Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu – The power of 7 words

I’ve told a few people this story, it is a very short one the whole thing happened in a few short minutes but it is still very vivid in my mind.

It was 1990, the 150th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti, and events around this were happening all over the motu. I was a seventh former (as we called it in the olden days, last year of high school) and myself and the other 7th formers in the Māori class were at a hui at Putiki marae.

We were introducing ourselves, and I was super nervous. As an aside I noticed this on Tuesday night too, I have no problem at standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people presenting. (I guess it’s the Pākehā man genes kicking in, we’ve been overconfidently talking at people forever). But put me in a setting like doing a mihi and karakia on the marae at Te Papa (Tuesday night) and I get all whakamā. So back to the story, I was nervously waiting my turn and when it came I bumbled my way through it. Then I said something like “as you can see I’m only part Māori”

Moana Jackson (who we were there to kōrero with) then said

There are no parts, you are Māori

Now if I was whakamā before, imagine how I felt now. I felt like I had been told off, but let’s face it to a 17 year old boy everything feels like being told off. Here is this man that my parents hold in super high regard and he’s telling me I said something wrong. I blushed and sat down.

But within minutes, I began to understand. One of the reasons my parents (and I) admire Moana Jackson is because his words come from a place of aroha. He was grounding me, letting me plant my feet, saying you have the right to be here. There are no degrees of Māori, you just are.

Seven words that have lived with me for 26 years now since that day. Seven words that have had a massive impact on how I view the world.

So even though it’s incredibly unlikely Moana will read this, just in case. Kia ora mō tēnā.

Being an insider

Most people in my world would recognize me and my work as an artist and teacher or maybe a mom or academic. But what I am really going to talk about today is to speak about the issues of mental health that I have experienced and my thoughts about how we might move things forward – along with you all.

I would first like to acknowledge that there has been a lot of work put into what to call people like myself, and I still struggle to find an adequate and comfortable fit with any of them. Service user, consumer, client, patient, all sound rather “labelly” and don’t represent the rich and diverse people who they are applied to. So I have given up giving a good solid suggestion, so I like to refer to myself as an ‘insider’ but also fully embrace the word ‘crazy’ in all its definitions, (but prefer “mentally interesting”). “Insider” embraces the idea that it is something that others may not understand or appreciate, and is also a nod to the duress and battle that happens on the “inside”.

So what does this have to do with my campaign, my art and my life? One of the two exhibitions that I’ve been working on for a couple years that I’m gathering funds for is called Patient Property. It started a couple of years ago when I had a drug interaction after a surgery that caused a condition called Seratonin Syndrome. It caused a chemical storm in my head like nothing I have ever experienced and I became very unwell in various ways. One of the ways was an extreme heightened anxiety that was like a panic attack that was 24 hours a day. Long story short, I ended up in hospital to deal with the physical and mental manifestations of the condition. While there I started to deal with my situation by attempting to soothe with my art and writing. It was one of my only coping mechanisms and after the syndrome faded a bit and I was sent into a deep depression as the doctors played fiddle-the-meds in an effort to help, I started to talk to other people. I heard story after story about the mental health system in NZ and the failings it had, but also some good stories. I met extraordinary people who were often brushed aside by doctors, their communities and the world in every socio-economic, ethnicity, or gender you can imagine. It was an extremely awful, dire time for me, but also one that was enlightening.

I began to document people’s stories and produce art in response to all that was happening around me, and was adamant to retell some of what happened over these years in some form visually. So many, many people are struggling and dying and not getting the help they need due to inadequate funding, overstressed mental health sector, and a general misunderstanding from the world as a whole about what mental illness is all about and the many forms it takes. I made it a promise to myself that I would do whatever I could to lobby government, assist those working the battles to have better outcomes, and grow with my own black dog nipping at my heel. And so here I am.

Patient Property is important. One in 4 people has mental illness in our world. If you don’t, I guarantee you know someone who does. We can not get anywhere hiding these issues under the carpet and we need people to stand up and say that not dealing with these issues has social, political and life affecting consequences.

