Lani Wendt Young

You Can’t Handle The Truth.

I was invited to speak at a Youth Careers Evening where two of my Fab5 would be in attendance. In other words, the possibility of embarassing my children was very real.

Big Daughter’s advice – “Tell them about going on book tour and all the people that line up for you to sign their book. Tell them you work with gorgeous cover models and designers.”

I said, “But that only happens when I release a new book. As in once a year. The rest of the time Im sitting in my cave eating donuts and writing.”

Look of horror, “You cant tell them the TRUTH! Then they’ll know what a boring job you have and how uncool you are.”

You Is Beautiful

A message for the Single Ladies from Samoa. (But not the skinny ones.)

I got in to New Orleans at 1am and went straight to the hotel which is in the French Quarter. Couldnt sleep because I’m on Samoa time and at 7.30am I was up and out for a walk, doing the tourist thing as the city slowly woke up.
There’s feathers and gators, blues and horses.

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As a donut freak connoseiur, of course I had to go to Cafe du Monde and get beignets. Which I then savored scrumptiously while sitting in Jackson Park and enjoying the sounds of a street jazz musician.

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Then this happened: Walking along Canal Street, an elderly gentleman stopped me.
“Can ah please ask whea you from?”
Me – “I’m from Samoa.”
“Whea is dat?”
I explained. He then asked, “Ahh hope you dont mind me aaskin, but ahh you  married mizz?”
Me – “Yes I am.”
“Aahm sorry to hea that.” Shook his head sorrowfully. “You aah so beautiful, ahh seen you walkin by and aah aint nevah seen anyone look like you befoah, aahh just had to find out whea you from.”
Me – “Thank you.” What a fabulous city this is! Random compliments on a meandering morning walk!  So he looks about sixty years old but hey, one is grateful for gracious compliments whenever one can get them.

“Do aaallll the wimen in Saamowah look like you? Can you please tell dem to come hea to Nawlins? Coz you married but can your single sistahs come visit?”

Me (laughing, because, y’know… I’m beautiful and it’s a beautiful day in a beautiful city) – “Sure, I’ll let them know.”
#FeelingGood cos #YouIsBeautiful #YouIsImportant… Pharell Williams is singing real loud #BecauseImHappy

Then he added. “Yeah tell the beautiful ladies in Saamowah we would really appreciate dem hea. Y’know, beautiful ladies like you with meat on dem. Curves. We dont like dem skinny girls, all dem bones.” He grimaced. “No dont like dem skinny wimmen.” He held his hands out wide and repeated. “Beautiful with some meat on ’em.”

WTH?!  #BecauseImHappy song scratched abruptly. Did he have to hold his hands out THAT wide?!  Dammit.

Me, not laughing anymore – “Okay thank you. Bye now.”

Then I went and ate another beignet. Because you know, that’s what beautiful women ‘with meat on dem’ do when they’re in New Orleans.

But I’m passing on the message – single ladies from Samoa who are not skinny? You will find great beignets and random 60 year old admirers here. Come quickly.

Swamp Snakes and Alligators

I’m packing for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. Last year it was in Kansas City Missouri and involved various escapades with snowballs, biscuitsngravy and getting reported for excessive noise (ie. Raucous laughter and DietCoke drunkenness) while hanging out in E.L James suite.

This year RT is in New Orleans Louisiana. There wont be any surprise snow but I will get to meet up with fantabulous author friends again, attend workshops and hear from some authors whose work I’m entranced with – like Charlaine Harris (any True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse fans in the house?!), Nalini Singh, and husband and wife writing duo Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. I shall try very hard not to fall on the ground in awe when I see them.

This will be my first time to Louisiana. I’m not looking forward to the heat and sweltering humidity because HELLO I live in sauna Samoa. (I would have preferred some snow to be honest…) But I’ve heard great things about the food, the sights and the sounds in New Orleans – so I’m excited.

I have a free day at the convention so I thought I would do some sightseeing. I looked up a few tours and chose The SWAMP TOUR. Where you go with a guide on an airboat into the swamp and look for alligators, snakes and other assorted wildlife. How supercool would that be!!?? I had visions of me…bold and brave, communing with nature of the reptilian variety. In these visions I kinda sorta looked like Angelina Jolie-Lara Croft’s big brown sister. (Emphasis on big.)

But then I told the Fab4 (we are minus one because Big Son has run away to university…sniff sniff) – and the Fab4 didnt share my vision.

Big Daughter scoffed because “You’re scared of snakes on TV. What are you gonna do if one leaps into the boat?”

Bella said NO WAY because “Only my dad can do exciting fings. You can’t run fast away from alligators. You will come back and say See this is where my leg used to be. A alligator ate it.

Little Son laughed. “You’re going to fall off the boat and drown cos you cant swim. Ha ha.” (Just because he’s done three kids triathlons now he’s all smug and thinks he can mock his non-swimming mother. #Brat.)

Little Daughter cried. Because “you might die. Please don’t go on a swamp tour. Please mum. I will pray hard that you change your mind.”

Well, that was the nail in the swamptour coffin. I could ignore scoffing and mockery – but not tears. And prayers.

