Workshop this week with Youth Performance Trust 8 – 10 April 2015

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Hey friends and fambamily, I’m giving a FREE poetry and performance workshop in Otara this week (MIT) for youth aged 16 – 24, as part of the Youth Arts Space initiative with support from the Ministry of Health’s Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme Pacific Community Innovation Fund to improve awareness and help to reduce rheumatic fever.

A huggee shout out to the TYLA Youth Development Trust crew for making my last workshop the best one yet – giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet some of the most promising young women in this country! I’m pretty sure most spaces are taken for this week’s shenanigans, but if you’re keen to spend a few days doing AWESOME stuff across dance/ visual arts/ wordy stuff with me and general awesomeness, then PM me or email your name and contact details to youthartss@gmail.com

A big thanks to Aaron Taouma and the team at Youth Performance Trust for making these workshops possible, chur!

x o x o x o

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My top 20 songs to write to

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A truthful glimpse into my practice: I love to write to loud music. We have some great Mission speakers at home and a red turntable that aptly sets my little red lipstick heart on fire. Here is a list of the usual suspects that I blare in the living room while I’m trying to strike a balance between the zoo in my head and the blank page in front of me. They are in no particular order and of an equal respect, love and infinite inspiration… A good song can put new life into your bones when you truly feel like tossing your laptop off the deck. I hope a few of you will reply with your favourite songs to create to as well!

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ode to my cousin

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Anyone who knows me well, knows just how much I love and adore my cousin, the artist Danielle Meredith. You would’ve seen me turn up at an exhibition opening looking like I literally just finished work and managed a gulp of water before hurriedly applying lipstick, usually in the reflection of a framed print, or even in the middle of the gallery – using my sunglasses as a make-shift mirror, and you would’ve noticed the beautiful pristine woman beside me: that’s Dani.

As girls, we did everything together and it was evident from very early on that the powers that be, had paired us with absolute finesse. When our grandma made us hard boiled eggs, Dani only liked the yolk and I only liked the egg white. When we coloured in together, Dani liked the bright colours and I found the dark ones interesting. She had a fastidious way of colouring inside the lines, loving applying different shades to different pieces of clothing, whereas I would colour whole families dark brown, or black, or grey, with no regard for the intended shape. If she was picked on at kindy, I was the one who would throw bark at the big boys and scream at them to ‘leave my cousin alone!’ with one hand on my hip and the other pointed right between the eyes of whatever enormous bully stood in my way. But it was Dani who would rock me back to sleep if I woke up after having a nightmare.

I’ve often thought over the years that we should’ve been one person in one body, as separate individuals we inhabit extremes that can only be balanced with the other. I’m very good at starting things, Dani is very good at finishing things. I’m comfortable speaking out and shooting from the hip, Dani ruminates and chooses her words carefully. There is a power between us that I’ve never been able to wholly articulate, even after basing my award winning play ‘Rushing Dolls’ on our relationship. Every major trip I’ve had overseas, or the times I’ve been able to discuss what inspires me, where the words come from and where my ideas are formed – Dani is so intrinsic to everything that touches on those motivations and who I am and who I have become, that I often absorb her into that hip that I shoot from and I forget to see her as an independent woman.

We were in our early twenties and I was studying law and arts, trying to navigate my way through a myriad of dense texts that made me feel like an alien in my own skin. Dani invited me to an arts awards event, it was down town and I remember feeling like I had nothing to wear. When I walked into the gallery, the first thing I saw was a painting of the two of us. It was a moment that changed my life forever. I felt as though there was no better way to exist than to spend ones life honouring and acknowledging those that you love the most. She gave me the opportunity to see myself, the way that she saw me, and when she won second place that evening I howled like a baby and I didn’t care who could see me crying because I had come home.

The years that followed were a matted entanglement of throwing myself into the arts and confronting the part of myself that was scared of ending up poor and homeless under a bridge. I left law school to dedicate myself to becoming a writer, I turned up to my lectures with a different perspective, I wanted to find the connection that Dani had found between herself and her practice. She will never realise completely, the way that she led me out into the world, by example.

Dani was the first person to invite me to the MIT Faculty of Creative Arts, which was then the Manukau School of Visual Arts, for an open day that boasted some of the most interesting and beautiful artwork I have ever seen. She led me through the halls with a huge smile on her face, she had a lot of cool and creative friends who popped up from different spaces, peaking their heads around corners and waving, doing the fingers, rolling their shoulders to a beat in their heads. I was grateful that those same friends welcomed me with open arms and gave me everlasting friendship and support that I enjoy and honour to this day.