This is where you come in! I need funds in order to help get this show out there! I plan to exhibit the art that is currently half completed and needs further funding to finish – a mix of all sorts of media works and writing about my own journey and others’. I hope to make this exhibition part of a dynamic workshop with panels, speakers, writers, artists, doctors and work together to advocate for change in society and addressing how our mental health system is working. You may not know how to help someone who is in the throws of mental illness (though, ask me! I have ideas!), but contributing towards this exhibition and playing a part in making art meet social change is definitely one way that I would love! Come on board and see what we can do together. Let’s help that one in four “Insider” around you!

Please share!!

The Top 10 Things Life Lessons as an Artist

And here we go! We’re just on our journey to get this campaign running and already we’re doing so well! I have been flattered and feel very honored to already have so much support and love from some very kind and generous donors – most of which whom want to be anonymous. Even those who can’t contribute financially have been amazingly supportive and curious about the art and the ideas.

To those of you who have donated already, a huge hug filled with fluffy clouds, fuzzy kittens and rainbows! To everyone reading this, I challenge you to share this site, or to talk about these projects with one person today. Please spread the word! Have conversations! Lets move mountatins together!

I’d like to share what was on my mind from my sketchbook a month or so ago. Here’s my list of

The Top 10 Things Life Lessons as an Artist

10. You use gel medium to fix a run in your pantyhose.

9. You haven’t slept properly since you were 7.

8. You refer to old magazines as “photo reference” and death comes to anyone who tries to pitch them out before you can get your hands on them.

7. You can do wonders with an old shower curtain, 3 nails, an old tube of ochre paint and a styrofoam meat tray.

6. You learn to smile when people say “Oh…. you’re an artist? But what do you REALLY do? I just LOVE Thomas Kinkade!”

5. Every article of clothing you own has a small handprint in paint or glitter somewhere on it.

4. You use an xacto knife to cut sandwiches and apples for the kids lunchboxes in a pinch when all the silverware is in the running dishwasher.

3. Upon meeting someone you’re not afraid to say “You have an amazing philtrum, Can I draw it?”

2. It is possible (though not advised) to live for periods of time eating only ramen noodles, cereal and caffeinated products.

1. You come to realize that whether you like it or not, you have both the blessing and the curse. You are an artist.

Thanks all – will keep updating on our journey!

Help an artist out

As most of you will know I have been working on Koha since 1999. Most of you will also know that without others at the beginning like Rachel, Simon, Olwen, Rosalie and Jo Koha would simply not exist. What people people might not be aware of though is that the one person who has been with me throughout the whole 18 years, that Koha has been worked on, is my wife Laurel.
She wasn’t my wife when I started in fact we had only recently met. But the stories of my Koha journey are intertwined with my relationship with Laurel. Without her constant support I would have given up a long time ago. A few years ago I wrote an unsung heroes of Koha post about Laurel.
Without her support I would never have been to travel the places I have, do the work on Koha I do in the weekends and evenings and so much more.
All of this is a long lead in to say that now Laurel needs your help (only if you are in a position where you can of course). Laurel is an art educator and an artist. Neither of which, unless you are incredibly fortunate, are careers that provide much in the way of financial rewards.
Laurel has battled a lot of health problems throughout her life and her art is one way she deals with it. She is currently working on 2 shows to exhibit
And is currently fundraising to cover a small part of the costs. We’d love to be able to cover the costs ourselves but unfortunately we can’t. So if you want to help Laurel out (and be part of making some fantastic art) which indirectly helps me out, which indirectly helps Koha out, please do. And if you don’t we’re still friends 🙂

Boosted fundraising site

He kaituhi hōtaka rorohiko ahau

Warning: This is a messy bunch of jumbled up thoughts, with no real conclusion.

How did I end up here? This is something I often ask myself. How did a person born in Kawakawa, from Te Wai Pounamu, end up in the server room of the Library of Bowen University in Iwo, Nigeria?

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When I was young I wanted to be a chef, then I realised how hard they have to work, and noped right out of that idea. I was super privileged that both my parents were teachers, and that my dad has always had a strong interest in computers. We always had computers in the house, since I was about 12, so computer science was what I ended up studying.

