He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story


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With Salt In My Hands

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As my gaze bent toward the earth, I stood with clenched fists, with white knuckles. I shook. Your eyes traced my nervousness, watched my short breaths make my chest heave, swell and slump, swell and slump like a rolling sea.

I had come all this way, traveled across the ocean to arrive at the beach of your memories. I wanted to collect your stories, to cast my line, and pull them up from the depths. I wanted to raise them, to make them visible, to watch them take shape in the sun. But my eagerness was quickly replaced by apprehension. What did I have to offer you in return?

I raised my head to look at you, your gaze hopeful, welcoming. The corners of your mouth curled upward: a slight, knowing smile. My grip slowly loosened, blood-flow returning to my knuckles. My breaths lengthened, my back straightened. My chest swelled calmly like the slight rise and fall, rise and fall, of a smooth sea.

With my eyes raised to you, my fists unclenched, I lifted my arm, turned my palm towards the sun and opened my hand to reveal a bundle, a small offering: he wahī paʻakai, a package of salt. I had come all this way carrying a piece of the ocean, of fluidity crystalized. I moved toward you, offering you the promise of the sea: the steadfast nature of all that is paʻa, secure; and the transformative nature of everything that shifts and sways, shifts and sways like the kai, the ocean.

I am still here, standing with salt in my hands.

Let me rub it on your stories of pain. Let me sprinkle it on your stories of triumph. Let me use it to garnish your memories. I have come all this way to collect your words. If you let me, I will leave you with salt to flavor them, awakening the taste buds, enlivening the senses, making us thirst, always, for stories.

 


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At the Edge of Her Bed

For my mother.

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“It was perplexing [being accepted] and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”*

– Lupita Nyong’o

I chewed on her words, each bite of my teeth giving them new shape, then less shape, new shape, then more shape. I let them roll around in my mouth as I took them apart, put them back together, mixed them around with my tongue. I didn’t want to swallow them, not at first, because I had come to like the taste of inadequacy and swallowing them would mean I’d finally have to accept, really accept, the strange idea that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate).

It is strange, isn’t it, how we are addicted to and seduced by the idea that we are somehow never enough: never good enough, never smart enough, never fast enough, never pretty enough, never… just enough. I myself was addicted to the idea. So I took a bite of her words and audibly sighed when they burst in my mouth, introducing new flavors.

But were the flavors really “new”? Not really. Perhaps “knew” is more appropriate.

I’m not a mother. But I am a daughter. I am the daughter of a woman who always told me that I was enough, that there was nothing about myself that needed “fixing,” nothing that made me less worthy than anyone else, nothing that I needed to hide or be ashamed of. I remember sitting at the edge of her bed, sometimes as tears moistened my cheeks—while my father snored loudly into the night—as she whispered to me, reminding me of who I was, time and time again.

Yet, like most people, I was seduced by a culture of inadequacy, one that taught me that I needed to be on an endless search for “myself” as if it was something external, something to be bought, or achieved, or gained through work, money, or accolades. And while I always worked hard, and always told myself that trying to be better was a positive thing, I eventually found myself completely seduced by the idea of inadequacy. It’s what kept me going, what motivated me. But eventually, I found myself exhausted.

So I sat at the edge of her bed again. And as she had done so many times before, she reminded me of who I was.

I was her daughter. I was the granddaughter of her mother. I was the great-granddaughter of her grandmother, and on and on back to the first mother herself: the land we sat upon, together. There could be no acceptance of inadequacy without also dishonoring the generations of women whose very existence made my life possible. They were in, around, and beside me… always.

But, like many, I occasionally forgot them and was seduced by a culture that told me that I was wrong to even believe that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate). To give voice to those words meant I was arrogant or haughty. It’s strange, isn’t it, how we sometimes deny the greatness that we are born with, born of, born to, so that we can be a part of that culture, that seductive culture of inadequacy.

Thankfully, I always had a space, at the edge of her bed, a space that let me escape that culture of “not-enough-ness,” a space where I could taste her words, and let them roll around in my mouth, as the perfect antidote, the perfect wake-up-call, the perfect reminder of who I was, who I am, and who I always will be.

