Thanks To You

What a year it’s been eh? A really big year for The Aunties, and for me personally. Everything has changed, and nothing. I no longer work with women in any refuge, but with my community whānau, and the people who are there to support women through their organisations. But I still have my girls – a group that grows – and I still do what I do. The who has simply changed.

I’ve taken teenagers shopping, and put my arms around them when they were feeling like they weren’t loved. I’ve sat with women and smoked, laughed, cried as we talked about our lives, and admitted how tired we were. I’ve spent time in the company of the people I call my whānau, now. Women who are strong, and so vulnerable. Clever, and so self doubting. Hurting, and full of joy. Intensely interested in the world around them, and looking to delve deeper into themselves.

I’ve been to award ceremonies and read about myself in the paper, online and in a magazine. I’ve heard myself on the radio, and seen myself on telly. I’ve connected with humans in all sorts of situations, all sorts of ages, and all sorts of states of being.

And I’m now regularly doing professional supervision. Which is important, because it means my work gets reflected back to me, in ways that are really meaningful to me. And it’s led to all sorts of moments of clarity, and boosts of energy to do what needs doing.

But none of this, not a bit of it, gets done without you. Not one cent of money, not one ounce of love, not one thread of connection, occurs without you. You who enable me to do what I do. Who put money in our coffers so that when it’s needed, I can use it on what it’s meant for. Who cheerlead, and send me messages of love and support. Who offer stuff at all times of day or night, even when I don’t want you to, because you can’t stand people not having something they should have. And most of all, for getting it. For buying into this kaupapa of giving with love. Embracing and embodying it.

All of it, all of this, every single bit of it, happens thanks to you.

So here it is, my annual list of thank yous. I have tried my best to look back over the last year, but I may have missed some diamonds. I think this is most of you….

