Got Kuleana?

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 2.26.28 PM

“Kuleana,” written and directed by Brian Kohne

I can’t wait to see the movie “Kuleana.” Written and directed by Brian Kohne, this movie has a message about its title, which means “responsibility”: Kuleana is a privilege, not a burden.

If you study Hawaiian history and Hawaiiana, you’ve probably heard the term, “Hawaiian Renaissance.” The term refers to the 1970’s when cultural practitioners, political activists, and kūpuna (elders) brought about a resurgence of Hawaiian culture – Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language), hula, mele (music), traditional customs and practices, and political organization. Today there are hula hālau (schools) and dancers all over the world; Hawaiian musicians go on world tours regularly; people from around the world travel to Hawai’i to study with artists and cultural practitioners; schools include online teaching; the Hōkūle’a has completed a worldwide voyage; and Hawaiians exercise their political power with growing efficacy.

I would love to see another Hawaiian renaissance of sorts, one that inspires younger generations who cut their teeth on all things visual and digital, and movies like “Kuleana” could play a huge part in this. When you weave the past, present day, and the future together in storytelling, all kinds of light bulbs might turn on.

Set in 1971, “Kuleana” is the story about a Vietnam vet who returns home to Mau’i to protect his family, defend their land, and clear his father’s name. The movie features a cast of actors from Hawai’i, including Moronai Kanekoa, who I had the pleasure of watching in the one-man play, “The Legend of Ko’olau.” The movie won several film awards in 2017, and Willie K wrote the original score. Nuff said?

Hurry, Brian Kohne, bring your movie to northern California! We’ll get the popcorn ready.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

 

Advertisements

New Year, New Reality, Old Hope

IMG_5866

On Saturday January 13, 2018, my brother called me from the bathroom of his home outside Hilo on the Island of Hawai’i (the Big Island). An emergency alert warning of an imminent missile attack had appeared on his cellphone. The warning said this was not a drill and to seek shelter. The local TV station also aired the warning.

My brain struggled to absorb the information as I listened to him say that he called our parents who lived a few miles away and told them to hunker down in their bathroom. I wondered why my brother, who is not a funny guy, chose to dive into the world of pranks with such an elaborate ruse, but I played along. “So, what, the North Korean dude is gonna nuke you?” I said with just a hint of sarcasm. Instead of laughing, my brother replied, “I think so.”

“Let me get online and I’ll call you back,” I said, determined to figure out what the hell was going on. The emergency missile alert was now staring back at me from the screen of my cellphone in northern California. So this was what a missile alert looked like. All caps, but no exclamation points.

I turned on CNN. Regular programming. Nothing made sense. I ran to the backdoor and called for my husband. He was listening to a local Big Island radio station (KAPA) as he did yard work. He heard the missile alert, but when the station returned to music, he assumed it was a mistake.

We looked up to see the CNN talking head had a banner below him that said the missile alert was an error. There was no missile headed to the state where all but few of my family lived. I called my brother back, but it was only after I texted him a screenshot of the CNN broadcast that he felt sure enough to emerge from his bathroom. His text reply, “ty,” told me he could finally breathe.

My mom, 77 years young, had already heard about the false alarm and chuckled when I called her. I was relieved that she could laugh and that she and my 79-year-old dad didn’t stroke out or have heart attacks during the alarm. My mom said she packed a bag when she saw the alert on her TV. I’m not sure what to think about that.

It seemed like most of the country spent the next day processing what happened the morning of January 13th. An employee of the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency had simply neglected to press the “drill” button during a standard shift-change exercise. Although the agency notice recalling the alert reached Facebook and Twitter, another glitch in the system delayed (for 38 minutes) the notice to cellphones. The agency has already instituted a two-person sign-off before the alarm is sent again.

The movie (in my head) plot did not occur – the Russians did not hack into our systems to get our country to fire back at North Korea under the mistaken presumption that North Korea had fired a missile at Hawai’i. But the damage has been revealed. What happened on January 13th made me think back to my school days in Hawai’i when monthly air raid sirens sounded and we all got under our desks. January 13th brought me back to the days of the Cold War when terms like “balance of power” and “detente” appeared in daily newspapers. Instead of the USA and the USSR, the players are now the USA and North Korea, with Russia looming in the background poised to act as puppeteer. And with no love lost between our country and nations around the world, North Korea might not be the only nation that could be goaded into starting a nuclear war with us.