I can still taste her words, can still taste those “knew” flavors as they burst in my mouth. I savor them. Mmmm.

 

*This line comes from Lupita Nyong’o’s speech found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE&feature=kp


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A Thin Black Book

She had never heard of Maya Angelou.

So I placed a thin black book in her hands, the cover revealing small pink and blue designs in a sea of night. It was my favorite book, a book of four poems. As she took it from me, I glanced at the words “Phenomenal Woman” strewn across the dark cover and smiled. I smiled knowing that she’d come to love the book as much as I did, that the pages would one day become worn like my own copy, the copy that often got caught under my pillows as I let Maya’s words be the last thoughts I considered before—and perhaps even long after—I shut my eyes.

“When you learn, teach.

When you get, give.”[1]

I had “learned” and “gotten” so much from that thin black book that I started buying multiple copies of it, always having an extra at home so that I could give it away. Then, whenever I sensed another woman in my life needed to be reminded of her “phenomenal” nature, or needed inspiration to “rise,” or needed to know that they were never alone but that they stood “as ten thousand”[2], I’d grab a copy, scribble a message on the first page, and give it away.

It became my favorite gift, for in the giving, I’d get to watch one more woman be empowered by words. When she said she’d never heard of Maya Angelou, I knew that she needed to: needed to hear of her, needed to hear from her, needed to hear with her.

So I placed the thin black book in her hands and felt my heart smile. I hoped she’d read it as often as I did, that the words would seep into her skin, and that they’d become so much a part of her that she’d forget that she didn’t write them herself. I hoped that she’d never again bow her head at the thought of her own inadequacies but that she’d come to celebrate her perfect imperfections. I hoped that every time she fell down that like dust or air she’d rise again, stronger, more confident, carrying the gifts that her “ancestors gave”[3] her. And I hoped that whenever she’d be challenged, that whenever she’d have to fight, that whenever she’d have to battle to save a piece of herself that her words would match those of Maya and that her heart would shout out: “I shall not be moved”[4].

She had never heard of Maya Angelou. Now, years later, she celebrates her. We all do, for her words became the words we’d use to color our experiences, to give us perspective, to become like the small pink and blue designs that brought life and texture to a sea of night.

We celebrate you Maya, and we thank you, from one phenomenal woman to another.

 

[1] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 67-68)

[2] From “Our Grandmothers” (line 84)

[3] From “Still I Rise” (line 39)

[4] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 26-28)


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Wake Up!

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You can’t see the stars like that, girl, not when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes. Rub them. Wake up! ‘Eleu. I don’t have time to wait for you. We don’t have time to wait for you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away. Now look.

Yes, it’s dark; it’s cold. But this was never going to be easy. You knew that. And my job is not to soften things for you. We have too much to lose for softening. Maybe that’s why you preferred to sleep all these years. When you ignore the presence of the stars, when they are blocked by the ceiling of your mind, you can rest peacefully. Oh, but I won’t let that happen. Wake up, girl. It’s time.

I’m doing you a favour. I know it doesn’t seem like that now. But, I am. I wish someone had done this for me. I spent years sleeping. Now I can’t escape the stars. I search for them even when they are drowned out by city lights. I long for them even when the sun is shining. You’ll never be able to ignore them again, not when you really learn to see them. And you shouldn’t.

Wake up. Look up. Imagine yourself out there, among them, part of them. You know you aren’t really separate from them, right? Every space, every single space, is filled with memory. So it connects. Never divides.

Now what do you think? No, I don’t want to hear what you’ve read. Forget that now. What do you think? Don’t just recite, girl, ignite. When you give me memorized words with no meaning, that’s when you’ve begun to lose. Ignite that na‘au, that gut-feeling. Tell me what it feels like.

I’m not trying to be mean. I push you because that is aloha. Forget that tourist rubbish. My aloha means that I care enough about you to not let you sleep for another generation. So wake up, girl. We’ll stay here until you can give me something of depth, even if it means we have to stay here until the sun rises. In fact, maybe that’s what you need. When you can’t see them anymore, that’s when you’ll feel them and know they’re always there.

Ua moku ka pawa. The darkness has broken. We’ve been here all night. You didn’t sleep. But there’s no use being awake if you can’t react, and can’t be moved to act. Act. Wake up!

