Say It Again Sam!

Julie & Julia

Issue 1, 10 May 2010

Every once in a while a film inspires my humanity. I’m not talking about the super hero-thriller-Bourne Identity-Matt Damon-type inspiration. I’m talking about the genuine sense that the story unfolding before you is revealing something good and true about human experience. Call me soppy and chick-flicky, but I found Julie & Julia – featuring the superior acting talents of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams – to be that sort of film. Streep’s character plays the woman who brought French cooking to America – Julia Childs, while Adams’ character plays a woman who decides to cook her way through Child’s recipe book (500+ recipes) in 365 days – and write a blog about it every day.

Besides being a nice story, which involves two married couples (how often does that happen in a Hollywood flick?), some attractive Mediterranean sets, and some hilarious scenes involving food preparation, the story inspired me because it was about people discovering something they were really passionate about and living that out in their daily existence. Adams’ character (also based on a real person) rediscovers her love of writing after failing to find a publisher for a book attempt a few years earlier. It also enables her to find relief from the moroseness of her day job – working at an insurance firm. So, she nightly blogs her journey through Child’s cook book and attracts quite a blog following, until the New York Times publishes an article about her. And the rest, they say, is history. (see tralier at http://www.flicks.co.nz/movie/julie-julia/)

This film has inspired me to adopt a similar blog challenge (though admittedly without the food accompaniment): write a weekly blog for a year. 52 weeks. 52 blogs. It can’t be that hard. Can it? Well I figure you just have to write about what comes naturally…?! The best stuff is not manufactured…!? I have been thinking of blogging for a while, but it hasn’t really happened before (except from some irregular attempts up North in Rawene).

As leading blog-site, Blogspott, says:  ‘A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world.’ (see http://www.blogger.com/tour_start.g)  My blog might borrow from all these genres at different times. And, yes. My blog title – ‘Say It Again Sam’ – is just a little on the egotistical side. But hey, aren’t all blogs essentially of this ilk?

So. Enough excuses. Write.

Michael King was probably New Zealand’s most well known historical writer before his untimely death in a car accident, shortly after his Penguin History of New Zealand hit the coffee tables of many New Zealanders. Less well known are his Being Pakeha (1985) and Being Pakeha Now (1999) in which King tells his story about exploring Maori culture, initially as a journalist in Waikato and then as a writer of books – among them biographies of Te Puea and Whina Cooper.

There was something that captured me about King’s writing when I read Being Pakeha Now in the early 2000s. Here was someone grappling with Maori experience – and seeking to make it intelligible to Pakeha New Zealanders (in particular) – and at the same time projecting his vision in print about Pakeha indigeneity. King proposed – controversially in some circles – that Pakeha culture was a ‘second indigenous culture’ in Aotearoa New Zealand. King thought that Pakeha culture was different from that of its British and Irish cultures of origin. Those original settler cultures were shaped by many things, not least of which was the landscape and the interaction with Maori.

King’s real genius was to see the importance of both streams in the the ways of being and doing that are ‘Pakeha culture’. (And we’re not just talking about the All Blacks or the NZSO here; we are talking about our attitudes to family, work, religion, politics, individualism vs collectivism, that shape the way we actually live.) Hence, both the cultures of origin and the new environment which fashioned a new ‘European New Zealander’ (as the census form has it) needed/still needs to be understood and embraced within the new composite identity. At the same time, ‘being Pakeha’ possessed different permutations and nuances. King wrote, with much insight into his own identity:

'For myself, life is inescapably conditioned by the Irish-Catholic childhood, by the love of words and music that that background bequeathed to me; as it is by the passion for history, and for the life of the bush, the coast and the sea that grew out of my early years at Paremata. These fundamental experiences provide the magnetic core which has attracted and held the iron filings of additional influences - my formal education, my interaction with other New Zealanders, my encounter with Maori, travel abroad - which combine to make up my character and my own brand of New Zealand Pakeha identity.' (Being Pakeha Now, Penguin, 1999, p 239)

So, a  blog exploring Pakeha identity, anyone? If that doesn’t take, I suppose I can still write about movies…

Coming to you every week for a year – ‘Say IT again SAM’!

Sam Carpenter

email: samuel@karuwha.org.nz

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