So yeah. I’m going to New Orleans but I wont be going into any swamps. Which is rather sad because I reeeally did want to be Lara Croft’s big brown sister.

A New TELESA Novel.

“You know this isn’t healthy right?” Jake asked the question without recrimination. Simply stating an indisputable fact. “The anonymous financial support of her education, the long-distance stalking of her career – these are not signs of a balanced individual, a man who’s made incredible progress in therapy. You’ve come so far. But this? Is the last chain holding you back.”

” She’s not the only one that my Fire Foundation supports. So what, it’s a crime now to do charity work?” argued Keahi.

“It is when it’s accompanied by 24 hour surveillance. When are you going to let her go? What are you afraid of?”

Keahi’s only response to that was to start attacking the kick bag. Jake raised his voice over the jarring sound of blows.

“How do you feel when you think about letting her go? Stopping all the security?”

Keahi halted his assault, battling for control of his raging emotions as Jake’s question got him thinking – against his will – of letting her go.

No more cameras. No more bodyguards. No more weekly reports. No more knowing where she was, what she was doing, if she were alright…

He swore. Loudly. Turned and kicked a chair, sent it hurtling across the room. Jake sipped at his green tea and adjusted his glasses. And waited. He was used to this.

“You didnt see the footage,” Keahi argued. “If my guy hadn’t been there she would have been mugged that first year of art school. And then that apartment she was in? A pit. A health hazard. The landlord was in violation of twelve different building codes. She couldnt stay there in those conditions. All the stuff I do?  Im just looking out for an old friend.”

Jake raised a questioning eyebrow. “Is that what you call it? Buying the whole building so you could get her apartment renovated? Oh, and installing a gym and planting a martial arts instructor in the apartment block in the hopes she would take up classes? All that comes under ‘looking out for an old friend’?!

“You make it sound like I’m a psycho.” Keahi’s shoulders slumped. “I’m not hurting her. I would never hurt her.”

“She’s not the one I’m worried about,” replied Jake. “This obsession hurts you. Your fixation prevents you from moving forward. She’s not your sister. Nothing you do can bring Mailani back or make up for what happened twenty years ago. You need to let go of the guilt or you’ll never find peace.”

“Peace is overrated,” snapped Keahi. He resumed his attack on the bag.

Sometimes Jake – with all his degrees and experience – could get it wrong. Because Keahi knew without a shadow of a doubt that Teuila was not Mailani. And nothing about her made him think of a sister.

“She’s not a chain holding me back Jake,” he said quietly. “She’s the reason I’m not dead in a ditch somewhere. Or still picking fights in seedy clubs.” He motioned with outspread arms to the opulence around them, the stunning penthouse view of the cityscape. “She’s the reason I sorted myself out and  fought for all this.” A sly grin. “She’s why I got a therapist in the first place. You owe her your exorbitant fee.”

“Touche,” laughed Jake.

*****************

Keahi thought about that last session with Jake as he wandered through Teuila’s latest exhibition, coming to a halt in front of a piece fashioned of black river rock – a woman with her arms crossed around her legs, drawing them up close to her torso. Her face looked up to the heavens in supplication. Reverence. Flowing curves and contours, supple and liquid like midnight water. It was entitled;

For thou art fearfully and wonderfully made.

Critics the world over were alternately baffled and awed by Teuila’s style. She delighted in taking the toughest, most immovable of materials and fashioning sculptural and design pieces that spoke of fragility and lightness. Many had an ethereal quality about them but one that rested firmly on a foundation of strength and endurance.

One reviewer wrote: ‘In her hands, rock becomes silk, poumuli wood is butter and ore is water. One cannot detect even the hint of a chisel or the cut of a blade in them. The strength required to hew such materials, particularly in the mammoth-sized works, boggles the mind. How does she do it?

Because he had experienced Teuila’s unique gift for himself – with electrifying results – Keahi knew the answer to that question.

Teuila came up beside him and he turned to her with a cautious smile.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“Psalms 139, verse 14.”

Her face lit up. “You know it! That’s my favorite scripture and the inspiration for my key piece…”

Keahi interrupted, “In your Ragged Soul exhibition at the end of your final year at the Academy. I know.”

Confusion. “But how?”

“I went to see it on one of my trips to New York.” He shrugged at her look of incredulity. “I was there doing media stuff and I stopped by.” He could see she still didnt believe him. “Fine. I have a friend who’s an art freak, goes to all the latest shows. He knew about my connection to Samoa so he told me about this brilliant new artist from a tiny island in the South Pacific that everybody was raving about.”

It was the truth, just not the whole truth. He left out the part about Jake recognizing Teuila’s name because he’d already heard about her in his sessions with Keahi.

“You didnt want to say hi?” asked Teuila.

“I didnt want to get in the way. You had all that press around you and a bunch of stuck-up art crowd, so no, I just hung back and watched you do your thing.” A grin. “You handled that asshole critic really well, the one who was talking smack about your work while trying to look down your dress at the same time. Pretentious prick.”

She gaped. “You were there that day?!”

“Yeah. I looked at all your pieces and gotta admit I didnt understand it all.” A sheepish laugh. “But the bits I did get? Blew me away.”

She was suddenly shy. “Really?”

“Some of it scares me.”

“Why?”