  • All thanks, and love, to Kris. Who started this whole thing in the first place, encouraging me to connect with the women in her care, so that they could more effectively get what they needed whilst they were in a strange place, in straitened circumstances. She encouraged me to love them, share my life with them, and be one of their whānau. When she left that place, where it all began, I followed her, as she opened up more doors to me, and introduced me to more people to share my work with, so that I could add value to their work, as they got their clients what was needed.
  • Thank you to my girls: Connie, Kimi, Hine, Rox, Moeroa, Mathilda, Dotti, Horiana, Pania, Dianne, Rachel, Kayla, Leila, Noreen, Sapphire, Jamie, Sativa, Eliza and La. For teaching me so much about myself this year, and what I was capable of. For loving me, and respecting my boundaries. For the frank conversations, and the laughter, as well as the tears. For being honest with me, and never lying to me, and for trusting me with your hearts. I don’t think you’ll ever know how healing your presence in my life has been, and I thank you for it. You are co-creators of this thing, now. Aunties, yourselves, some of you. Always seeking to give back, and pay it forward. Remember: we name ourselves, we cast aside the shadow and we own our pain. We are not victims, and though we have survived, that doesn’t define us. What makes us is our shine. We are stars.
  • So many thanks to my Board: Phil, Elaine, Michele, Jackson, Julie, Paul and Kerry. Who have put up with my frustrations around structure, and who are completely behind me in everything I do. Who call me on it when I’m being a dick, and work to make sure we are a sustainable charitable organisation. Who find solutions when I can’t see any, and are just sterling loving people who do the do alongside me.
  • Thank you so much to Jay, and his mum Donna, who spend every weekend picking up your donations, and who mean so much more to me than can be expressed via the written word.
  • Thank you to Mel and Ginny for keeping the storage unit in order when it gets really drastic, and to Shona, Sativa, Sue, and Lou who help me to keep it in some sort of order, weekly.
  • Thank you to my Aunties who’ve been there from the beginning: To  Tove, Abbey, Atarea, Miche, Dita, Hilary,  Allison,  Lisette, Alison, Ed , Nellie, Lee,  Liz, Rachel, Pauline, Helene, Rosie, Stasi,  and Siobhan, Karen, Mereana,  for your support, financial and moral. Thank you to Dita, Tina, and Alison in particular who run around, going above and beyond. Thanks Mum, and Virgina, my Greenhithe contingent, who are both so blimmin invested in this thing. Thank you Danuscia and James, who gifted your wedding to us. You have many very generous friends. I appreciate you so much, and I know that you will always have our backs. And thank you to our regular financial supporters: Jackson, Julie, Sacha, Rachel and Dan, Nigel, Lee, Michaela, Dion, Anne and Hamish, Amanda, Pukumahi Productions, Ceara, Alison, Atarea, Adrian and Sue, Vanessa, Sarah, Rosie, Jo, Metiria, Robyn, Allison, Jenni, Anastasia, Susan, Michelle, Karen, Carolyn, Meaghan, Hillary, Eric, Sonia, Dotti, Mel, Jose and Bronwyn, AM Ewins, Janet, Dept of The Aunties (a genius anon donation – I’m usually able to figure out who anonymous donors are, but this one has me stumped), the Warner – Blacks, Nellie, Hilary, Nat, Edmund, Stephanie, Margie, Beck, Rochelle, the Curry whanau, AJ, the Haywards, and Sue.
  • Thank you, Catriona for thinking long and hard over many years about how to get vehicles for  women coming out of family/intimate partner violence. For sticking with it, and bringing the idea to me, and for dealing with all the details.
  • Thank you Sacha, and Shona for having the guts to support two very vulnerable women whose needs are complex, and lives are complicated. For not faltering, and for having boundaries.
  • Thank you to Heather  for taking the ball and running with it, and being much smarter about setting up the Christchurch Aunties than I ever was at the beginning of this whole thing.
  • Thank you to Pinky for designing our logo and for totally getting my vision.
  • Thank you to Sue Orr for taking up the wero and sitting with women in a tiny safe house in South Auckland, and bringing out the writers and artists in them.
  • Thank you to Ana for using your column to get us much needed undies. The response was huge, but the women were just blown away by all the lovely undies recieved, and they’ve become an integral part of any visit to the storage unit.
  • Thank you to my Xmas Aunties: Theresa, Abbey, Meriana, Donna, Sacha, Dita, Allison, Leonie, Jane, Alison, Marina, Lee, Liz, Delaney, Rachel, Helene, Rose, Jenni, Karen, Siobhan, Mel, and Diana for really upping the ante, and providing such gifts of love to some very special women and kids.
  • Thank you to the kind and loving people who volunteered to fill the food tubs for the TWR whānau: Luisa, Molly, Alexandra, Sandy, and Robyn G.
  • Thank you to the Food Drive fairies: to Tove, Nicole, Carolyn, Carolina, Robyn T, Timo, Trish, and Sophie for driving around taking the food to the places it needed to go to. Thanks to Hannah, Tina, LifeCare Pharmacy, and the lovely lady out West whose name I have completely lost.
  • Thank you to my/our detractors – the people who snipe from the sidelines and have mocked us, and talked smack about us. Because I used to worry about your opinions, and now I do not. Thank you for making me question myself to the point that somebody had to remind me to listen, instead, to the voices of those that believe in me. That was a valuable lesson. So much so, that when I get hate mail now, I just laugh. You have no understanding of what I do, nor would you be able to do it. That’s your learning, not mine.
  • Thank you to Balmoral School, St Cuthberts, and the Lions Club of Hillcrest for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you. I’m now a much more confident public speaker!
  • Thank you to Helene for constantly providing women with perfume, beauty products and cosmetics. Stuff they gave up because it enraged their abusers, and now they have freedom, they are revelling in their more femme side.
  • Thank you to Lara for coming to me with the stunning idea of running an Aunties Shop. You’re a genius. And you’re a very sweet person, to boot.
  • Thank you to Tracey who basically keeps the home fires burning, and my house organised and tidy, and is a really great friend, better than I likely deserve. I love you.
  • Thank you to my Queens: To Kathy, and Sally, and Ange, for loving me the longest. Vicky, Selina and Becs. Isabel, Leilani, Danae, Mary, Deborah,  Julie, Michele, Sara, Kim, Karen H, Karen, Sonia, Emma, Helen, Demelza. Who have seen me at my worst, and loved me to my best. You are so proud of me, I know, and I feel this, all the time.
  • Thank you to the organisations that have trusted me with their clients, and let me into their personal spaces. To Trish, and KerryAnne, we’ll get those women what they need, come hell or high water! To Aneta, big dreamer and schemer, Annetta, Christine, Karaina, Rima, Patience and Matala from TWR, thank you for getting it. To Annah, Sharon, Kim, Kellie, Angel and Mark from the NZPC: Tuesdays are my favourite day of the week. To Hope, Rosanna, and Sefa, thanks for having me onboard and letting Kris bring me into your work. The best is yet to come, I promise. And to Patsy and Kiri, thank you for your belief in me and your dedication to your girls. We’ll get it done.
  • Thank you to Ian, who has been one of my biggest teachers in the last 27 years. Who is so proud of me, and so respects this work, and who has enabled this whole thing to become as big as it has. I couldn’t have done any of this without him.

When I’m talking to people, I often emphasise that nobody every does anything alone. Without support, we invariably stumble and fall. And so, you see, it really isn’t possible to do any of what I do without you standing behind me, and beside me. I hope you know, and understand, that. We’re only going to get bigger, and we’re going to change how the world understands “charity” and what it means to give.

