if I can get the old laptop home.)
So it was like standing in a burning house, wondering, “What do I save? What do I grab first? What can I leave behind?” All the while knowing that every second of indecision brings you closer to that final shutdown.
It’s probably the historian in me, but I like having links to my own past. Detailed records, a personal archive that is there, even if I rarely dip into it. Maybe it’s a security thing, knowing that I can always reconstruct things if necessary.
Obviously, getting the writing to safety is always top priority when things get squirrelly, which is why I’m actually pretty good about backing things up.
Pictures and music vied for second place. A 2011 family trip to Costa Rica, the last we took before my dad died. My New Zealand photos. Even just images for Black Creek and this blog – more a matter of convenience and posterity, but still.
iTunes is fine, so I grabbed whatever extra stock music and sound effects I could. Luckily, I pulled the raw Hapax files ages ago (they were large and numerous), precisely because of this fear of, “What if I need to go back in one day?”
That’s a fear I face now, with the videos. I got the final cuts of all my Black Creek videos, but very little raw footage or sound files. I can’t see why I would ever need to rebuild those videos from scratch, but if ever someone asked, I probably couldn’t. That worries me, even though it’s completely irrational. Again, I blame my historian streak.
But at the end of the day, the important things are really the things that are me. The writing, the music, the photos. Most other things can be found again, edited again. Music is challenging to replace; writing and photos can be almost impossible.
Which is why I will give the customary “Back your stuff up” speech. When my laptop died, I already had the entirety of my fiction backed up elsewhere. I did go back for a few university essays, but the writing was safe.
Most of my photos are on Facebook (though there are always strays). I’ve used Google Drive more and more lately; it holds the music for the kids’ opera, the videos, and a few other random documents. I have my own intern Dropbox now.
It’s easier than ever to protect your data. Yes, emergencies happen. Yes, the unforeseen is…well, unforeseen. But if you can take any steps to mitigate potential disaster (knowing it’s not always possible)…then please, save yourself the heartache later.
Here are some photos that I would have been sad to lose.
It’s a sickening feeling when you realize your book doesn’t work.
Dread lodges in the pit of your stomach like a stone. You can try to deny it, you can try to push onwards, you can rationalize until you’ve nearly convinced yourself, but there’s no escaping the certainty:
The book doesn’t work.
I’ve started Strix for the third time. Third time through, third completely different story. Honestly, this is less rewriting, more throwing the book out and writing a brand-new one with the same premise. I’m finally liking it again, which is a HUGE deal for me. Rewriting was definitely the right choice.
But getting there – oh man, the most painful writing experience I’ve had yet. Though I’m still in the trenches, shell-shocked and clutching my rifle, I think I have a few battle scars. Possibly even a helpful word or two:
You are chained to nothing
Every draft of Strix, from the first half-hearted attempt I started before Hapax even sold, to the draft before this current one, started with the same sentence. Every. Single. Bloody. Time. I was chained to my protagonist, to the idea of what I wanted my protagonist to be, and when it became clear certain elements weren’t working, I shoehorned them in because I thought they “should” be there.
Don’t do this. The thing you most want to keep might be dooming your story over and over and over. “Murder your darlings,” be ruthless, and don’t be afraid to throw the kitchen sink out the window.
Why are you writing this?
That being said, you need to know why you are writing this story. What is the story’s heart, what is its essence that keeps you banging your head against it? That cannot get thrown out. Well, it can, but then you’re writing an entirely different book.
The premise of Strix is the same. The notion of a sweeping soteriological arc through my universe’s entire history is the same. That’s what drew me to it. I needed to keep that.
Nothing is wasted
I’ve lost count of my Strix drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of an early version before Hapax had even sold, then trunked it (even then, clearly, I knew something was wrong). Some elements from the official Strix 1.0 carried to Strix 2.0. Some elements from Strix 2.0 carry to Strix 3.0. Nothing from Strix 1.0 shows up in 3.0.