“It’s so honest. That takes courage I dont have.” He wanted to tell her that he’d bought ten of her pieces. They were everywhere in his office and in his house. He wanted to say that he’d read every critic’s review of her work, every write-up about her in every magazine. He’d watched every interview she’d given over the last two years and even taken an online Art Appreciation class because he wanted to understand her work that continued to intrigue and challenge people everywhere.

But he didnt. He couldnt.

Because how could he explain the power she had over him – when he couldnt explain it to himself?

**************

Its been ten years since the concluding events of The Bone Bearer. New paths have been forged, gifts unleashed in unexpected ways, everyone has made new lives for themselves. But some things are stronger than time and distance.  Keahi’s tie to Teuila is one forged by shared childhood pain but is it an addiction that can be transformed into an enduring love? Or will it destroy them both? Especially when an ancient force is awakened- the Heart of Vaea – and they must subdue it before it consumes them all.

The next book in the TELESA Series is a stand-alone contemporary novel written for a mature audience. Coming July 2014.

 

Are You a Sex Ninja?

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There are those who like to boast about their sex adventurous selves. They get busy on planes, trains and buses. Skyscrapers, ski lifts and roller coasters. In stadium crowds, nightclub dancefloors, and public swimming pools. (Eww) They revel in being Sex Daredevils…
We did it up against a tree while we were mountain hiking!’
‘Oh yeah? Well we did it hanging off the side of a cliff UPSIDE DOWN while we were abseiling, so there!’

Oh puh-leeeaze, you bore me.

Sure, people who get their thrills sexing it up in various exciting places simply because ‘we’ve never done it HERE before!’ …have some great death-defying (not to mention shame-defying) sex and yeah, we could all do with a few more death-defying moments in our lives… BUT you know who really deserves our awed admiration for their sexifying skills?

Sex Ninjas. People with kids. People who must overcome extreme odds and excruciating adversity (i.e the company of children) – so they can get busy.

Ask any couple with children living in their house, particularly young children – ‘So how do you manage to still have a sex life when you’ve got a crying baby that doesnt sleep…a toddler who keeps coming to sleep in your bed…teenagers who stay up half the night playing XBox…?? Sex must be impossible for you two!” Sometimes they will snap at you “What sex life?? We dont have one.” (And then you must offer to babysit their children immediately so that poor couple can go out and have sex enjoy a romantic date.)

But other times, a couple with too many children will give you a wise look and say, “Ahhh but nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough…we find ways to make it happen…” Listen and learn young grasshopper…listen to the Master…’

These people – are Sex Ninjas. They have mastered the art of quick quiet sex ( in cupboards, showers and garages)…urgently satisfying encounters when babies are sleeping or children are watching a Disney cartoon…secret sensual meetings in cars parked in the driveway (praying the neighbors dont call the police)…They can find fireworks in a laundry room and blow your mind in a kitchen amidst dirty dishes. (Daayum, dont you wish you could do that? I myself cannot ignore dirty dishes in favor of mindblowing activities.)

For Sex Ninjas, ‘anytime anywhere’ must be their mantra – the unpredictability of children dictates it. They have no time for all that Cosmopolitan stuff about #GettingInTheMood and #SettingTheSexualTone. Ha. Those things are like fluffy bunnies and pink cotton candy – cute if you can have them but not essential.

Not only that, Sex Ninjas are so dedicated to their craft that they can soldier forward and complete their mission – even after being interrupted by a puking child with a sore tummy, the smell of smoke as a teenager burns the dinner, or two feuding siblings banging on the bedroom door demanding their parents referee their battle.

When Sex Ninjas get the house alone to themselves – the most earth shattering things can happen because that time, space and privacy is so precious and strange to them. Heck, just being able to do it in your own bed is so exciting that rollercoaster sex just cant compare. The same happens when Sex Ninjas get a weekend or a holiday away from their children. That couple at the next table who cant keep their hands off each other? Probably Sex Ninjas who have successfully escaped from their prison wardens children. Cut them some slack. Buy them tickets for the nearest roller coaster.

In conclusion, Sex Daredevils are very nice to be with – if you are planning on spending a lifetime on roller coasters, planes, trains and buses…in nightclubs and stadiums…and abseiling down mountains UPSIDE DOWN.

But if you’re planning on letting some children live in your house then I recommend you find a Sex Ninja. And learn how to do the wild thing together in cupboards, showers and garages. Even better – find a Sex Daredevil and introduce him to the ways of the Ninja. It will require much training, mental and physical exhaustion, and most of all – that indescribable thing called LOVE (because let’s face it, the only reason why you would WANT to still have sex with someone when you are knee deep in diapers/poop/tears/dishes/laundry/XBoxArguments- is because you reeeally love ’em)

So yeah, the path of a Sex Ninja aint easy.

But it’s worth it.

(Or so they tell me. Im still an ASPIRING Sex Ninja-In -Training…)

Unforgettable Hot Nights. At the Beach.

I hate going to the beach. I love looking at the beach but despise sitting there…hanging out there…and most definitely, the mere thought of LIVING there.

Why? A beach is sandy. Dirty. Hot. Sweaty. Often bug-gy. And you have to lug insane amounts of stuff to be able to subsist there for a day. Or two. Especially when you have too many children like I do.