Last week I began a new job as the Project Manager for that very same Creative Arts Faculty, at MIT, on Lovegrove Crescent just around the corner from the township that Dani walked me down and introduced me to. I get off my bus, close to where she used to get off hers, and when I walk into my office, the blank walls call out for her bold and wonderfully intricate paintings. There are people in my department who used to teach my cousin, and they trust me based on the trust they had and always will have, in who Dani is as a creative and as person of great integrity. I have heard of ‘Meredith’s’ hanging on the walls of the leadership team, who seek to navigate the institute through national waters and towards an international impact. It gives me an indescribable joy to be known as Dani’s little cousin in such a big place that is full of energy and raw talent. There are paintings of and by my cousin in South Auckland, and there are public spaces safeguarded by my very own family members, who Dani has given immortality through her works.

Dani taught me how to ride a bike with flat tyres, how to ride a skateboard down a broken drive and how to make potions with flowers from the garden, but I wonder if she knows that she taught me how to simply be myself.

The focus of my new role it to lead the development and implementation of both commercial and community opportunities across the faculty. I look forward to nurturing the next wave of Danielle Merediths at MIT, popping up from different spaces, peaking their heads around corners and waving, doing the fingers, rolling their shoulders to a beat in their heads…

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NZ BOOK COUNCIL (& GENERAL YAY-NESS)

I remember being a young upstart wide eyed and overawed by the New Zealand Book Council. I used to trawl through their website, lovingly scouring the writers files, trying to find a rhythm, a common theme. One thing they seemed to share, the writers at the time (I should make a point here that they are timeless), was a kind of courage that prevailed, regardless of their situation. They wrote through times of confusion and political unrest, they turned to the mountains when the city had no answers, through travel and family – the page was their greatest love, catching them in free fall when nothing else could. Every writer will tell you something different about the page, but I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s part time capsule and part chimera. I personally approach the page as a place to work through ideas and situations with the benefit of limitless space before and behind me, it is a kind of immeasurable expanse that promises revelation, closure and wonder.

I can’t exactly do the feeling justice, having been inducted to these hallowed (viral) halls as of last week. You can check out my brand spanking new bio here: Courtney Sina Meredith Bookcouncil

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Another wonderful thing that has only just come to light is the realisation that my play Rushing Dolls and of course yours truly, are acknowledged within this incredible Palgrave Macmillan anthology Contemporary Women Playwrights I’m beyond chuffed and I especially love this quote from Dr Diana Looser: “The world the women inhabit as active, visible participants is “Urbanesia,” Meredith’s neologism for the energetic, urban, polygot culture of contemporary Auckland that brings the island and the city into profound collision, and acts as the crucible of new global identities.”

It’s so easy to write and work and sleep and eat, and to become so used to what is in fact magical and awesome. I’m guilty of forgetting that what I’m creating, or what I’m trying to constantly unearth from within my ancestral bounty, is new and wild and sparkly. I feel super excited to be working on two new books, with a new job starting very soon (I promise I will properly announce it on here when the time is right) and there are a few other wins that I just can’t wait to share with you all. Keep smiling and seeing how wonderful your life is, with fresh eyes.

Writing/ thinking/ filming

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Profiling Goodness Gracious Cafe for Neighbourhood

It’s been another great week, a lot of writing and the usual associated trauma (does this make sense? is there time to ‘switch codes’ to something more lucrative that’s kinder on the stomach?) On Friday I had the pleasure of hosting ‘Neighbourhood’ for Eden Terrace, it’s a TVNZ series that profiles different communities and the different cultures that exist therein. It was special being able to share some of the things I love best about my hood, like Basque Park, Goodness Gracious Cafe, my publisher Beatnik,  Split/ Fountain, and of course – my home that I share with my family on Symonds St. Even my grandpa was in the mix! The crew filmed him serving up his famous oka – my favourite food in all the world. My lovely (surly) brothers were up at the crack of dawn to shoot some neat soccer shots of the three of us, and I was really stoked to connect with Julia Espinoza, a visionary hair and makeup artist who felt like an instant bff! Watch this space, as she may have convinced me to start running ;-)

I want to thank the team at Satellite media, and apologise to anyone who had to walk around me on their way down Symonds St, or listen to me raving at the top of my lungs while trying to eat breakfast. I’m sorry we had to turn off the music at the cafe for filming and hey, thanks to the old codgers at the Kings Arms for the toothless grins and cricket banter – you’re all good sorts.

With Julia

With Julia at Basque Park super early!

Litte bros waiting to be filmed ;)

Litte bros waiting to be filmed ;)

Grandpa and mum with his world famous oka on display!

Grandpa and mum with his world famous oka!