January 13th happened. The scare was real. But I can’t live like the threat of nuclear annihilation is imminent. I’m not stupid, and I’m not choosing to bury my head in the sand. You see in the world and others what is inside yourself. I see a sane world where goodness prevails, so I have hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Père Noël (Father Christmas)

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.48.46 AM

Ho! Ho! Ho! I’m coming soon! 

I have heard many people say that there are no such things as coincidences, that everything happens for a reason. There have been many happenstances in my life that have made me believe this same thing. One such thing happened yesterday.

Traffic had been particularly bad on my way downtown from my suburban home. Dreading the thought of getting back on the freeway to get home, I decided to take surface streets out of the downtown area and maybe get on the freeway later.

In my backseat were Christmas packages that I needed to mail to family and friends. I was tired and eager to get home, but I decided to take a slight detour and drive to the main post office. When I finished at the counter, I noticed a room in the back of the post office that was decorated as “Santa Station.” A wave of inexplicable curiosity came over me, and I walked toward the room.

I stood in the middle of the poorly lit room and saw special edition stamps and stamp tee shirts displayed. I didn’t know stamp tee shirt existed. “Hmm,” I thought to myself somewhat amused, “It’s like a post office gift shop. Weird.”

Then a woman’s voice came from behind me. She explained that staff opened letters addressed to Santa Claus because they were not deliverable. Staff catalogued, photocopied, and organized the letters, keeping envelopes with return addresses of the children who wrote Santa. I’ve seen TV news stories about this post office Santa Station, but I never paid enough attention to realize how the magic happened. And there I was behind the curtain.

“The letters are in here,” the woman said, motioning to hanging file folders in boxes. “You can look through them, and if you want, you can be Santa for the child.”

My hands reached for the first file folder and went toward the middle of the file, randomly pulling out a letter. I saw the handwriting of a four-year-old child – letters oversized, crooked and uneven, spacing very generous. The handwriting warmed my heart, but the language was what shocked me. The child wrote in French.

I studied French in high school and college for seven years, and I have continued my French studies with the Alliance Français. I have been to France three times, and I wish I could return every year. I’m a Francophile.

So what are the chances that a French-speaking child’s letter to Santa would reach a French-speaking American woman in Northern California? One hundred percent. There are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason.

Whose Santa might you be?

Joyeux Noël. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Holidays. And may we all be blessings to one another in the coming new year.

 

 ©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Love Must Push Back 2.0

FullSizeRender.jpg-1

The shocking and heartbreaking display of hatred that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday August 12, 2017 triggered a case of déjà vu in me. The clash between the Unite the Right rally and the counter-protest brought me back to November 2016 when I wrote my post, “Love Must Push Back.”

I wrote this post after watching months of disrespect, bullying, misogyny, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia targeted at women, racial minorities, immigrants, veterans, the LGBT community, and disabled persons. “When hate pushes against and looms over some of us, we have the choice to stand together, lock arms, and push back,” I wrote.

Physical violence ensued in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. Counter-protestor Heather Heyer, a Caucasian 32-year-old paralegal, was killed when James Fields drove a car into a group of counter-protesters. Nineteen other people were injured. Two state troopers, Lt. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who were providing aerial public safety support, died when their helicopter crashed.

The day after the conflict in Charlottesville, an African-American pastor and community leader said that he would have told the citizens of Charlottesville to stay home and pay no attention to the Unite the Right rally, as if none of the deaths would have happened if counter-protesters had stayed home. Blame the victims? This leader believes that reacting to, and engaging with, those who espouse white supremacy gives them more power.

If abolitionists had stayed home and not opposed the institution of slavery, how many more generations of slaves would there have been? If Rosa Parks had kept her mouth shut and continued to sit at the back of the bus, how many more generations would have lived in the segregated South under Jim Crow laws? If Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil rights activists had stayed home and not marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, would there have been a Voting Rights Act of 1965?

The citizens of Charlottesville counter-protested on August 12, 2017 to make their own statement: their city is not a city of division and hatred; its citizens stand against white supremacy, prejudice, and bigotry. As Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said to the Nazi marchers at his press conference that evening, “There is no place for you here. There is no place for you in America.”