But the definition of ‘mother’ is ‘One who endures unpleasant experiences for and on behalf of one’s offspring.‘ Like childbirth, poop, vomit, bloody boob breastfeeding and sullen looks from sullen teenagers.

And camping at the beach.

Big Son came home for midterm break from Uni so the family voted to spend Easter weekend at Tafatafa Beach. We packed lots of gear, with extra Diet Coke so I could be nicer and patient’er. And set off on a grand adventure.

To my surprise, the first ten hours were glorious. We met up with awesome friends who were also camping for the weekend. There was much laughter, conversation, consuming of assorted snacks, BBQ and drink – all while relaxing in the shade under the swaying palm trees.

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The demons swam, kayaked, dug holes, built castles, played soccer and tried fishing.  It was a most enjoyable day. When night fell, we made a bonfire so the demons could toast marshmallows and then they played games and told stories in one of the fale’s. It was a most enjoyable evening watching the sun set over a silken blue-black sea.

Wow, this beach thing is actually fun! Maybe I am a camper after all.

 And then it was time to go to sleep. On a foam mattresses on the ground in an open fale, in a mosquito net, with the sound of the ocean right outside. The tide was up and so waves were washing the steps of our fale. The children were exhausted and so they went straight to sleep, dreaming happy dreams of sandcastles, fish and water fights. The Hot Man was exhausted and he went right to sleep. Everybody was tired and everybody went to sleep.

Except for me.

I couldn’t sleep because of the sand in my bed, the sly ninja mosquitos that had made it into my mosquito net and the BLASTED SOUND OF THE OCEAN right outside our fale. That ocean just wouldn’t shut up. Waves kept coming in, making swishing sounds, running out and then swishing back in again. Then a dog sleeping under the fale added to the symphony with growls and snarls at invisible things. Then it started raining and it beat down on the tin roof, making an awful racket. And I was swatting at mosquitos, sweeping away sand, muttering at the dog to GET LOST, and trying to ignore the noisy ocean.

This is why you hate the beach, remember?!

At 3am, I was still awake. Miserable. I woke up the Hot Man.  “I have an idea.”

He was not happy about being woken up. “What?”

“Why don’t we go home?” I said. Hopeful and artificially cheerful.

“Yeah, we’re going home tomorrow.”

“No, I mean – let’s pack up and all go home right now.”

That woke him up for sure. “Are you out of your mind?! It’s three in the morning. It’s raining out there. We cant pack up in the rain. And everyone’s asleep.” He tried not to hiss too loudly at me.

“But I’m not asleep,” I pointed out. Helpfully. “I cant’ sleep in these conditions. I’m miserable. I want to go home.”

The man didn’t bother replying. He went back to sleep instead. Leaving me to count waves and mosquito bites and dog growls – all by myself. Hatefully. Miserably.

The next morning was glorious. The sun came up, the rain went away and we made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. The children swam and fished and kayaked. I chatted and laughed and consumed snacks with awesome friends. The beach was bearable again.

Until the moment of dread came. The cooler of ice and Diet Coke ran out. It was time to pack up and go home – where I had a newfound appreciation for my bed (with no sand in it), my bedroom ( with no mosquitoes in it), my house (with no growly dog underneath it), and the peacefulness of our mountainside home (with no noisy ocean washing the damn steps all night).

Maybe that’s the true beauty of going camping? – It makes you more grateful for your cave, no matter how messy or small or crowded.

What did I learn from this?

1. Tafatafa Beach is glorious. Clean, safe, golden sand, great bathroom facilities, excellent water supply and nice fale’s to stay in. If you want to spend the day or night at a beach, then I highly recommend you go there. I give it FIVE stars for beach fale fabulousness.

2. If you don’t like sleeping to the luxurious lilting sounds of the ocean? Then don’t go camping at a beach fale resort. Same goes for…if you don’t like sand…and stray mosquitos… Stay home and have no adventures. (just read about other people’s crazy adventures)

3. If you’re planning a beach camp, definitely go with friends. Especially friends with children the same age as yours so they can play all day and have a blast – without your input. Leaving you free to chat, read, sleep, fish and drink. Without our fabulous friends, I would have called it quits waaaay before 3am. I would have insisted on packing up by lunchtime. Thank you Daniel and Hanah, Mark and Luisa AND fabulous children. You rock!

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The front view from our fale.

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Freeze Your Family for Easter

This conversation just happened.

“It’s the long Easter holiday weekend. I’m looking forward to our camp at the beach with the kids, aren’t you?” he asked.

“No. I’m not,” she said. Actually, it was more of a ‘she snarled.’

Surprise. “Why? What’s the matter? It’s a holiday! Time to relax and enjoy family time,” he said. Still clueless.

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been at home with four children going on four straight weeks now. First, they were home because the pinkeye epidemic cancelled all the schools, then it was time for school holidays, then two went back to school but the other two have runny noses and an ear infection.” (pitch and tone of voice getting louder…higher…screechier…bordering on manic)

“Oh,” he said. Subdued. “I see.”

