Where do we find your book?
African Books Collective ships around the globe
And outside of RSA...
Where do we find your book?
African Books Collective ships around the globe
And outside of RSA...
We wanted to listen to poetry. We arrived at the venue, a restaurant, over an hour early. There were no customers. The [white] owner / manager was behind the bar. He didn’t say hello. Then again, I guess we didn’t look like much. I was in jeans, flats, cotton jersey and a scarf my mother had knitted. The [white] writer with me is between jobs, and doesn’t dress to impress. But a waitress came forward: ‘We’re not serving food. There is an event tonight.’ We explained we’d come for the event. Were there any seats unreserved? The waitress smiled. Said there was. Told us we could have coffee while we waited. She sat us. We ordered coffee.
[White] Owner / manager didn’t say a word.
This was only my second year at FLF. Last year I’d been brought in as a last-minute replacement for another writer. I’d stayed at the Travel Lodge, cheap, clean and cheerful, which my stipend from the fest basically covered. I met wonderful people, my panel was with two writers I admired, and I had a lot of fun. This year, however, I was at FLF only for work purposes and not on the programme. Sill at the Travel Lodge, work was covering it, and the place remained clean and cheerful.
But FLF wasn’t as much fun. Some of it had to do with work. There had been a comedy of errors – not of our doing – that we’d had to scramble to fix. But there was something else in the air I couldn’t quite place. [White] writer next to me, who I had driven to the fest, had also noticed. Night before he’d been frisked. He had been walking along the streets of Franschhoek. Ran into a group of youths who’d come together after the news that BB King had died. The gathering morphed into a soccer game. This, apparently, warranted police investigation. The most dangerous thing they uncovered during the pat downs was a melted chocolate ball. ‘What the fuck is this?’
The venue was starting to fill up. A [white] woman – fancy scarf, expensive jersey, jewels so gaudy that if she swam with them on she’d have drowned – approached us. ‘This is my table,’ she squeaked.
‘We were told this table wasn’t reserved.’
She kept squeaking. Loudly. That she’d handed over her credit card. That we must move. The waitress came over. She calmed the woman down. She assured us we were fine at our table. Then she directed the woman to the table next to ours, ‘That’s the table you reserved.’
Not a word of apology as she and her party sat down. They were quickly given menus. Offered food.
We were offered more coffee.
We ordered more coffee.
People kept coming in. More tables sat. More menus dispatched. [White] owner / manager greeting many. Standing room was gone. Now there were people standing outside the restaurant, peering through the glass.
At last the poetry night began. First the [white] organiser of the event gave a welcome and summary of what was to come. Then the introduction of the first poet. A [white] woman stood up and read a few poems. They were cute. The sort that make you think, ‘Oh, bless.’
Next poet was introduced: Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. From the first line, she had me. Thus, I didn’t see him approach. It wasn’t until the [white] owner / manager was in my face that I realised there was a problem. He was loudly demanding we leave. He was saying the table was reserved. I glanced over at the bar. Philippa was still performing her first poem. But a [white] wealthy-looking couple was indeed standing at the bar.
We told the man that we had asked, repeatedly, if the table was unreserved, and we’d been assured we were fine. The man went on a rant – loudly – about his staff. He blamed them. Despite having been there the whole time, he claimed to have no knowledge of our presence, or why we were there.
Phillippa was still performing. It was embarrassing, such a scene. I told the man we would leave, but not until the poet was done. ‘It would be rude to get up during her set.’ He looked startled. Glanced back at Phillippa, as if he’d forgotten the poet was there.
The following evening I would attend an award ceremony. I’d RSVP’d, but was informed I wasn’t on the guest list. An admin mistake, perhaps. My publishers got me in. During the event I met a lot of wonderful people. Discussed interesting possibilities for work. But at one point I found myself awkwardly jammed against a wall, hemmed in by the crowd, while a prominent male author conversed with my left breast. Or maybe he was simply shy, found it hard to make eye contact. Regardless, it was a relief when the crowd shifted and I could break free.
It is now over a month since FLF, yet people continue to ask me about how the weekend went. I think of the festival. I think of the literary debates. ‘Interesting times,’ I say.