Standing up to the devaluation of members of our society is the only way to protect what our country has spent decades trying to create – equality of rights and opportunities for all. It comes with risks, as does anything else worth doing, which is why some will choose to stay home. But defending ourselves, defending others, and defending a society that values mutual respect and peaceful co-existence requires us to push back against hatred in the name of love.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)

FullSizeRender.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Epic Fail

Epic Fail

Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017.

Before I start a project, I try to think through all the objectives and all the hurdles. When I’m confident I’ve come up with the best way to get it done, I begin. Needless to say, I don’t expect surprises, and I’m not happy when things don’t go as planned. Type A? Controlling? Tell me something I don’t know. I think I’m getting better, though.

While we were vacationing in Kaua’i last summer, I decided we needed a good family photo, the kind we might use for a Christmas card if I got around to getting one done. I rallied my troops outside so the Pacific Ocean could be our backdrop.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The ocean breeze kept us from getting hot. We squished together in various poses while the person with the longest arms held my iPhone in front of us, above us, at any angle that would get us all in the frame. We squinted. We brushed the hair off our faces. Passersby distracted my kids and, although they weren’t teenagers anymore, I knew they were embarrassed to be doing something not cool with their parents. My husband got impatient. We all got frustrated. It was a disaster.

When I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t compose myself for one more shot, I ended our suffering and pulled the plug on my project. The Christmas card photo in July was an epic fail and my favorite memory of that vacation. I kept a few of the bad, endearing photos as a sweet reminder to embrace foiled plans for all the learning and laughter they bring.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

Lucky Girl

IMG_5394

Lucky (Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017)

 

Lucky was a strawberry blonde Cocker Spaniel. I bestowed upon her the title, “The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made.” She made me a believer in all the incredible, corny pet stories that people tell.

When my son was about eight years old, he wore me down asking for a dog, so one day during summer vacation, I took my son and daughter to a city animal shelter.

Lucky was in a pen with several other dogs that were dominated by an alpha female that would not let the dogs approach the gate to meet humans. A shelter worker brought Lucky out to meet with us at a grassy area of the shelter. He told me Lucky was two or three years old. Her recent adoption by a family with young children failed. Her spotted tongue and coloring might make Lucky part Chow Chow.

Shell-shocked by the circumstances that led to her stays at the shelter and by the aggressive barking of the alpha female in her pen, Lucky was friendly but subdued in her interaction with us. We went home, I talked to my husband about Lucky that evening, and the kids and I went back to the shelter the next day.

Lucky was still timid, but her sweetness won us over. As I was filling out adoption paperwork, a gentleman in a postal service uniform came to check on Lucky. I learned that he was also interested in adopting her. The disappointed look on the man’s face touched me, but I was glad the kids and I had come back that day.

Over the course of the next nine years, Lucky blossomed into a tomboy older sibling to my kids. She wasn’t a cuddler. She liked her space. She slept with her legs in the air like a dead bug. She was afraid of the ocean – I think it was the noisy waves moving toward her. She liked to herd us and watch us from a short distance. Unlike our current Cocker Spaniel, Lucky didn’t like swimming or playing fetch. Also unlike our current Cocker, she loved snow, navigating snowdrifts by hopping, sinking, and launching herself back out only to sink into another spot. She liked digging shallow holes in the dirt under shrubs and lying there when it was hot. Most of all, she loved to roll over on her back and ask for belly rubs.

In early 2012, we took Lucky to the vet because she had a persistent cough. Lucky’s vet noticed a heart murmur and ran tests. Then came the diagnosis that made my knees buckle: Lucky had congestive heart failure and could live a few more months with medication. Our son was in his senior year of high school, but our daughter was away at college, and I wondered if she would get to see Lucky again.

Three months later my daughter came home for my son’s high school graduation and saw Lucky one last time. After a long weekend visit, my daughter took an evening flight back to her summer job. Lucky passed away at dawn the next day. My son, my husband, and I were with her.

I like to think that Lucky needed to herd us one last time before she left us. Seeing us all together, she might have felt that we were safe, and if she needed to leave, we would be okay.

Believing in irrational, sentimental stories about the things that dogs do for their humans isn’t about believing in preposterous things, it’s about believing in love. Pets help us exercise our ability to love and to experience being loved.

So on this day, June 13, 2017, the fifth anniversary of Lucky’s passing, I celebrate The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made. I celebrate Lucky, I celebrate love.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.