But she’s not done. Hell no. She’s still going. “I don’t think you DO see. You leave the house everyday. You only have to be with these demons for an hour or so at the end of the day. I have to listen to them, referee them, organize them, clean up after them ALL FREAKIN DAY. And when I lock myself in my cave so I can write, they keep knocking on my door, pestering me. Wanting to breathe my air. I hate this.”

He listened. He  pondered. Then he had a bright idea. “I understand. You need a break. Why don’t you go out for the day on your own, leave them here with me?”

“No. I don’t want to have to go somewhere else to be happy and alone. This is my cave, my space. I hate going places. I want to breathe and think and savor my space by myself. Right here,” she wailed.

He had another bright idea. Because he’s a decent man and he does try. “I’ll take them all out for the day and leave you on your own. How about that?”

“It’s Easter Friday. There’s nothing open in Samoa today. Where are you going to take them? What are they going to eat? What are they going to do? All day?” she demanded.

“Don’t worry. That will be my problem. You can just sit in your room and ummm… breathe your air…talk to imaginary people in your stories…or whatever it is you need to do, without anyone bothering you.” He was trying extra hard to be helpful and hopeful and understanding.

Too bad it didn’t  work.

“Nooooo! What kind of a mother would I be if I kicked all my kids out of the house? You can’t take them and just wander the wilderness all day – because I want the place to myself. That would mean I’m selfish and horrible. Its the holidays. I should have fabulous activities planned for them. A good mother would think its fun to be with her children. I don’t want to be a bad person.”

He was well and truly bewildered now. “So what the heck do you want then?! I don’t get it.” He threw his hands up in the air. “Having us here is driving you nuts. But chasing us away makes you a bad person? You can’t be the worlds best mother AND want to get rid of your children at the same time. It doesn’t work that way. What do you want?”

“I want a freeze machine. So I can zap them like Han Solo in Star Wars. That way I can have them all at home with me but keep them in cold storage. Just defrost them when I want a hug. Or need them to do the dishes. Totally painless of course.” And then she mused on that happy thought for a while.

While he was horrified. “You want to freeze your children?” Then an even more dreadful thought. “And your husband too?”

No reply.

“Whaat?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Who does that? Who even thinks of stuff like that?”

Who indeed. ..

Please tell me somebody, somewhere in the universe – has frozen thoughts like this? #BadMother conversations like this one?!

 

 

 

How to Become a Writer.

As a writer who writes too many different things all the time – I am often asked: “Where do you find the time and the drive to write? How do you overcome writer’s ‘block’?” Such questions are a puzzle to me and so my answer is 105km and 14 hrs long…

A few years ago, I had a crazy idea. I wanted to put together a women’s team and run in a 105km relay that went around the main island of Samoa. It was crazy because at the time I couldn’t even run around the parking lot without stopping to gasp for breath. But I was determined. I convinced some other moms to be crazy with me and we started training.

For 5 days a week over three months, we would meet at the crack of dawn to go for a 5k run. I use the term ‘run’ very loosely since, at first, we did more of a shuffle, which then accelerated to become a waddle, which then after a few weeks, became a jiggly, joggly sort of jog. Did I enjoy it? Hell no. I hated every minute of it. Many times, I only went because it was my turn to drive and pick the team up. Other times, I only went because the rest of the team was honking their car horn outside, waiting to pick me up.

But after 6 weeks, something strange happened. (No, I didn’t transform into a stunning athletic muscle machine. I wish.) I found myself waking up early on Saturday mornings…wanting to go for a run, itching and edgy for a run. Huh? By Wk 9, I was going for a run TWICE A DAY. And when I got the flu and couldn’t train for a week? I was raving mad. As if someone had bought all the Diet Coke on the island, leaving me with nothing but coconuts to drink. By the time the Perimeter Relay came around, I was running twice a day, sometimes 6 days a week. But more significantly, the running had become as essential to me as eating. Sleeping. Brushing my teeth. I wouldn’t dream of going a work-day without it. It took our team 14 hours to complete the relay, running from 2am to 5pm the next afternoon. Many times during that relay, I wanted to puke and die. But many times, I was also running on an exhilarating high as I gloried in feeling like – I could run forever and never stop.

Writing is just like that. If you want to BE a writer, you don’t ‘find time’ in your busy schedule to write. You make time. You start with a goal. A crazy dream. ‘I want to write a romance. A best-selling thriller. A children’s book. A memoir about my grandmother…’ You set aside a time and a place every day that you are going to write. You start off small. Shuffling, waddling baby steps to get you building the consistent writing habit. You write anything and everything. Start a journal. A family newsletter. Write down those bedtime stories you tell your kids. Record your family history. Write long, chatty letters to friends. Start a blog AND THEN STICK TO IT. The best thing I ever did for my writing career was to start a blog – it forced me to assert and accept responsibility for my writing. Your blog readers can be like that relay team of runners who force you to stick to your crazy dream by bugging you every day for your latest piece of writing. At first, it will be hard. You will probably hate it. Complain. Whinge and whine looking for excuses NOT to write. But if you keep at it, doggedly, persistently – you will hit that point where you can’t imagine a day, a moment, without writing. When you’re not writing, you will be thinking about it. If you have an unruly mob of children like me, you will dread the weekends because it means less writing time. ( And don’t even get me started on the horror of school holidays…aaargh!) You will write because you feel like you will die if you don’t. You will write because you are a writer. And that’s what writers do.