What’s that? You have something to say? Tell me.

That’s true. I was never really speaking to you, girl. I was speaking to that part of you inside that is old, that is so much older than both of us. That’s the part of you that had to be awakened. You know you’ll never be able to put that back to sleep. And you shouldn’t. That’s what will guide you. That’s the part of you that will always seek the stars, searching for the spaces of the universe filled with memory. Let it ignite you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away.

Now look. It’s time.


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Lines

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Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes a phrase. But most often it’s a line, just one line. And it sticks with me, stays in my head like a song on repeat. If the line had a melody, I’d hum it to myself as I walked down the street, or I’d sing it out loud (despite my inability to carry a tune), hoping others would catch on. But unlike a song playing over and over again, the lines I usually get lack a melody and I have to let them sit for days, or weeks, or sometimes even longer, until I find myself truly in-tuned and ready to hear them sing to me.

On good days, writing flows. I’ll get more than a line; I’ll get pages and I’ll have to rush to keep up with it. It’s like a song that writes itself: words and melody, arriving together. Perfectly. My fingers move too slowly; my bad spelling and keyboard mistakes only get in the way. And I’m overcome with excitement, with emotion, with energy. It’s addicting.

On other days, though, (and I should actually say, on most days) I’ll get a line, just one line, and it will become my challenge.

I’ve stopped trying too hard to understand it. The lines come when they do and I let them in. Then I observe the way they color my world and I begin to see the lines expressed in everything around me. A few months ago came the line: “It’s hard to see when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes.” It was a call to wake up, to really pay attention. It was a challenge to be more alert. Suddenly, I became aware of people who’ve become complacent and who seem to sleep while standing up, walking with no apparent upright purpose.

And I began to wonder if I was one of them.

The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet because I’m still living it. I’m still in it, still wiping the sleepiness from my own eyes so that I can truly see.

Sometime before that came the line, or rather the question: “Can two people speak constantly and say nothing?” And if so, it made me wonder, can two people sit in silence, and in the absence of words, say all that needs to be said? I started to think about the old ones, the ones who can tell an entire story without uttering a sound. It’s in the lift of their chin, their furrowed brow, their aged and sun-colored skin, their curious eyes. It made me think about how I use words, how they travel with me as my companions, and how I’ve come to rely on them.

And I began to wonder, with all of my words and lines, if I ever have anything of substance to say.

The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet either because I’m still living it. I’m still in it. It’s pushed me to pay more attention to my conversations with people, to listen to what is being said and what isn’t, and to seek the expressed in the unexpressed.

The power of these lines, these single lines, is that they challenge me as a writer and more so, as a person. I try to find the balance between living a life worth writing about and writing about a life I’d like to live, or the balance between wild word imagination and reality. I think we need a little of both. What the lines do is give me a glimpse into a way to live better, to live deeper, to live with more purpose. And, really, it’s that kind of life that’s worth writing about anyway. It doesn’t have to be big and grand, just meaningful. So I let the lines take me there, towards purpose.

And then, when I find some sort of meaning in it all, that’s what I attempt to share with you: more than just a line, but a journey.

So start with a word, with a phrase, or with a line and see where it takes you. Happy writing.


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“You are the mote in my eye”

A phrase of affection.

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Waimea, Hawaiʻi

You.

You are like dust.

You are like dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka*.

We walked over red-dirt roads, our steps sending streams of dust upwards, staining our skin. We marched in a row, side-by-side, our movements in synch like an army. Yet, we were not great in number. It was just us: you and me.

My pulakaumaka.

Many stories have been told about this place. Once, a group of men from another island assembled on the hilltops here, ready to wage war, convinced they would meet with victory. But when they looked out, peering downward, they saw the dust. Like mist it crept closer and closer, growing bigger and bigger, until they realized that the red-tinged clouds that would bring their defeat were accompanied by thousands of steps, the steps of warriors ready to defend.

We walked over those same roads, you and I, in a row, side-by-side, perhaps a bit unsure of—or unwilling to see—what the dust would bring.