I went to Piha last weekend and totally missed the shenanigans of Laneway, I was at home showing my age (and probably my bank account ha!) celebrating my dad’s birthday with a giant chocolate cake, he was in heaven – it was still warm when we dug in, fresh from the oven thanks mum:

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As January draws to a close, with it goes the justified romanticism of every and any new year. The reality of hard work and the relentless advance towards achievement continues. I remember having dinner last year with a very good, and very successful friend. He’s quite a bit older than me and always makes a point of acknowledging life experience as one of the greatest tools any of us can possess. I have a small amount of the stuff, and looking back now, I realise that I thought I was weak at the time – going through trials of confusion, pain, loss and grief. Vulnerability is a kind of mist, and when you feel completely overpowered and hopeless, something else is happening inside you – the clearing away of things and people that no longer serve the purpose of your one, precious life. When the mist clears, and it always does in one way or another, you look out from a great peak: your own, truly beautiful self.

 

New nah? New year ;)

It’s great to have started 2015 with a bang! After a huge December that involved receiving an arts grant from CNZ to write my next book (of short stories) Tail of the Taniwha (yay yippee yay) followed by a trip to Rarotonga to spend time with family, and then the usual eating-your-body-weight-in-xmas-ham shenanigans: I was looking forward to a fresh new year, full of empty days!

This week I’ve had the honour of being a guest for the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, I was able to brunch with these incredible young women and to also run a writing workshop with them – with the greatest hero of our nation  Willie Apiata in the mix: Nation’s best inspire teens (NZ Herald)

I have a few things on the horizon that I’m especially looking forward to, Silo Theatre’s Working Titles 2015 first and foremost, what an outstanding opportunity to work with passionate people, dedicated to creating innovative environments of connection.

One day you look at your life, and all of the suffering and confusion that you imagined to be lulls between living, suddenly strike out as the bridges that delivered you to somewhere unimaginably beautiful. May we all find the smooth side of whatever life throws at us in 2015 <3

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With the amazing girls on the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme 2015

 

 

turtles all the way down

It’s easy to become used to a certain set of conditions, the daily spells we live under that in essence – meet our needs. I have a lot of books by my bed that I keep meaning to read, and a few red pen to-do lists that calmly gather dust (not speed) while I do my best like most of my gen y counterparts, not to spin off the face of the earth.

In times of crisis we are called into action by a force beyond ourselves, and the lists must be crossed off in hindsight and the books must written in real time. The following is a thought piece written by my mother Kim Meredith Melhuish, who inspired this post:

“As a Pacific community we do not have a monopoly on shame, many other cultures are also obsessed with this emotion. Throughout post European contact shame has become embedded as a motivating force to spur our Pacific people on, to always do the right thing, to make the right decisions with the objective of making our families and communities proud. Last week my family celebrated another milestone for our daughter Courtney Sina Meredith, CNZ have awarded her funds and recognition toward a body of work she will produce. I can’t tell you how proud and happy we felt, I felt. Across the ditch in Sydney a woman of almost similar age, of Samoan ancestry gave birth to a boy after concealing her pregnancy and then abandoned him by dumping him into a stormwater drain. My rage, pity and shame matched the extent of pride I felt for my daughter, boundless! I knew that almost 29 years ago I experienced the pressure of not fulfilling family expectations.

I recall my mother and father silent with embarrassment at a daughter pregnant and not even the prospect of a husband in sight. Luck was on my side, I’d been a rebel without a cause for some time, there would be no redemption for me but at least I was free to make a choice about the future I wanted – my beautiful Courtney. Across the ditch in Sydney, it’s as if time has stood still, that the value of shame is still the driving motivator for some of our young people not to put a foot wrong, to somehow magically know how to always make the right move but how can they when the chasm between how we aspire to live has no resemblance to how we actually do live, doing our best and occasionally tripping up. So many people will be horrified that a woman would rather kill her baby than stare into the faces of her disappointed and shamed family. Perhaps it shows we might be in the 21st century but for many of our Pacific communities when it comes to relationships, sex, and the values assigned to women we are still in the dark ages. It’s time to be real and come out into the light.”

I’ve read this commentary a few times over the last couple of days and my responses have curved from luminous and damning to a feeling of numbness followed by frustration and the desire for change. Maybe there are too many things left unsaid that we simply believe others to know, almost instinctively. For all of the ways that life has rushed at me, and others like me, small unplanned miracles that clung on for dear life regardless – the framework we have for freedom is unreliable if we cannot apply it from the most robust to those in need.

So what is it that we aren’t saying as a people? That we are perfectly imperfect, that culture cannot be ‘heightened’ or made more so through martyrdom and flagellation. That there is a far greater monster awaiting us all in the present moment – than any imagined eternity in flames. That we cannot afford to simmer within identity politics, faith associations and financial shame while the real festering of emotional poverty kills off hope at the speed of light. Our great plague of shame is self-hatred perpetuated by a multiplicity of factors including the deep seeded doubt that we are not ‘enough’ simply as we are. Let the life of this baby boy herald a new era, a dawning of customs based on prosperity of life, forgiveness, generosity of spirit and the claiming of our essential selves, embattled but real.