My 105km relay showed me that crazy, impossible dreams are possible.

A Very Sad Footnote to this Writing Story: Since the relay, my first book of narrative non-fiction, funded by the Australian government, ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ was launched in 2010. I published four books in my Young Adult series, Telesa.  My collection of short fiction won the USP Press Fiction Prize. My story ‘The Beast that Came from the Sea’ was professionally recorded for radio by the Commonwealth Foundation and broadcast in 54 countries. I have written numerous children’s stories that are published in the NZ School Reading Curriculum. All while being the slave mother to five fabulous children. However, I have not been running anywhere. Not even in the parking lot. And it shows…

 

‘My Own Brand of Heroine’

BrandHeroineWhat happens when eight friends – who just happen to all be authors – want to do something in support of raising awareness of abuse and aid in the work to eliminate sexual violence?

An anthology of eight of our complete novels happens, with ALL the proceeds going to RAINN, the largest non-profit organization devoted to eliminating sexual violence in America and ranked by Worth magazine as “One of the 100 Best Charities”.

I’m honoured to have my book Telesa included in this collection and grateful that I can participate in such a worthy cause, which has great personal meaning for me as a survivor.

Over the past two years, I’ve come to treasure the friendship I have with this awesome author sisterhood (of eight and several more) and I have so much respect for them as writers, publishers (and superwomen!) They’ve been so generous with their advice and support. Virtual hugs and love for: Laura Bradley Rede, Elizabeth Hunter, Abbi Glines, Jamie McGuire, Killian McRae, Nichole Chase and Michele Scott.

Usually, our conversations are about writing (and the challenges of writing in between raising kids and still being nice to one’s partner!), our children, food, books, adorable pics of our pets (I have none, so I must gaze longingly at the poodles and Great Danes of others *sigh*), unicorns, debating Diet Coke vs Pepsi, and plans for the next time we’re all in the same city on the same continent. Such conversations usually involve way too much laughing.

But we got very serious, very quick, when we talked about compiling this paranormal anthology and our reasons for choosing to donate all the sales to RAINN.  Each of the books has a strong female lead character. They are stories of fantasy, mystery, friendship, and love. Every woman has an enemy to fight and a story to tell. This is ‘Our Brand of Heroine.’  With this collection we pay tribute to the courage, resilience, strength, vulnerability and diversity of survivors.

Even if you have already read Telesa, I encourage you to still purchase this collection for only $3.99 – so you can be captivated by the epic storytelling of New York Times Bestselling authors (them, not me!). And so that you can support a vital cause at the same time.

Buy:

* From Amazon

* From Barnes and Noble  

* From Smashwords

Covergirl – Faith Wulf. Photography – Jordan Kwan

Myownbrand_Lani1

Don’t Shame Us. Don’t Shut us Up. (How to better support and empower a survivor of Sexual Abuse.)

This blogpost needs a content warning for rape, abuse and swearing. And it’s really long.  

Since writing publicly about my abuse four months ago, I’ve had to deal with a myriad of different reactions – many positive, some negative, and a few downright horrible. Some of the fall-out from my writing caused shockwaves that I didn’t anticipate and a few personal relationships in my life didn’t survive. I’ve had to do a lot of self-care to cope. I went back to therapy (YAY! for awesome therapists who help you make sense of stuff), put my novel on hold, spent time with my amazing sisterhood of friends (YAY! for the compassion and wisdom of friends who help you navigate the storms of life), focused on my little family and getting the Fab5 settled into their new home and schools, prayed more, and treasured being with the Hot Man more. (When he wasn’t running/swimming/biking…)

Life is back on a more even keel for me now and as I reflect on the messy last few months, I’d like to share some examples and insights of HOW we can support and empower survivors of sexual violence when/If they speak out about their experiences. This is very important to me, and not just because I am a survivo

Fourteen years ago, I was a teacher in a Samoan high school. I’d made it a habit to include abuse awareness in at least one (if not more) of my class discussions/topics, every year, for every group of students I taught. Part of the discussion would always include the encouragement to seek help if they were being abused, to not keep silent. That year, a young woman responded by writing an essay for my eyes only – about the fact that she was being raped at home by her brother in law. She’d told her mother and gotten slapped in the face for her “cheekiness”. This student wept in my office and pleaded with me not to tell anyone. Not the police, the Principal, her parents, no-one. I arranged for her to meet with a local therapist but she wouldn’t go because of fears her family would find out. I badly wanted to report her abuse, to get her away from her family. But at the time, there was no Support agency for young survivors and I’d heard horror stories about how the system in Samoa was failing young people in similar situations – families that beat and rejected their children who made the mistake of asking for help. The situation weighed heavily on me and after many meetings with this young woman, I chose to honor her request and do nothing.

I’ve regretted that decision ever since. Regardless of the inadequacies of the Samoa justice system, I failed that young woman and I’m ashamed I didn’t do more. I’ve often wondered what could I have done differently? Every time I write about this issue – either directly via my blog or woven into one of my novels – a part of me seeks to atone for my failing, and hope that somehow, in some small way, my words can help someone out there who may be in a similar situation as that former student.