For a time we knew that our row would break apart, that the army we assembled would scatter like dust. But we marched on for a moment longer, our steps in synch, creating a cloud of red at our feet. When we paused, it rose, it spread, sticking to my skin, catching in the curls of my hair, filling my lungs. And one speck, one tiny particle, found a spot in my eye.

You.

You are like the dust.

You are like the dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka.

I cannot blink without thinking of it. It blurs my vision. It captures my attention. It is at once my source of irritation and affection. My fixation. I feel it. I cannot ignore it. It occupies a tiny space on the lens through which I see and greet the world. But, I refuse to let it go, to pōʻalo, to scoop it away, because if its existence—even in the tiniest measure—means that our journey on red-dirt roads was real, then I’ll be content to let it rest there for just a moment longer.

I think I understand, my pulakaumaka, how a source of anger and affection can be housed in the same body, how being called “a mote in my eye” can be like both the breeze of a great compliment and the blow of a hurtful strike. I think I understand how armies of paired opposites never truly travel apart, but are always together, side-by-side, marching. To feel joy is to know sorrow. To have happiness is to greet pain. Both. We must embrace both.

I think I understand

you,

you, the dust,

you, the dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka.

 

* For a full definition of the term, pulakaumaka, refer to the online Hawaiian Language Dictionary: http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.85/cgi-bin/hdict?a=q&r=1&hs=1&m=-1&o=-1&e=p-11000-00—off-0hdict–00-1—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10-ED–4——-0-1lpm–11-haw-Zz-1—Zz-1-home—00-3-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-00-0utfZz-8-00&q=pulakaumaka&j=p0&af=1&fqf=ED


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Museum Musings

Kūkāʻilimoku

Kūkāʻilimoku

Kūkāʻilimoku*

He used to stir without being stirred, move without being moved. Even when there was no wind to push him, the feathers he wore would ruffle; they’d dance. Now, there is only glass and a box, a small pedestal and a base. And in that space, he stands, kū, erect, and still. There is no stirring. There is no movement.

He’s been called the feathered god, the feathered god of war. Kū, the snatcher of districts, the snatcher of islands. Into his base of woven ʻieʻie vines are set thousands of red feathers, symbols of status. Feathers—gentle and light—meant to represent something as heavy as battle and conquest. His eyes are made of pearl shell: large, wide, bright, able to peer into the future, able to predict the tides of battle. His mouth is rimmed with dogs’ teeth: ferocious, like he feeds on mana, the mana of his enemies.

He’s been cared for and guarded by some of our greatest chiefs and warriors: chiefs like Kamehameha, whose conquests were prophesized when his mother craved the eyes of tiger sharks while he was still in the womb. And he’s been prayed to by some of the most famous priests, priests like Holoʻae who observed the movement of his feathers, who watched them stand and sway as if pushed by a breeze that never blew. The dance of his feathers could tell an entire army to attack or to lay in wait, to forge ahead in the night, or to rush in the dust of early morning.

He’s been present for both bloodshed and alliance. He’s witnessed the conquering of nations. He’s lived longer than the men who have cared for him, who’ve set him on their waʻa, their canoes, to travel to distant shores, who’ve carried him to their temples, who’ve fed him.

And now he sits in a box, on a base, behind a sheet of glass. No wind. No breath. No movement.

The day I peered into his pearl-bright eyes, something in me stirred, moved. I shouldn’t have been allowed to see him. Centuries earlier I wouldn’t have been permitted to stand so close, to stare at him, to contemplate the sharpness of his teeth, to wonder at the stillness of his feathers. But now I, along with every other person allowed into the museum, could stand just inches away, our breaths fogging the glass.

To some, he’s just a “feathered god”, an image of a bygone era, of a primitive society whose pagan rulers and worshipers naively waged war based on the signs observed in an idol. Yet, to me, he is Kū. He is the one who stands upright; the one who pierces; the one who jabs, pokes, and prods when needed; the one who rises like dust; the one who remains. When we are ready, he will be here, his still feathers finding movement once again even in the absence of wind, revealing moments to lay in wait, revealing moments to forge ahead in the dust of a new morning.

And I will be here, standing, waiting, ready, always, for movement.

 

* This image above comes from http://www.hawaiialive.org/realms.php?sub=Wao+Lani&treasure=346&offset=0
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