That’s ok. Because I couldn’t have written 2.0 without 1.0. They were practice drafts.
Think of the people you know. Friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbours, dog park pals, whatever. Is there someone who enjoys reading books like the books you write? Is it someone who is clever and insightful, who understands how stories work, who isn’t afraid to be honest, and whose opinion you value?
Approach them very nicely. Ask, very politely, if they will beta read for you.
And if they say yes—oh, it can be such a lovely relationship.
Beta readers catch things you won’t. They’ll read the story as readers, but informed and purposeful readers. I have several friends who are kind enough to read my early drafts and I’m incredibly grateful for them.
Of course, while you need people to ask the hard questions, you also need people who will hold your hand when it’s midnight and you’re sobbing at their kitchen table. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky (and I am), these people are one and the same.
Writing may look like a solitary occupation, but no one’s really alone in this.
Make yourself accountable
Which is what I’m doing right now. Here’s the deal: I leave for my very first Stonecoast residency on January 10th. I am not taking Strix with me. Not going to happen, I need it done before I leave.
Which means I need to reach the end of the story in a little under a month.
End of story.
By writing an average of 3000 words/day, I can make it. In the two nights I’ve been writing Strix 3.0, I’ve reached 6,600 words. So far, I’m on target!
But I am putting it here, on this blog, officially:
Done By Stonecoast
Hold me to this. And if you’ve got a project you need finished, January 10th is as good a deadline as any, right? Join the fun!
For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”
It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.
Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.
However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.
I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.
Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.
The book I wrote was not very good.
When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.
While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.
A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.
And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.
My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.
I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”
End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.
Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.
Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.
There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:
“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”
Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.
If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.
If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.
If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.
If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.
Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”
I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.
Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.
In my now-distant past as a camp counsellor, my default names for children were “Bud,” “Sweetie,” and “Kiddo.” Before you learn a kid’s name, when you’ve forgotten a kid’s name, or when the kid’s name is on the tip of your tongue but you don’t have time to say it because they’re waving scissors around right now, any one of these is better than “Hey, you.”
There is a point to this, I swear.
When I was biking to choir this evening, I saw a kid take a tumble on his skateboard. He was up pretty quickly, but his lip was quivering, so I slowed. What came out of my mouth was not “Bud,” “Kiddo,” or even “Hey, you,” but rather, “Hey, mate, are you ok?”
The kid was fine, but it drove home a certain point: it took me less than a week to lose whatever trace of a New Zealand accent I picked up. The words, it seems, stay longer.
I’d already noticed this. At work, a visitor commented excitedly on my use of the word “wee,” exclaiming, “Wow, you even use old-fashioned words, too!”
Smiling and nodding seemed easier than explaining I’d spent four months in a region of New Zealand mostly settled by Scots.
There are others, as well. I confused someone recently by talking about “judder bars” (speed bumps). “Chuck it over there” is just as likely to come out as “Toss it over there.” I still cross the “carpark,” not the “parking lot.” Even in The Next One (which, remember, was written entirely in the southern hemisphere), I see words that make sense in context, but that I probably wouldn’t have chosen a year ago.
Equally interesting to me are the words that have fallen away. It is “laundry,” not “washing.” I take out the “garbage,” not the “rubbish.” Halloween will bring copious amounts of “candy,” not “lollies.”
And just to tie this rambling somewhat into writing, think about characterization and dialogue. Vocabulary and word choice can be used to show all sorts of things: age, background, social class. I think travelling helped me “hear” myself better—I still can’t hear what’s so unique about the Canadian “out and about,” but I’ll admit that “sure” and “sorry” sound different. Being more aware of voice makes it easier to try new ones; given the way The Next Next One is shaping up, this could get especially interesting.
Anyway, that’s my musing for the day. Incidentally, I was also given a pretty awesome opportunity. I’ve written a guest post for Philippa Ballantine, author of The Books of the Order, The Shifted World series, and co-author of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. It should be up sometime tomorrow, or soon after. Check out her site (and books) here.