Encouraging people to speak out about their abuse is one thing. What we DO with that and how we respond is another. I’ve made mistakes in how I support and empower the women in my life regarding this issue and I’m still learning how to be a better ally and advocate.  I’m guessing we can all do better and be better at this. Which is why I’m sharing the following –

What you should (and shouldnt) say or do to an abuse survivor. (According to Lani because everyone’s experience is different and so these may not be true for others.)
1. Don’t get angry and confrontational, demand, “Why didn’t you tell me?!” 
It can take an incredible amount of courage (and pain) for a survivor to tell someone, anyone – about their abuse. Many keep silent for years about what was done to them. We battle feelings of shame and fear. We worry what people will think of us if they know the truth. So it’s not helpful to react with accusing questions. You may be shocked by their disclosure and you’re hurting because you love them but you need to deal with your hurt/anger separately and not rage at the person. THEY are the survivor and their feelings and safety should be your priority. I had people react with anger because I’d never told them about my abuse – it hurt their feelings. Because they didn’t agree with the public way I chose to talk about it – it embarrassed them.  For them, my abuse was buried under a mountain of their angst.

2. Don’t victim-blame.  “Why were you at that party?…Why were you in a car with him?…What were you wearing?…How were you dancing?…Why didn’t you fight him?…Did you scream for help?…How many beers did you have?…” It doesn’t matter what a person wears, how late they are out, where they go, how loud they laugh, or even how much alcohol they consume – it is never their fault if they are raped. I have friends who have been assaulted and then had to deal with questions like these, from family, friends, police and doctors.
3. Listen with your heart and offer validation. My abuse article was read and shared by many people who then used social media to discuss the issues. Some of them said things like this:  “How do you know she hasn’t made this up just so she can get extra publicity?…She’s probably just trying to sell more books…So typical for a celebrity to say she was abused…Yeah, if she really meant it, she would name her abuser and take him to court…Even if it’s true, why would she talk about something so private unless she wanted attention? She’s only trying to further her career by being open about something so shameful.”  Yes, people really do say things like this about, and to, abuse survivors. There are some people in this world who really do believe that a woman would invent a rape/abuse experience for attention. ( Because yeah, everyone wants to run out and buy a Young Adult romance novel the minute they find out it was written by a woman who was sexually violated when she was a kid. I always feel that way about child rape, don’t you?) And yes, it makes you famous when you go public with child abuse. So “famous” that for a while, everywhere you go, it’s like you have a brand stamped on your forehead, a flashing neon sign: “VICTIM HERE…SOILED GOODS…DAMAGED… CRAZYWOMAN WHO WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT YUCKY STUFF…” And sometimes, people aren’t sure how to talk to you, and can’t look you in the eye because the whole thing makes them uncomfortable and its so triggering perhaps, for their own experiences and issues. So they avoid you. Or call you a liar. Or try to make you shut up. Anyone who’s spoken publicly about abuse can tell you that it’s not fun. It’s not the kind of attention anyone wants.

Many survivors have spent a lifetime questioning their  feelings. Repressing their memories. Some  have spent years pretending that abuse never happened. So when they finally are strong enough and brave enough to admit it, to themselves and to others – please don’t doubt them. Don’t shame them. Don’t shut them up and shove them back into the darkness. Some of us aren’t seeking retribution or that elusive thing called ‘justice’. It’s not about WHO abused us, WHO didn’t protect us better, and what should be done to those people. We just want to be listened to. We just want to be believed.

4. Don’t try to dictate a survivor’s journey of healing. An example – a journalist that I didn’t know, contacted me via Facebook, asking if I would do an interview with her network, about my abuse etc. I’d already done several interviews with journalists that I have worked with in the past, people I was familiar with and felt comfortable about talking to on a very sensitive topic. I didn’t want to do any more media so I politely declined this woman’s request. She wasn’t happy and accused me (among other things) of only wanting to discuss the issue in forums that I could control. Like that was something bad. I’m disappointed that a female journalist would try to pressure/bully me. I made the mistake of assuming another Pasifika woman would have more empathy.

It’s vital that a survivor feel safe and empowered. She knows what it’s like to not have control over her body, to be violated and manipulated. Never pressure a survivor into talking about her experiences. Let her disclose information at her own pace, in her own space and time. Let her decide how she wants to proceed, what she wants to do next about the abuser etc.  Trite advice like, “It’s in the past. We don’t need to talk about it.” and “You need to forgive him/her so you can heal and get over this” is not only superficial but also offensive.

It’s amazing to me how some people think it’s okay to tell a survivor how she should feel. One friend said, ‘You’re so angry these days. You should stop being angry.”  Another friend said, ‘Why do you have to let people see your hurt? You should keep it to yourself. It’s making people uncomfortable.’ My response to them? I’m not here to make you feel comfortable and I won’t deny my feelings so you can keep pretending that abuse doesn’t happen.