He rau ringa e oti ai.

Many hands make light work, nei?

 

Love your work.

Me x

 

Look for the helpers

Last night I had the extraordinary privilege of being one of 61 people from Auckland to recieve a medal for the Kiwibank Local Hero awards. Basically, there were 750 people from all over NZ nominated to recieve the Local Hero award, 350 people got chosen as semifinalists, and were presented with medals all over the nation. Out of we 350 people, 10 will then be chosen as finalists at the end of December, and the winner will be announced at a grand affair in February.

I don’t expect to win, by the way. Because some of the people who are local heroes, have been so for a very very long time. And deserve more recognition than I, that’s for sure.

But there’s a rub. The people I stood on a stage with, last night, are all very unassuming, humble people. They don’t really like the limelight. When we were all up there, for a group photo, most of them were trying to stand at the back or to the sides. (Including me).

It’s not considered to polite or the done thing to make a fuss about your volunteer work, and most of the people there last night wouldn’t want to do it even if it were the done thing, it seems to me. There were people who saved lives, started charities and social enterprises at 17, had been working in their communities for upwards of 30 years. Good buggers, you know? The Bird Lady of Torbay, for heavens sake! She’s been an absolute legend for forever!

It’s a pretty uncomfortable thing, standing in a spotlight. But still, how is anyone ever going to know about your work – your really important work – unless you do from time to time?

That’s the bit none of us like, really. We need people to know about the work, but we really wish we didn’t have to make a song and a dance about it for it to be noticed.

So there we all were. Watching as one by one all these amazing people went up on the stage – 59 of them, there were – and it just blew me away. Not that there were so many kind people in the world, because I already knew that, but how absolutely dedicated and committed, how driven, they all were. And as I said, many had been doing their do for decades. And most had been doing it all by themselves. While holding down fulltime jobs. What.

And that’s why I felt like a fraud. Yes, I’ve had to push hard to do this work, but all the way along I’ve had the most incredible support. I couldn’t, literally, have even done the first thing I did without baby clothes and stuff for A. I couldn’t ever have done any of it without the people who turned up at my door with stuff, and other people who embraced the first givealittle we had. This is what the Aunties has always been about. People connecting with other people, and my work is separate to that, nowadays, in a way. You guys do the getting of stuff, and the giving of money, and I get to distribute all of that to the people I work with, which is the super easy bit,  and when I’m done doing that, the next part of my work begins. But, I couldn’t even do that bit without all of you. You see? So we’re all mixed up in this glorious sort of mess of humanity together.

So no, I don’t expect to be winning any grand prizes. And I don’t really care to be honest. Because my reward is getting to do this. It’s enough. It’s more than enough. It’s everything.

 

 

The ethics of a pen – a journey into plurality: by Sophie McLeish

We have an abiding interest in the forensics of managing multiple personas. This is an area fraught wth ethical dilemmas. Our approach is predicated on a simple paradigm. Yes, there are always paradigms when dealing with us. Nuclear fission can be used to power a city’s infrastructure, or to destroy a city’s infrastructure and its people. A very simple, relatable paradigm, which can be mapped exactly to many emotive debates bogged down in strawman arguments.

The use of a capability sits squarely in the hands of each individual, or plurality in our case. A pen can be used to write a story that resonates with the beauty in someone’s life. The same pen can be used to stab someone in the eye, brutally ending their life. The ethics of a pen? No. It’s the ethics of the wielder of the pen. We’ve been here, watched over by Papatūānuku, for a while now.

We wrote applications incorporating the precursors of HTML, the lingua franca of today’s web, when the web was still a squalling baby. The internet, the plumbing and wiring of the web, has always been a hive of ideas coming into being, vast unwieldy patterns dragged out of the ether, seemingly more appropriate for use by a visitor from a planet circling Sirius-B than the residents of the islands in the oceans of our world. But people, being what we are, genetically engineers of our environment, have inevitably seen advantages in parts of these vast patterns that are documented and standardised in minute detail, and stripped those parts out. Often, but not always, paying heed to the future ramifications, not tearing off wildly up blind paths. Hence the goodness and badness of our still forming collective soul, our internet, that joins our minds through a cellphone, seemingly inseparable from our hands.

Identifying individual locations was one of those fundamental patterns. First the location of a machine where a file, an idea, could be found. Then the location of the creator of the idea, a person. We all like to be acknowledged for a good idea and not have someone else claim it as their own. This is where greed and malice deviated from the big picture and took us careening off up a blind path. Tying one person’s ideas to their location in time and space, to their meatbag, was sensible, on the surface. But we are creatures of social strictures, we are required to belong, or we are outcasts. When greed and malice intervene, a very few try to, without effort, make money, an important indicator of their narcisisstic social status, from the effort of the many. Making money with little effort is predicated on seeing and manipulating common patterns. When an individual has a wide range of ideas that don’t map on to common patterns, they become an expense, an edge case that should be eliminated. Exceptions cost money. It’s far cheaper to manipulate one idea than coerce many disparate ideas into line.