I’m working through my initial rewrites on The Next One right now. And I’m finding myself slightly bewildered. Although it is technically the prequel to Hapax, it feels quite different. Given that I’m Canadian, I think that I’m obliged to write at least one book about dysfunctional families in the woods. My dysfunctional family is battling floods, but that’s probably close enough. It’s also one of the darker pieces I’ve written. Hapax has its moments, but…
I think that some of my bewilderment also comes from the fact that I honestly don’t remember writing some parts of this book. This happens to me sometimes. I remember plot events, but I don’t remember the actual words I used. Suffice it to say, it is a most peculiar feeling to read your own words as if a stranger wrote them.
I’m hoping that my amnesia is a result of writing most of the book while backpacking. I wrote maybe the first half while still in Dunedin, but the rest was done in hostels and cafés across New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific. While that sounds really cool, the fact remains that I was churning out words after long days filled with lots of activity and little to no downtime. I saw so much, and experienced so many things, that it might not be entirely surprising that the “writing a book” part of the trip got a little blurred.
But, somehow, the words are there. That means I can work with them. Sometimes, I’m delighted by what I discover. Sometimes, I cringe.
This has certainly been one of the strangest writing processes I’ve gone through. Gaining experience, I guess… 😉
Over and out,
So, I’m twenty-one today.
No big deal.
This is certainly one of the more…interesting birthdays I’ve had. As I type this, it’s actually five days before my birthday. I’m sitting in a hostel in Picton, NZ, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi to write this post in advance. When it actually goes out, I’ll be in Fiji, having spent most of my actual birthday on a plane.
As much fun as it is to look ahead, birthdays are also a good time to look back on the past year. When I turned nineteen, I mostly remember being excited to turn twenty, because it seemed like it would be a big year.
It certainly was.
I found a home.
This was the year I moved out of res, and into my own place. I love my house. I can’t repeat that enough. I love my house, and I had two of the best roommates ever. Pranks, adventures in Christmas tree decoration, James Bond, Donkey Kong, extravagant cooking, a spare room (that is huge for student housing – we had so much space, there was an entire room we didn’t know what to do with)… I’m the kind of person who needs a safe place to come home to every day. This was the year I found it.
I found a job.
In May, 2011, I was kicking myself. I had decided not to return to my summer job as a camp counsellor, but I couldn’t find another job to replace it. Thankfully, my uncle offered to take me on at his restaurant.
Then I got the call.
I had applied to be a Theatre Programmer at Black Creek Pioneer Village, but had assumed I hadn’t gotten it. Turns out their timelines were different than I expected. I was in.
Oh. My. God. Best. Job. Ever.
I spent last summer running around as Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables, while working at the restaurant on my days “off.” The people, the history, the actual work itself… I loved it so much that at the end of the summer, when my contract expired, I went to my boss and said something along the lines of, “I love it here. Can I please stay?”
She said yes.
While I’m in school, I can only work on-call through the fall and winter. But that’s ok. I found more than a job, I found a happy place. What’s more…
I found my groove.
I admit: I suck at the work-life balance thing. Through the fall, I was working two jobs, attending choir and Quidditch practices, and taking a full courseload. I was sleeping maybe five or six hours a night. Often, the only social time I got was during two-server shifts at the restaurant, or on long bus rides home from Black Creek.
But I was so happy. I was so, so happy.
I might not have seen them much, but between my roommates, my uni friends, my choir ladies, and my coworkers at both jobs, I had good people in my life. I was exhausted, and stressed, and oh-so-slightly burnt out, but I hadn’t felt so good in years.
I found a publisher.
In November, I had the idea of podcasting Hapax. After all, I had six weeks between my last exam and my flight to New Zealand – what else was I supposed to do? In December, I heard that Dragon Moon Press was holding an open submission period. I hemmed and hawed, and finally submitted Hapax on Christmas Eve. I didn’t tell my voice cast until the request for the full. Even then, I cautioned them, “It’s a nice ego boost, but probably nothing will happen.”