This post originally featured on Books Live
The Write Life. It sounds catchy. Desirable. It involves a perfect balance between commitments, writing, family, rest and living. Living, which according to internet memes and motivational slogans, appears to be those things that are not work and family and reading and writing…this elusive living that is done in that spare time by people who have lives. With arms stretched out wide. On a mountaintop. At sunrise. Maybe sunset. The rest of us are not living, apparently, but zombies. Can’t be dead, because the dead don’t move. Hard to do laundry and not move. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I’m not sure there is a Write Life, however. I’ve spent time cutting things out of my life only to have new things slip in: children’s writing group, Spring Wring Course, #WriterPrompt and belly dancing, to name a few. I like being busy. But I don’t like being stressed and anxious. I enjoy working with writers under the age of 18 in person. It remains to be seen if I feel the same about adults. Giving feedback on #WriterPrompt (which I enjoy) is a far cry from adult writers gathered in my dining room. But it is a challenge, and at least I can say I tried.
What I have come to understand, however, is that my Write Life is only achievable in moments. Yes, since the 28th of May I’ve managed to put down another 6,000 words in a work-in-progress. First time I’ve added words to a work-in-progress during the months of May and June since I became a part of Short Story Day Africa. It hasn’t been easy to acquire the space for those new words. They are the first new words since the 24th of April. Nor will we discuss how long it took for me to write this final post. Things were going, then they were not. People get sick, have injuries, face unexpected events – Write Life depends upon consistency. Life, even the zombie sort, is full of unpredictability. Organisation, diaries and working ahead can only accomplish so much. Life happens. And it isn’t always at sunrise on a mountaintop.
Write Life blog series is done. But this isn’t a mini project. Like my health, how much I’m working – how I’m using my time - is going to require constant reassessment. There is already a looming what if hovering in July. To happen, or not happen. I’m not sure what the answer will be. I thought I knew. Now I don’t. But what I’ve come to realise is, that it is wonderful to be at a place to have choices. There are times I have not had much choice. The trick is to keep in mind that, ‘No, is an answer, too,’ as my physio said. Nonetheless, what a beautiful time in my life this is, where I have choice. It is an important point. Because looking behind me, it is evident that when I lose sight of choice the demons creep in. I must remember, because I can’t keep adopting black dogs to keep the rest at bay.
I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, recently. In it, she talks about an artist who was getting a ton of likes on YouTube. Loads. The artist’s work was popular, people were watching, glad to have that work in their lives. That is, until the artist tried to crowdsource for funding in order to turn the art into something more tangible than a YouTube video. I believe the artist raised around 45US dollars. People liked the artist’s work, but it was not loved. It takes a certain love before people will pay. I read that scene in Palmer’s book and thought: Bingo, my problem in a nutshell.
Love is not always necessary. There are things I do because they are part of who I am, regardless if I have a flair for it. Writing, for example. Yes, I prefer it when publishers want to publish me. Yes, I prefer it when people read my work and enjoy it. But if these chronic conditions have taught me anything in life, it is that I write for me, first. I have, in the past, tried to peruse more lucrative writing gigs and taken a stab at writing for that elusive market. The only things I achieved with those stunts was a pile of rejections, braces and permanent damage to one of my wrists. But when the days came to stop living life as I once had, giving up most of what I used to do, I discovered that writing was a part of me, even if it hurt. I can’t even say writing is something I love or enjoy. But I know I’m not me without it and I am willing to risk a lot to keep doing it, even if nobody is reading.
Dedication sometimes requires a bit of love, however. There is an activity has eaten a ton of my time, cost me money and earned a lot of like. People were delighted with what I was doing, as long as it was on par with that artist on YouTube: free. Yes, I had my 45dollars of love, from a few souls. But overall, there was like and no love from the greater world. Which wasn’t a big deal, at first. Again, not everything I do needs to be loved or appreciated by others. That is, until:
Putting it that way, it would seem the decision would have been no-brainer. But life is rarely so simple as two bullet points. In addition to a number of other factors, I’d invested a lot of my energy into a something that had touched lives. It is hard to call such a project off, even when exhausted, fed up and news that my latest funding idea had fallen through. Liked is still something and that something had felt good. Also, I was cautious about the enthusiasm of this other idea. I’ve learned over the years that just because people say they’ll pay for something, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily pony up once the goods are produced.
The process of reaching the final decision was gradual and involved a number of events. One of which was being able to drive myself to Cape Town and back, for the first time in four frustrating years. That felt good. I love the freedom. Independence. But I know from my past, that I am running on borrowed time. If I keep working at the intensity I have been, all my hard work to regain my life – hold car keys without dropping them, cut up my own food, drive 5 hours and back – will start slipping away, all over again. As it is, I still can’t consistently walk my dogs or jog, surfing is totally gone, my time at the piano is a joke and I considered it an amazing week if I’ve managed to knit a row or two at a scarf that, after four months, might finally be long enough to wrap around the neck of a Smurf.
