Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua
I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on the past
When I was a kid, I’d get home from school, throw my bag in my room, peel away my shoes and socks and rip my uniform off, then reach for a well-worn pair of shorts and t-shirt. My afternoon uniform consisted of hand-me-down clothes from my oldest brother, Damien. He was pretty much as cool as Ralph Macchio, so wearing for example, his faded fluorescent pink-okanui’s and white bonds t-shirt didn’t bother me at all. I felt that it was my rite of passage, my inheritance, that I should be the next in line to wear his clothes; they would somehow imbue me with the perceived strength he embodied. I idolised Damien, so did my two younger brothers, he had that ‘wax-on-wax-off’ energy down pat.
Mum would have SAOs with Vegemite laid out on the kitchen counter for afternoon tea, then I’d make my way to the backyard, the fly screen slamming shut behind me. It was my time. My bare feet searched for the warmth of the cement stairs leading down to the small square patch of thick, buffalo grass, which, when the perfect length, called me close in a way I still can’t quite explain.
I started off with handstands in the shallow end of the neighbour’s pool, hours of it. Along with competitions against my three brothers to see who could hold our breath underwater the longest, I’d make classic moves like ‘the splits’ or ‘the milkshake’, my legs flapping above the pump of the Creepy Crawly.
Once I managed to get my handstand technique right in our backyard, I graduated to what felt like a more adult, technical move – the headstand. The first few afternoons I tried and struggled, I was sure I’d broken my back and neck a couple of times when I came tumbling down.
But after a while, standing on my head became as easy as standing on my feet. I thought about them a lot at school and couldn’t wait to get home to do it. The sense of flow and harmony I got was the perfect escape from everyone and everything. I went to another place.
Other activities I did as a kid that gave me this sense of balance and otherness include roller skating (I pretty much wore my prized white boot lace-up roller skates my entire tenth year), double-dutch skipping and knitting, which my Nanna taught me.
Last week I entered my 47th year and as I look around my studio at the objects I’ve kept, there are no roller skates in sight. Instead, there are many treasured books and CDs, a bottle of Chanel N°5 Mum gave me, swirled sea shells smuggled back from Rarawa Beach in Northland New Zealand, a crystal vase I was awarded at high school, a jar of found feathers, too many pairs of earrings for my two ears and lots of notebooks holding words waiting to be found again.
On the floor in the only area that can afford a sprawl, there are woven baskets of all sizes, inflorescence and bundles of raffia. A piece of my favourite material holds all these things so when I trim and snap, pieces are caught for me to easily shake the sheet out over the verandah. There is an artist’s order to it all; piles that make complete sense to me, but chaos to anyone who might walk in.
My hands are having a break from the tucking and tightening and threading and tying that is weaving to write this. It’s nice to tap on the keyboard and come back to words, momentarily stepping away from weaving. It’s week six or seven since the Covid-19 virus hit Australian shores. Yesterday Donald Trump suggested that perhaps injecting disinfectant might be a quick fix for people infected, while at the other end of the leadership spectrum Jacinda Ardern has been anointed in some papers as a ‘saint’. Rolls of toilet paper are starting to return to shelves, Zooms are becoming the new ‘let’s go for coffee’ and less people are looking at me with suspicion when I wear a mask shopping. What it means to be ‘normal’ is being rewritten daily. Living alone makes me aware of my immense privilege during this time. I think of all the single parents, people surviving in domestic violence situations and people with mental health and physical disabilities – I can't imagine what their pandemic experience must be like...how each day of lockdown must bring another layer of anxiety and stress.
I’ve heard and seen people online who appear to be thriving in lockdown. Honestly, I don’t get it. I’ve not related to this movement of joie de vivre in any way. I’m supposed to work part-time, three days a week, but am struggling to stick to my days and hours. I’ve lagged so far behind with my Te Reo (Maori language) online course, I’m behind with projects I’ve said yes to and I can’t seem to find my groove, my rhythm and my place in this new indoor world. The one thing that has kept me both anchored and open is weaving.
Last year, when I was out walking my little rescue dog, Cookie, I found the most wonderful, gnarly pieces of fibre laying under a tree. They were resting, waiting for me. I carried them home and kept them safe and protected stored away, knowing that one day they would return to my hands and imagination.
Yesterday I picked them up and observed their crevices and curves, their stories.
Combining them with some inflorescence fibres my dear friend Tessa gifted me at Christmas, I have started to put my hands to work to see where the lines and stitches take me. Rather than making baskets which I’m safe in, I’m pushing myself both inside and outside of the craft of weaving and allowing for play and mistakes and intuition. Weaving is the teacher and my hands are the students, listening and feeling for not the right way, but the best way, the natural way, the way of resilience and sustainability. In weaving forward, I’m weaving back to myself.