They liked it. They wanted to publish it. When I first read the email, I had been battling a stubborn cold, and was so sick, and so drugged up with cold medicine, I couldn’t be entirely sure it wasn’t all a Nyquil-induced dream.
After a flurry of emails and phone calls, I spent two hours walking around and around Trinity Bellwoods Park, trying to process it. Six months on, and I sometimes still have difficulty believing it.
I found an adventure.
But I couldn’t just stay in Toronto forever, playing with podcasts while my friends went to school. In February, I flew to Dunedin for a six month stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud. I’d planned this trip for a ridiculously long time, but all the planning in the world doesn’t really prepare you for life in a new country. It’s been detailed on this blog, but let me say – it’s exceeded my expectations in almost every way.
Otago was fun, but it was time for me to see the rest of the country. The South Pacific is a big place, and I’m so excited to be exploring the edge of the map.
And… that was my twentieth year. My thanks to all of you who made it so special.
After four months, it’s time to say goodbye to Dunedin, and explore the rest of New Zealand and the wider South Pacific. My term at Otago has been unlike anything I could have imagined. I’m highly impressed that all of my profs learned my name (it was also slightly unsettling… I hadn’t realized how accustomed I’d grown to the anonymity of U of T). I’m far more grateful for U of T’s resources. I like that Otago gives exam topics/questions in advance. I learned that I really, really like the bike lanes and public transit around the St. George campus in Toronto.
But I think I’ll present an overview of the past four months in the form of a list. Here is… Dunedin by the numbers.
1.70 – Price of a Learner’s Cone at the Rob Roy Dairy
60 –Estimated average age of the jazz quartet that plays the Robbie Burns pub
4 – Ascents up Baldwin St (incidentally, the steepest street in the world)
3 – Expeditions out to the peninsula
240 – Minutes of walking before we gave up and accepted that we were stranded on the peninsula
2 – Shots of espresso in a Long Black
3 – Sandman books in the Dunedin Public Library’s collection (that I found and borrowed, anyway)
0 – Times I got bored of seeing the Southern Cross
5 – Classes this term
4 – Bank branches guaranteed not to eat my card
90-120 – Minutes spent in the Good Earth Café every Café Sunday
3 –Photo requests from friends back home
2- Photo requests accomplished thus far.
(Lost Count) – Times I’ve nearly been run over
5:30 – Awakening for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service
3 –Nationalities living under one roof
1 – Ring to Rule Them All
1000 – Highest I can count in Māori
18 – Recommended inside temperature in degrees Celsius, according to NZ Health
6 – The actual temperature in our kitchen
9000 – Words written for essays
1 – Wild penguin sighting
16 – Most books I ever had out from the library at one time
251 – Pokémon officially recognized in this flat (sorry, but if it came after GSC, it doesn’t exist to me)
182 – Approximate age of a wonderfully massive and craggy tree in the Botanic Gardens
(Too high to count) – Times the creepy robotic self-checkout kiosk voice has chirpily reminded me to “Please place item in the bagging area!”
15 + – Weeks to switch my instinctive “default” from right to left
4 – Amazing, challenging, wonderful months
Thanks, Dunedin. Let me summon my very best Māori and say “Ka roto koe i taku ngākau, e noho ana.”
You’ll always have a place in my heart.
Last term, I met a Dunedinite who was on exchange to U of T. Our meeting wasn’t arranged or anything: we just happened to be in the same history class, and we just happened to be sitting near each other when the prof said, “Discuss amongst yourselves.” From her accent, I was 99% sure she was from New Zealand, but the remaining 1% of doubt made me keep my mouth shut – mistaking New Zealanders and Australians is not entirely unlike mixing up Canadians and Americans. No one really minds, but you’re better off not doing it.
Luckily, she mentioned Otago, and the rest is history.