The thing is – some days, yes I’m angry. That I was raped. That I thought for years it was my fault. That I believed for the longest time it made me damaged goods. I’m angry there isn’t more support for survivors in Samoa, particularly for children. I’m angry when teachers perpetuate rape culture and tell my daughters they need to cover their shoulders so they wont tempt boys to sin. I’m angry when people who are supposed to love me, continue to treat my experience with contempt, dismissal and avoidance.

Other days, I’m just sad. That I carried this secret burden for so long and let it shadow my life in so many ways. Sad about how it has impacted on my marriage to a pretty awesome man. Sad for survivors who continue to suffer in silence because they haven’t got the support networks I’ve got, helping them to heal.

Then, other days, I’m happy. Grateful for the healing my faith offers me. Exuberantly happy that I’m not afraid anymore. I used to think my abuser was watching me all the time, standing outside the window waiting to see if I would tell on him – because then he would hurt me. I truly believed that, right up through my twenties and early thirties. When I finally wrote about it and told “the world”, I broke free from the fear he’d chained me with. I rejoice in my strength and give thanks for the love of a patient partner and truly fabulous children. On a good day, I give thanks for being a woman, and glory in my fierce, fiery (often chaotic) creativity.

I get more happy days now then sad, angry ones and I’m able to be more at peace with all that has happened. But I will never give up my right to feel whatever I need to on this journey. As one survivor expressed it –

I will talk about MY abuse when and where I want to. I will be angry as much as I need to. I will grieve for as long as I have to. I will be happy, how and when I fucking well please.

5. Be kind and compassionate. (A little obvious I know but trust me, some people need it spelled out for them.) Apart from the negative stuff detailed above, I received many messages of support and encouragement. Extended family wrote to share their love and concern, some apologizing that they had been present in my childhood and never knew what was happening. Friends called to listen, laugh and cry with me. Some brought me love in the form of homebaked delicious treats. Total strangers shared their own stories of abuse with me and thanked me for being a voice for that which they couldn’t share themselves. I’ve been so moved by the wave of kindness I’ve received. Darren and the Fab5 literally kept me alive in my darkest moments in the last few months of mess, with their love and support. A couple of examples from outside the family, that stand out for me:

*A boy I dated over twenty five years ago, who I haven’t seen since, somehow read my blog and wrote to express his gratitude for sharing my story. He has daughters now and this issue is such an important one, he said. He went on to add, “I’m sorry I didn’t know about your abuse. I’ve been trying to think back to when we dated and remember if at any time, I may have done something or said something to you that made you feel uncomfortable or hurt you in any way. If I did, please forgive me.” Considering that we were fourteen back then and “dating” in Samoa meant we only saw each other at church and exchanged notes – his sincere message meant a lot to me. If your partner is a survivor, she will need buckets of your patient understanding, especially when it comes to intimacy in your relationship. Some days she’ll be totally fine with everything your sexilicious self has to offer her. But other days, she may not even stand to be in the same room with you and your touch may make her physically ill. Therapy can be a big help for both of you. Respect for her boundaries is key.

*A beautiful niece said, “I didn’t know that happened to you Aunty. I’m sorry. I love you and Im so proud of you for what you wrote.” That’s it. No long speeches, nothing flowery and expansive. A few simple words is all it took for me to feel validated, loved and empowered. Her words made me cry. Especially when contrasted with the utter wall of silence…or the spewing vitriol of others – who I thought would offer compassion. When a loved one tells you her story, and you are at a loss how to respond? Keep it simple. Tell her you love her. “I’m here for you. What do you need from me?”

*I went to an Awards dinner in Auckland and a TV3 journalist/news presenter who I’d done an interview with before, was the MC. At one point in the evening, he came to our table and was introduced to everyone. He complimented me on my blog. People wanted to take a photo and so he stood between me and another woman. The photographer told everyone to move in so we’d all fit into the picture. The others obliged by moving closer together but then the man turned to me and hesitated. “Is it alright if I put my arm around you and move closer?” he asked politely. I said yes, so he moved for the photo and then asked me again, “Is this alright?” That’s when it hit me. He was being mindful about my comfort level with people getting in my personal space, especially man-people. He’d read my blog about abuse. And possibly my blog about hating social greeting hugs and kisses. At first I was mortified by this realization. I felt like I had that neon sign on my forehead: FRAGILE and DAMAGED.  For a frantic moment, I wished I’d never told anybody about my abuse. See Lani, now everyone thinks you’re a freak!  But then, I shoved that remnant of shame away because there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have clear boundaries for one’s body or personal space. I shouldn’t be embarrassed that I don’t like random people hugging or touching me without permission. That man’s simple act of courtesy and respect for my boundaries and my experience, was an empowering thing for me. A reminder that being a survivor is not something I have to apologize for.  Thank you Mr Campbell.

Supporting a survivor isn’t easy sometimes, especially if you have your own unaddressed issues with sexual violence in your past. Knowing this, helps me to be more understanding about the people in my life who haven’t been able to walk with me on this journey. It’s my hope and prayer they will find the strength to seek the help they need to deal with their own painful experiences.

I’m grateful for the support and understanding I’ve been given from so many different people. May we all strive to be better allies to the survivors in our lives and better advocates for their empowerment.

(I’ve used the pronoun ‘she’ throughout this blog post but only in a general sense because as we all know, boys/men  and fa’afafine are raped and abused also.)