Lois is writing about writing. She's been going for five days straight, her bed unmade, the house trashed, piles of plates and cups stacking up on her standing desk. It's hard work; not just because the subject matter is hard (the challenge of climate denialism in the media) but because an editor lives permanently in her head. This editor, who happens to look a lot like John Huria, sits in the corner of her office with a brown briefcase smoking a cigar reminding her that writing about writing is not objectively speaking that interesting.
Years ago, Lois used to argue with John in actual cafes. They would meet and he would have a long black and her and oat milk flattie. Sometimes they ate (him lasagne with side salad, her a scone which she'd barely touch). Lois would insist that readers are in fact very interested in authors' reasons and rationale and hidden motivations, to which John would nod politely and disagree. John would say that readers are more likely to be interested in, for example, what the writer ate for lunch than what they mused about over lunch.
But after awhile she stopped. Not only was she getting very little writing done sitting around in cafes talking about writing about writing, she started to notice what John meant: The way some writers began by announcing they're writing. The prevalence of unnecessary paragraphs threaded with personal narrative like running commentary to the main subject.
Trust that if the reader's reading, John would say, they're interested. If they aren't they won't.
Once Lois had been taught to see it, she couldn't unsee it. She encountered writing about writing everywhere. Then she realised John might be right. Figured. John was friends Renée. An editorial team who both believed that writers should just get on with it.
There was, however, ONE exception. Writing about writing is ok, John would say, if the subject is writing. He used to jot in the margins of Lois' draft manuscript: save this for your essay about writing.
She never did write that essay. It was boring.
But she's writing one now.
Reader notes behind the paywall
Aghhh!!! This column I'm working on is my last for the PIJF contract with The Spinoff (boo). It's hard not JUST because a very exacting editor lives in my head, but because maaaaan, climate denialism! The subject is too big for one person and incredibly sensitive, and I am only really touching on it in passing, but shit it makes me nervous:
"Done poorly, climate change reporting is an eye-glazing overload of information. Done well, it can scare the bejesus out of people. It can also have a counterproductive, polarising effect. Some become despondent and throw up their hands and walk away. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those getting busy prepping for end times."
Writing about climate change in a way that centres Māori perspectives adds a whole other dimension of complexity. Challenging the dominance of Western interpretations of the symptoms and causes of climate change (much of it to do with language and values), can feel like you are veering frighteningly close to the language used by climate denialists.
For example, yesterday, I published an article in The Spinoff called: Five Lessons about Climate Change from the Pā Harakeke (guaranteed not to depress you) and it includes a quote I had to spend hours setting the context for. Stacey and I had had this amazing, in depth kōrero, but quoting her without sufficient framinf could have read like she was saying that climate change isn't real, which was not at all what she was saying.
"For example, Bishop said that when people call for an end to climate change she hears resistance to te taiao taking the natural course required to heal itself. “The atua are doing what they need to do to rebalance themselves. Humans have done some kūare things and that’s affecting our quality of life. The consequences are drastic because the impact of human behaviour has been drastic.”
There's also the added struggle of racism that Pākehā journalists don't have to deal with. If you care to visit that story on the Spinoff on FB (you might want to avoid) you'll see the specific way that the racism is playing out - racism which Seymour and Luxon and others are stoking gleefully right now.
The comment that people have seized on most vehemently is this one:
The most visible impacts of climate change in human terms can be seen in the over-representation of Māori in every negative social statistic you care to measure. Yet rarely are these statistics attributed to the climate. This is despite the fact that the social, material and spiritual symptoms of the disconnection between land and people are as relevant as climate indicators as storms and slips and cyclones. The same dis-ease within the climate is reflected within people and communities.
This isn't a controversial statement. The links between climate change and the energy crisis driving the cost of living and food scarcity etc are increasingly recognised as the social precipice of the crisis. Māori have been dealing with these impacts for yonks. But hearing it articulated this way has blown some people's minds:
Initially, I was gutted by all the dumb comments. Especially that they appear under that beautiful picture of tamariki from Te Morehu whenua who are SO incredible I can't even adequately describe.