Literally. We hung out a few times over the course of the term, including an expedition to Black Creek for a dose of Canadian history. When the term ended, it wasn’t sad, because we would both be in Dunedin in two months or so. In fact, I had one of her suitcases to take down with me, and she promised to pick me up from the airport.
I mentioned in one of the early posts how nice it was to have a friendly face waiting at the airport. Again, then: SO NICE. Much the same pattern continued this term: we bumped into each other every so often, had coffee a few times, and then, for some New Zealand history, went to Olveston House.
Olveston is a large, early-twentieth century house that’s been preserved as a historic site. It’s essentially Downton Abbey’s baby brother. We were the only ones on our tour, which was awesome, because we could ask all sorts of questions throughout. The turn-of-the-century is a really cool period, because there’s still a strong Victorian undercurrent running through everything, yet it also seems so modern.
I mean, Olveston House was equipped with all the latest technology when it was built, but still. The kitchen had a “Frigidaire,” custom-made in Ohio so that it could handle the funny NZ plugs. There was an in-house telephone system. A gramophone. A car in the garage outside.
And yet – the bread board in the kitchen was identical to the one in Second House at BCPV. The library and dining room were undeniably Victorian: darkly wallpapered, and bedecked with little ornaments. Gas lamps coexisted peaceably with electric lighting (the guide assured us that the fixtures were the originals).
“The lamps look just like ours!” I hissed to Sarah as we followed the guide into the butler’s pantry.
She hesitated. “The ones at Black Creek, you mean?”
I had to laugh. “Yeah.”
How I wish I had my own gas lamps…
All too soon, it was over. Knowing that this was the last time made it very, very hard to close the car door, wave goodbye, and step into my flat. Skype, Facebook, and email are great ways to stay in touch, I don’t deny that, but…
But it’s sad. Unlike last time, there is no, “Ok, meet you on the other side.” I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met down here. Yes, I am “the most nostalgic person ever.” And yes, I’m well aware of the irony here, considering how homesick I got in April.
So, I’ve decided not to say goodbye. Instead, my New Zealand friends (and my American friends), get a “see you later.”
Hey, you never know.
Because exam preparation wasn’t enough fun… As I study, I’m also trying to figure out the logistics of packing up my life and sending it to the other side of the world.
Coming down, I just brought everything on the plane. The return is tricky, because I’m not going home right away. I’m backpacking, which means that I can’t lug all my worldly possessions with me (well, I suppose I could, it would just be terribly inconvenient and nerve-wracking). I found a luggage forwarding service that will handle my clothing and books, but almost no one wants to touch my laptop.
The luggage forwarders requested that I do an inventory of my possessions. Counting everything down to the last sock certainly gives some perspective. Most of my things can be replaced. Clothing, books, even my beloved mug… none of them would cause an absolute catastrophe if they went missing, my weeping bank account aside.
My laptop, on the other hand…
Those SF stories of uploaded personalities suddenly don’t seem so futuristic, not when so much of my writing, my photos, my music, and all the audio for Hapax-the-Podcast are on a machine.
While NZ Post will ship the laptop with great reluctance, there is a degree of risk. I’m mainly concerned about Hapax-the-Podcast (there are enough copies of Hapax-the-Novel floating around to set my mind at ease, and The Next One has always been on USB). The fully-completed episodes can be converted to WAVs/MP3s and transferred to USB easily enough – those still languishing as Audacity projects are a lot harder to move around/access on another machine.
But before I flew to New Zealand, I took all the dialogue out of each episode. I converted all of it to WAV files, copied everything to another USB, and left it in Canada. So, worst case scenario, my actors’ work is safe. Would re-editing and re-scoring everything be a pain and create an insane production schedule? Absolutely. But it means I’ll never have to say to my cast, “Hey, guys, remember how much fun we had recording? Well, guess what – we get to do it all over again!”
I can see their faces now.
Although I’m working feverishly to finish as much as I can before departing, it’s entirely possible that my laptop will show up when it’s supposed to, undamaged, with everything safe and sound. I certainly hope so… because despite my backup plans, I feel terribly insecure sending so much of my life into the big wide world with nothing but packing peanuts as protection.