I’d rather try to stay as healthy as is possible while living my life. I’d rather look into things that might pay. I’d rather have a bit more time for writing. So I made the change. There is guilt. Overall, however, I know the change is necessary if I’m ever going to find the Write Life.
- One: there is no death; and two: the souls of those who've left the physical world are always with us...-
- He'd given in to temptation, and now he had to pay. -
- 'It's why you go on a fucking cruise, innit?' he droned on. 'To have a drink and a laugh. And if the ship's going to do a Titanic, then I wanna be as pissed up as possible.' -
- It's a shame musicians are no longer required to go down with the ship. -
- Curiously, although they now had each other in person, she missed receiving Elise's emails, and Elise admitted that she missed her messages, too. There was an intimacy in writing that was somehow absent from personal interactions, although she couldn't complain. -
- You've written my story backwards. -
- I have pretended to go mad in order to tell you the things I need to. I call it art. -
- My apologies if I haven't written in a while. It's just that words ran out of letters (these are the last in the bag). It's just that language isn't perfect. It's just, me. -
- It says that there is no right way to feel but, right now, after something like this happens, you do need to feel however you're feeling and that feeling this way, however you're feeling, is healthy. -
- I am these words and these pages. -
*See blog: http://www.iwrotethisforyou.me/
We are wired to have a period of language opportunity. It is harder to learn languages after the age of eight or ten. In addition, Ojibwe is one of the most difficult languages to learn because its verbs take on an unusual array of forms. There’s no masculine or feminine designation to the nouns, but instead they’re qualified as animate or inanimate. The verb form changes according to its status as animate or inanimate as well as in regard to human relationships. The verbs go on and on. Often when I’m trying to speak Ojibwe my brain freezes. But my daughter is learning to speak it, and that has given me new resolve. Of course, English is a very powerful language, a colonizer’s language and a gift to a writer. English has destroyed and sucked up the languages of other cultures—its cruelty is its vitality. Ojibwe is taught in colleges, increasingly in immersion programs, but when my grandfather went to government boarding school he wasn’t allowed to speak Ojibwe. Nor were Indian students in Catholic boarding schools, where my mother went, as so many of our family were Catholic.
- Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208
I believe that to erase the possibility of empathy is to erase the possibility of human progress. Erasing the possibility of empathy also threatens to erase the possibility of art. We watch Oedipus Rex not because we celebrate and condone the concept of motherfuckers and father killers but because it is cathartic to see our worst nightmares exposed in a safe context. We do not cheer when the blade cuts deep. We weep. We empathise. And we put the play on over, and over, and over again. These differences are crucial. Empathy is not sympathy and compassion is not condonation.
- Playing the Hitler Card, Amanda Palmer
- So many question marks, their dots and their hooks float in the air, block my view of your beautiful face. And I say, yes, maybe there is. -
- He is going to kill and he is going to die. That's all we know for now, let's see what happens in between. -
- This time it's the road that has become a living thing curling up into the sky, then coming down to break his car window and swallow him. -
- My wife says your KG teacher is the one who knows you best because she knows you when you know nothing, she is the one who teaches you how to read, write, count and I never got to say thank you to you. -
- The shortest love story ever told is when a parent tells her child that she loves a man who is not her father. -
- Why don't you push me to learn how to live without you? -
- Nina imagined that hell might be like this: being mauled by a tall woman in tight stonewashed jeans while her husband pointed out one's aesthetic shortcomings and spoke admiringly of an ectomorph. -
- You longed for someone to notice you, the real you inside, the one that had ideas and feelings, but people kept returning to your appearance instead, forcing it upon you, saying: 'This plump milkmaid is the real Nina. She is not glamorous or fascinating or clever, but she would look good on a milk cart, surrounded by her churns.' -
- She was not a subtle, nocturnally scented shrub. Dolly was one of those people who present themselves to the world as a permanent emergency. Nothing else is important, shrieks the permanent emergency, but my crisis, my pain, my need. -
- Nina had been inside old houses that had been stricken by the past. Something sad hung about the banisters or dangled from the cornices; you found yourself walking through unexplained cold patches; you felt relieved when you were out in the sunshine again. -
- There was nothing you could do to reform a hugger. -
“Just get your name out there,” creative types are told. There seems to be a lot of building going on: you’re supposed to build your brand, your network, your social-media presence. Creative entrepreneurship is spawning its own institutional structure—online marketplaces, self-publishing platforms, nonprofit incubators, collaborative spaces—but the fundamental relationship remains creator-to-customer, with creators handling or superintending every aspect of the transaction.
- The Death of the Artist, William Deresiewicz