In a theme that has continued through a large part of my life, I couldn’t do a double major in Computer Science and Māori Studies in a BSc. So I ended up doing a BSc and a BA. Once I finished my BSc, and while I was finishing my BA I worked part time at Te Pūtahi a Toi at Massey University. For those 2.5 years I was able to really feel like I was a Māori programmer, not a programmer who happens to be Māori.

Since 1997 I have worked for 3 different companies, 2 of them were fantastic, Katipo Communications, and Catalyst IT (where I still work now). The third one, not so much, but that is a whole other story. While Katipo and Catalyst were and are great places to work, the reality of working in IT in Wellington is, it is quite likely you are going to be the only Māori in the room most times. What may be a little different for me is that I don’t look like what most people think Māori look like. (Us Kāi Tahu had contact with Europeans relatively early on, lots of whalers down that way. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “but how much Māori are you?” or “Why did you learn Māori?” I’d have retired about 10 years ago.) This means I get to overhear lots of really offensive opinions and the worst part is when people assume I will agree.  I’m not going to delve into the role privilege plays in IT, apart to say, I think a lot more people could think on Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini kē. (My strength is not the strength of one, it is the strength of many. We are the product of our ancestors and our environments, no one stands alone, no one did it themselves).

So, at least in my experience, the easiest way to be Māori in IT is to be as Pākehā as you can. That’s certainly the path of least resistance and will make your daily life easier. Except of course, unless you are working for a Māori organisation. I also acknowledge that for most of my career I have been working with Libraries, this has brought me into contact with many awesome people through groups like Te Rōpū Whakahau. So I have had a much easier journey than others.

Things are changing though, people are now taking Te Reo classes at my work, I have a great support group of people like my whānau, Kris, Amber and many others here in Wellington. IT has also given me the chance to meet people from all over the world. To visit places like Nigeria, Argentina, Greece, Scotland, Canada, USA, Fiji .. and so many more. It is, in the scheme of things, a pretty damn good career choice. It is something I encourage many more Māori to get involved in, as it is an expanding and massively varied field of work. From User Experience to Design, to Business Analysis, to Operations, to Sales, to Project management, and on and on. There is so much more to it than just us coders. I think in summary I’d say to Māori.
IT is like rugby, there is a position for every type of player. However it is quite likely some cracker is going to say something like we need a sensible Pākehā in the centres.

Kohacon16 Day 3 – Working towards a Koha Greek Users’ Group

Sofia Zapounidou followed Georgia’s talk, Georgia had made a fantastic case for the need for people to collaborate. So Sofia followed it up with the how this might happen.

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They looked at the other local user groups around the world and what they did. Then they tried to find out what other libraries in Greece are using Koha, there are much more than people know about. They did a survey of these libraries to find out what people wanted to do

  • Website/Wiki
  • Mailing list
  • Translation of Koha
  • Training
  • Desired features
  • Coding initiatives

Greece is ready for a Koha users group

Kohacon16 Day 3 – 10 years of Koha in Greece: from solitude to solidarity?

Georgia Katsarou then spoke about the history of Koha usage in Greece. She started by introducing where she works, a library in a school called College Year in Athens.

They started with a card catalogue, and then moved to Access (the students like the card catalogue much better). In 2006 they moved to Koha.

Greek Timeline
  • 2006-2007 Quiet
  • 2008 A few libraries started asking about Koha
  • 2009 More libraries, HEAL-links ebooks.
  • December 2009 First presentation at a Greek Conference
  • 2010-2015 Interest of every kind of library
  • 2016 Kohacon in Thessaloniki

Georgia felt that she need to give back, her boss said ok. So she started by translating and ran a blog called KohaGR.

What we must do
  • Communicate
  • Spread the news
  • Have a virtual space
  • Ask/Answer/Discuss
  • Meet with each other
  • Have an annual meeting
  • Volunteer
  • Public and private work together
  • Companies must not be afraid to contribute
  • Help those who are in need (libraries with no IT, unimarc users)
  • Work together on projects
  • Ask for help and ideas from other local communities
What not to do
  • Exchange questions, ideas and solutions privately!!!
  • Set up our installation and forget about it
  • Take for granted other people’s contribution

Georgia presented so well and so passionately, that I feel really invigorated and ready to go on the hackfest.