One of my favourite classes this term was Introduction to Conversational Māori. And yes, please note the use of the past tense — I’m done, but for exams. I’d wanted to take at least one class in New Zealand that I couldn’t take anywhere else, Māori seemed to fit the bill, and I’ve always loved languages, so I was a keener from the first lecture.
Māori is completely different from any other language I’ve studied (read: French and Old English). It’s from the Polynesian group of languages, which may or may not be derived from a distant branch of the Indo-European “family tree” that encompasses a huge number of languages. Grammatically, it’s both relatively simple and surprisingly complex. Whereas in English and French, verbs are conjugated to show tense, number, and mood (I run/he runs/we ran; je vais/je suis allée/vous iriez), Māori uses particles:
I am running: Kei te oma ahau.
I ran: I oma ahau.
I will run: Ka oma ahau.
Easy, right? Sure, except that Māori compresses an awful lot into each word. Consider the difference between “tēnei ngeru” (this cat here by me), “tēnā ngeru” (that cat over there by you), and “ērā ngeru” (those cats over there, away from both of us).
Or, “Ka hoki mai ahau ki te awa” (I will return (as in “come back here”) to the river) versus “Ka hoki atu ahau ki te awa” (I will return (“go back there”) to the river).
So, obviously, I love it. But that’s enough of a grammar lesson: Māori has some great words, and I wanted to share some of my favourites.
Kāinga – Place where the home fires are kept burning
The āi diphthong makes kāinga a fun word to say, but I love the literal translation. In Māori, there’s a sharp distinction between where you are from, and where you currently live. Kāinga refers to the latter; I’m from Toronto, but right now at this moment, my kāinga is in Dunedin. That being said, it’s one of those words that can be interpreted metaphorically, so I could technically say that my kāinga is in Toronto, which would tell you a lot about my feelings, ties to home, and so forth.
Whakapapa – Family tree/genealogy
Whakapapa is another important concept. Where you come from and who you come from greatly influences who you are. It’s also the name of a town on the North Island. Fun fact about Māori: wh- is pronounced like the English f. “Hang on,” you say. “Doesn’t that mean that whakapapa would be pronounced like…”
Yes. Yes, it is, which is why I was greatly amused when my flatmate, while booking her post-exam travels, exclaimed, “Sweet as! I’m taking the Naked Bus to Whakapapa!”
Tamariki – Children
Many words in Māori sound like what they mean. Maybe it’s just me, but I think “tamariki” sounds like a perfect word for children. Same thing for puku (stomach) and waiata (to sing/song).
Pīwhi – Beef
However, many words are loan words from English. Not sure if anyone’s noticed this, but New Zealand is kind of isolated. When the Europeans arrived, they brought a lot of things for which no words existed in the Māori language, so extensive borrowing of words occurred. Māori also has about half the consonant sounds that English does, which leads to some really cool patterns in transliteration.
Beef is a perfect example. There’s no B in Māori; it tends to become P (as with Britain – Piritene, bread – parāoa, and bus – pahi). The long ī is the same sound as “ee.” Wh, as we’ve discussed, sounds the same as f. Thus, “pīwh,” but since you can’t have a word of one stressed syllable ending in a consonant, the unstressed i gets tacked on the end to create pīwhi.
Kanikani – To dance/a dance
Following those sound laws, we take the unstressed i’s out of kanikani, change the k back to a c, and get “cancan.” Considering the abundance of gold prospecting and settler towns that sprang up in New Zealand through the latter half of the nineteenth century, I can only imagine what the Māori were thinking.
Tumu – A safe place to dock one’s canoe
My favourite word in the whole language. The Māori/Pacific/Indigenous Studies Building is called “te Tumu.” Finding “safe places” seems to have been a predominant theme over the last year or so. Maybe that’s why the concept resonates with me so much. Certainly, it seems to be cropping up in my fiction more and more.