A Haole Writes…

Paul G. Bens Jr.

Home. Such a simple word, but one with amazing power; a word that evokes the strongest of feelings in each and every one of us, whether it is a place we run to or run from. For me, it’s a vastly comforting word. There are few places that I feel at home and so when that feeling hits me, I know I need to pay attention.

It was Christmas Eve, 2004, and I had just stepped off a plane at Honolulu International. As a warm breeze—one equal parts sea air and jet exhaust—blew across me, I was awash with the feeling that word invokes. Home. I may have even whispered it to myself.  I didn’t (and still don’t) know why that feeling came to me so strongly at that moment, but when the Hawaii Book Blog asked me to write about what it is about Hawai‘i that inspires me both as a writer and a reader, it is that word—and more importantly, those feelings—that immediately sprang to my mind.

I had never been to Hawai‘i; didn’t really know anything about it except that everyone I knew always seemed to be going there and raving about it.  But there I was, all by myself in a city I knew nothing about, knowing not a soul, and I immediately felt like I was home.  Now, I am what most people would call “high strung.”  I seldom relax. Anywhere. I have trouble getting out of my own head most of the time and I tend to over analyze everything.  Perhaps it is the law background of my day job.  Or maybe it’s just some residue from the way I was raised.  Who knows.  Yet, the moment I stepped off that plane, everything I was just seemed to blow away with that breeze.

It was a short trip and I never really ventured outside of Waikiki. Without a rental car, I walked more than I think I had during my entire life up to that point. I hiked up Diamond Head and spent most of my time simply sitting in the little park right in front of Queens Surf, right next to Paniolo Grill.  In the evenings I’d stop for drinks at the local gay spots: Hula’s, Angels, In Between.  I met some people, made some friends, and really just became someone else during those short 5 days.

While it wasn’t permanently transformative, when I returned to Los Angeles my boyfriend said that he had never seen me as relaxed as when I had returned.  (Years later when we would travel to the Islands together, he would say it again. “You’re a completely different person here,” he’d say…and I think he liked that change.)  I immediately wanted to capture that amazing sensation of becoming someone else and I began writing a short little story that I tentatively called Da Kine Christmas.  Inspired in equal parts by the sense of calmness that had come over me and a sexual fantasy a friend had shared with me (verbally, not in action), the story ultimately became a gay, erotic novelette entitled Mahape a ale Wala‘au, after a phrase used by Duke Kahanamoku which, so it is said, means “Don’t speak, keep it in your heart.”

Mahape tells the story of an ordinary man named Toshi who, in escaping the pressures of his Tokyo life, travels to Waikiki and finds himself “becoming something more” than he has ever been through a sexual tryst with a Hawaiian man named Kristopher. It took me a while to write that story (erotica was, to say the least, a challenge for me) but once I did, I was fortunate enough to land a publisher.  And while I prepared for the release of the story, I began researching Hawai‘i in order to develop some P.R. material for my little story’s release.

And that is when I became fascinated with Hawai‘i, the history of it, the literature, the people. I began devouring everything I could read or listen to about the Islands.

( to be continued…)