But when I went to bed at 1am last night, 90 comments and counting (more than I could possibly keep up with which is a good thing) I realised that for every racist comment out there, there will be people reading and following and learning in their own quiet way. In this mahi, I am not sure if I have ever felt so supported, so SEEN by Pākehā allies and accomplices who got in there and rolled up their sleeves and helped shovel that shit back. It made me realise how important these spaces are, as much as we might want to ignore them. If nobody replied, what message would that send?
If you are someone who does this work, thank you! I appreciate it. Toxic spaces are not good for our mental health so it means a lot and I believe - we have to - that it is making a difference.
Seeing this story shared by Māori especially has buoyed me. What I was presenting is actually a fairly typical set of stories. These communities exist everywhere. I guarantee, if you go grab a shovel or if you see your local hapū cleaning up the waterfront and go and join them, you'll see it with your own eyes. Rarely given the space or air time. I feel lucky for the podcast - and for The Spinoff for the platform.
Anyway, I woke up this morning, the final gruelling leg of this column still ahead of me, and thought: "I'm so sorry Renée, I know it's Wednesday, but I've got this big deadline."
She looked at me without sympathy and said: "a deal's a deal."
Links to amazing things I've read this week:
Aaron Smale: If I was on a desert Island and could only receive news from one journalist from Aotearoa, Aaron would be it. His whole series on Tairāwhiti needs to be a book. His summary of the Hui aa motu is by far and away the best I read.
Hot of the press, from Josh from The Bad Newsletter: Indigenous rights are under attack. This gives excellent context for the discussion above, you should follow Josh if you don't already.
Okay wait, I want to revise my one NZ journalist pick and choose Mad Chapman instead. If you only read one thing from this list, make it this one "Email signoffs ranked from worst to best". Although there are 36 in total, somehow she still missed my personal favourite (lol).
Is living on a boat the answer to all life's problems? I nearly scrolled right by this one. It is the most beauuuuuutiful writing. I couldn't resist the title - my ex left me to live on a boat, or I dumped him and he couldn’t afford a house (depends on who’s version you follow). Anyway, I sometimes think of him on the boat and feel such relief cos I really don’t want to sleep in a bed the shape of a slice of pizza. But this essay made me wonder what I might be missing out on. For about 2 seconds. It’s over now.
I sneaked in a short story this week by Shelley Burne-Field, who is the master of dialogue and scene. She would get an A++ from John. Shelley captures the inner workings of everyday racism that some like to insist doesn't exist here. I had to read it twice - it's going to be one of those stories that never leaves me.
You may have noticed (or if you didn't, you might want to check it out) I had to block and delete someone for the first time for pushing blatant zionist propoganda wrapped up whataboutism on my post about the Work of the Witness. That person showed up in one of my friends' DMs ranting and abusive. Please, if this ever happens to you with someone you've encountered here, let me know?
I sought advice before deciding to how to respond to their comment and tackled it by speaking to those who read the comments and do their learning in those spaces. I blocked her first though, as I knew it wasn't going to be fruitful or meaningful to engage with one person so clearly fixed in their position. It was a good call, because she continued to contact me via other methods, but at least she can't be present or participate in this space. A reminder that only "members" can read even free posts, while spaces like this are just for a small group (approx 120 of us at this point). This helps me monitor and moderate.
If you are still wanting to know how you can learn and lend your support for Palestine, I recommend following Emily Writes who is keeping the info fresh. Please also follow Justice for Pal and if you can sign up to support, do consider it. ALSO, Emily is organising a fundraiser at Meow and has invited me and I am wondering if I should send Lois along?! Save the Date, Sat. Feb 10th. Here is a link to tickets and here's the FB event.
Final point on admin!! This is important as you are a paying sub!
I noticed when doing some admin in the back end of Stripe (the payment facility that both Substack and Ghost use) that some people are still paying between $6-$7 a month or $60-$70 per year. I have lowered the subs to $5 a month ($50 a year) but there's no easy way to change that at my end in bulk for (insert tech info I don't understand how to manipulate).
I'm going to work out how to bulk edit at some point like when I finish writing about writing but if you would like me to change your subscription manually now, please can you email me and I'll do it this weekend. If you don't know how much you're paying, click here and sign in and click on "account" and the details will show up - which you (in theory) can edit but I don't think is working for everyone. Let me know if you have problems.
It's just work. stop fucking about and get on with it.