Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Power of a good story

Oh dear. My last post was in May...I have been seriously neglectful!  Been doing lots of medicine, and the job's been busy, and quite absorbing at times. There's also a charming but demanding fifteen month old who wears out her daddy during the day then demands booby as soon as she sees me in the afternoon. I wouldn't change it for anything.

But hooray. I HAVE been writing ... one new play, one substantial revision of an old script, and currently I'm directing The First Asian AB for its fourth season (we open in ten days as part of Auckland's Southside Festival.)  All in all there will be three productions of my plays in the next year, all going well, so lots of work ahead! and I have been very busy on the non-fiction writing front as well.  But not much poetry. I keep on promising myself that will change, especially as there's no better way to centre my thoughts and get a quick writing fix.

Anyway, on the topic of non-fiction, here's an article I was asked to write for Westpac's "Women of Influence" campaign.  Here's the link, and the full article pasted below.  Since I have copyright and all :)


When I was six I became a published author.  I wrote and illustrated my own book called Debie the Dodo, published it in a crayon-stained, stapled edition of one, and took it proudly home to show off.  It didn’t matter that (as my sister said) Debie was a girl’s name and my character was a boy, or that (as a classmate even more unkindly pointed out) dodos were extinct and anyway Debie looked like a duck. I was the creator. I had the final say.

Many years later, I worked as a doctor in Broken Hill, deep in the Australian outback. I was finishing the final part of my training as a paediatrician. I got a phone call to say that my boyfriend was dying – had died, suddenly – of a brain aneurysm. I flew to Sydney to watch them turn the machines off. I flew to Auckland for the funeral. And then, numbly, I flew back to Broken Hill to continue my work. The poetry came in a flood.  I filled up notebooks, then went to the pub. I found a microphone.  I let my grief and love pour out. I wanted to make a monument to him out of words. I wanted to say what I would never again have the chance to say.

Fast forward two years. I was now active on the Auckland performance poetry scene. I was writing poems – new poems. New love poems. Political poems. Identity poems. Suddenly, I had a lot to say. I remembered what my mother had told me, after I had already started Med school – “your grandfather thought there were too many doctors in the family, so he named you ‘Literary Blossom.’” I wrote a poem called ‘The Naming’, a fictionalised account. And with that, I fulfilled my grandfather’s prediction.

Someone wise once said, “We are the stories we tell about ourselves.”  Google that and you’ll soon see that not one, but many people have said this.  We are a walking anthology of the stories – great, inane, funny, sad – we carry, that are told about, by, or remembered by us. I remember a teenager I once mentored in South Auckland.  He was a gifted rapper and poet, but his rhymes aped the imported American gangland rubbish. Then something changed. He told me at the end that the best thing he learnt was that he could write about himself. I was stunned. It had never even occurred to me that some people might not be able to write about themselves.

Stories give us power.  If we can define ourselves by the stories we tell, we can also change our stories – and ourselves. And if we can tell stories about ourselves, we can also tell stories about our communities, our families, our countries – the stories that need to be told.

In my work with migrant women writers, I have come across many such stories.  Whether they expose harsh government injustice, reveal a character’s sexual orientation or bear witness to an act of love within a family, they record what needs to be recorded and out what needs to be outed.  In doing so they traverse geographic, cultural and language boundaries, empowering and creating communities. One person’s small act of writing their truths can open doors to conversation and new understanding.

Debie, my dodo, ended up having many adventures after I turned my first book into a series. I was lucky enough to know the power of creation at an early age. I hope others may also know this, and in so doing, they will tell the stories that need to be told. Stories that change things. Stories that eventually, change the world.

1 comment:

Anne Ho said...

I did a lot of writing when I had my fourth breakdown and I strongly believe that it is my last. During those times I was full of emotions, anger. I wrote them all out. Then I wrote my autobiography and surprisingly after I got every 'garbage' out I felt much better. This marked my full recovery from bipolar disorder. Now I write a lot and enjoy writing. I write when I am happy, I write when I angry and I write when I am sad. Poetry is a good medium for me to express my emotions and I post almost all of them in my blog.