When I was in High School my Social Studies teacher, Doreen Te Wani, who had also been my kindergarten teacher, taught me an important concept, that of tūrangawaewae – the idea of having a place one belongs to. I learned this concept at a funny time in my life, where it resonated powerfully, because I felt no sense of belonging anywhere as a teenager, I felt the world had no room for me. I remember that learning this word gave me a sudden interest in connecting with my Maori ancestory, but my whiteness interfered with my pretty lame attempts at learning. I tried to learn more about my iwi from a knowledgeable Maori girl I sat near, but she lied to me and said my iwi (Ngapuhi, and possibly also Te Arawa) didn’t exist, presumably angry that I could not even pronounce them properly at the time. Perhaps it was all for the best that I was blockaded in that moment, or I might have pursued my way up into an insular and conservative type of post-colonialism. Still, she had her tūrangawaewae, and I felt so strongly a lack of one. I was not close with my family, which I suspect is normal for a lot of teenagers. I had not yet become a very social being, I sat on steps by myself at lunchtime and spoke to nobody. I was intensely lonely, and despite some grandiose delusions of myself becoming an artist or a writer, I had very little hope that I might ever have the kind of happy, fulfilling life that I now have. A lot of my schoolmates assumed I was mentally ill, and often spoke to me or bullied me with the kind of insane and condescending rudeness directed at the mentally ill.
But it has to be said, once I step outside the relationships I have with Tom and a handful of friends, I often sting painfully from that sense of no broader tūrangawaewae – of there being no group I belong to and place to set my feet down, of constantly facing hostility and being seen as a contrary curmudgeon. Studying at Massey has really drummed this home in a particularly painful way. I’ve found myself obsessing and lashing out in really unproductive ways because, up until a tour of Toi Pōneke’s art studios this year, I felt the art world was geared very consciously towards excluding anyone who wasn’t a particular kind of middle class post-modernist wanker. I even felt guilty for wanting to succeed in an industry that is clearly so deeply corrupt, anti-intellectual, and elitist, but I assuaged that guilt, over and over again, by reminding myself that “art” isn’t the industry. Art is far more fundamentally humane an activity, art is “the cognition of life”, the sensual side of striving for an objective understanding of the world. Art is science’s sibling. With or without a corrupt industry, with or without acknowledgement or success, art itself is something to celebrate and enjoy doing. But that’s getting a bit grandiose again, in that I haven’t done any significant art. Then again, hardly any of the post-1960s art industry’s “success stories” have done any politically or intellectually significant art either.
But it goes beyond the art world, to the world in general. I am deeply afraid of rejoining the hunt for a job, after going so long and spending so much time being rejected before. When I start thinking about searching for employment, and about making money, and getting the house painted, and paying off my student loan, that’s when the suicidal thoughts start to creep in again – and to think I’m relatively privileged! Oh, so, you’re scared your house will rot cos you can’t service its maintenance? Plenty of people are more worried about where they’ll get half a decent meal! Who, in this world under capitalism, really has a tūrangawaewae except for the deeply and decidedly privileged upper-middle-class?
I am sure part of all this is the lack of a New Zealand chapter of our political party, but I feel so weak and incapable of being a *founder*, of persuading people, not that it’s really about “persuading” people, but I don’t feel like an especially personable and confident person, and yet I have to try to help the effort, to overcome my personal failings and not retire into trivial nonsense like this post. And I haven’t done enough reading and writing to be a member, let alone a founder, I am getting well ahead of myself. A political party is not a group of friends, and a group of friends is not what I need any longer. I have friends, and good ones, and a good relationship with my family. Still, I need some sense of intellectual solidarity outside of my handful of close friendships. Despite a happy personal life, I still feel lonely – especially in terms of trying to learn art – and I think it is because I spend so much time in political dispute with people and groups around me, without many safe places to retire to. It’s like I’m under a bizarrely passive siege… I guess I’m just ill and emotional.
Tūrangawaewae – I am not alone in feeling a lack of it. I get some of it, in glimpses, in the colour of my house, in the perfect memory of the hills meeting the sky above the farm back home, but there’s a sphere of belonging I lack. I look to my friends, and I think so many of them probably have those little shards of hurt lodged in their hearts as well. What is the phrase from Woolf? “She had the perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.” Oh god. Clarissa Dalloway is not a character one ought to resemble. I wonder if I will still be feeling this when I am so old I am dying? I wonder if my grandmother, or Tom’s grandmother, felt this way? Tom’s grandmother in particular, who was so committed to making the world a better place, and who was so deeply sad to leave the world in a worse state than when she entered it.