At its most heinous limit, exceptions can be criminalised, their very non-conformity becoming a source of revenue, locked up in hellish barbed wire fenced towns, funded by the taxes of the true believers of one socially acceptable view. And what of the fair and equable management of those taxes. Well, there are administrative overheads, consultants’ fees, undefinable, perhaps in actuality non-existent, costs that have to be paid, and those payments somehow arrive by unidentifiable, circumlocutious means into Cayman Islands’ bank accounts. A vey few individuals have unethically suborned the overarching idea they have been promulgating, of tying one person’s ideas to that person’s location in time and space. They have hidden themselves, an aspect of their deviant personality flourishing behind walls that they claim should not exist. The ethics of a pen? No. It’s the ethics of the wielder of the pen.

The elephant in the room, why the pronoun we use? In our social milieu, an integrated personality is not only valued, it’s right and correct, but this struck us as simply destructive, so we settled on leaving our plurality alone, to develop as it saw fit, and to present only a single, safe, aspect to hold the reins from day to day, to be scrutinised and not found wanting. Well, hopefully not by much. So what are we? What’s our label? What box do we fit into? Terms like intersectionality and trans-something have been laid claim to but are still in flux, these are nuances that English is still incorporating. Plurality, while we identify internally with it, is still too emotive, so the elephant in the room will just have to stay standing there, hidden in full view. But for those of us who do identify with a term that leaves us outcast, you’re not, not by your real whānau, not by Papatūānuku.

Using social media is fraught with dilemmas, the very tools that assist sociopathic behaviour by the individuals intent on self-aggrandisment, are beating us into conformity, to submit to sameness. Social media in all its guises, will throw its vast resources at ensuring, we are identified and punished cruelly for our individuality. But maybe we can do it. Just maybe we can slowly evolve ways to use variants of social media ethically to be who we are, unashamed of our plurality, of our differences that make us whole. We’ve been searching for years, it seems like lifetimes, for confluences in social anarchy which allow just that, but we’re hamstrung by our technologically required identifiers, our phone numbers, IMEI’s and IP addresses. Just maybe.

I know.

I’ve been having many thoughts and feelings in the last wee while, centred around the slew of sexual assault allegations against powerful men. Some of those allegations are from men. Most are from women. And that’s what I’ve been having thoughts around especially.

And then this morning, my friend Jessica was talking about how a person doing one act of sexual violence is no more deserving of redemption than a person in whom this behaviour is patterned, or consistent.  That these behaviours, no matter how often they occur, are all the same to the victim.

This led to me to thinking about how that’s related to domestic violence, in that some abusers only ever do it in one relationship, whilst other do it in all their relationships.

We forgive those people in the former category very easily don’t we? Even though their violence in all it’s forms is restricted to one relationship, it’s not just one act. It’s many. Many many many acts. And yet, we treat men – and I’m only talking about cis men in hetero relationships here – who commit one act of sexual assault that’s thought of as the “lower end” of the scale (groping, flashing) the same as men who commit many acts of violence against one partner.

Let’s remind ourselves what violence against women looks like, shall we?  It’s useful to know.

Words, actions. Abuse.

A lot of people get nasty at the end of their relationships. Say bad things, do bad things. Are they bad people? I don’t believe that there are many absolutes in this life. That somebody can be shit to one person, but generally good to everyone else. This doesn’t make them a bad person.  They never do it to anyone else, they’re never shitty to anyone else. Just that one person. So we don’t get to know about it. Nobody knows about it, unless the person who’s been hurt decides to talk. And once again, because nobody knows that her ex partner has been like this, he gets away with it. Because it’s likely she won’t talk about it. She won’t be believed, anyway. She, in fact, will be reviled for “trying to spread stories”. It was a nasty breakup. Of course she’s saying these things.

But the people who hurt them need to own that. And the people who are his friends need to acknowledge those truths.  Because it’s abuse. Plain and simple.

And I think that’s how all these men – the men who “only” did it once have been getting away with it all these years. Why they’re forgiven by their friends, and family. Given the benefit of the doubt.  Why some very well loved people have a very dark side, and only their ex partners know what that dark side looks like.

I’m talking about this because I want you to know, if you’re one of those men, that I know. Your exes have told me their stories. While women friends have stood by you, I know what your dark side looks like. I know what you’ve done.

And I won’t forgive you.

I won’t ever forgive you.

Until you own it.