MIRIAM TLALI: OUT OF PRINT?

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I hung my head in shame when I heard the news of the passing of South African author, journalist and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Tlali (83) on the 24 of February. I hung head my in shame because despite having been a supporter of the Miriam Tlali Book Club run by Writes Associates’ Raks Seakhoa, I never once read a book of hers. I’ve been meaning to but never quite got around to it. This is a particularly shameful admission because not only was Miram Tlali the first black woman in South African to publish a book under the title Muriel at Metropolitan (1975) – she was also a journalist. I had never come across any of her works, it was never a part of the curriculum when I was studying journalism at Natal Tech now the Durban University of Technology. I hung my head in shame because I wanted to write something moving and meaningful about her but realized that actually, I know nothing. I didn’t know her and I had never had an opportunity to speak to her or to interview her, let alone read her books. This of course, was going to remain a private shame, I was going to keep this shameful fact to myself and try correct it through other means. By reading her books. So I made a request through my book club: The Joburg African Literature Club if we could read her next month.

None of her books are available for purchase. They are out of print. With the exception of used copies on Amazon.

This turned my private shame into a public one. It was so shameful it made me recall the piercing words of Ghanaian writer, Ama ata Aidoo during her tour in South Africa last year when she confessed that she was too shocked to learn that Rhodes University students didn’t know who Lewis Nkosi was. It made me flinch. It’s a sad day for South Africans indeed. It is regrettable that we have not been admirable custodians of our own history as black people – that we are neglecting our ancestors (read answers) even as they live and breathe among us. We no longer see any value in their beings. No only are we failing to acknowledge and honour our living legends – even when they have left something of value – we throw it to the dogs. We don’t take it, treasure it, feed it to our children, so they never forget.

Tlali’s first book published at the height of Apartheid in 1975, gave the world an inside view into what it was like to be Black, Female and oppressed living in South Africa. When she published her second book Amandla! which was banned because it chronicled the 1976 Soweto Riots she wrote with us in mind. In her interview with Steirn from 21 Icons she said she put her hope in  future generations.

“I knew it wouldn’t be accepted I really didn’t mind about that, I knew that coming generations would pick it up and publish it. I was already now infused with the idea that I have to write everything.”

She continued to write – documenting the lived experiences of millions of South Africans – in the hope that we would one day read them, know them and ourselves. I suppose the greatest honour for any writer is not just to receive awards of which ma Tlali was a recipient of many. The greatest honour for any writer is to be read, and read widely by her own people.

Are we going to fail her? How can Miriam Tlali rest in power when we don’t even read her?

The best way we can pay our respects to those who paved the way for so many of us, is to read and teach about who they were, at the very least.

And it’s a real shame that none of her works can be found in our country’s leading bookstores today. As Jodi Picualt said if we don’t change the direction we’re headed we’ll end up where we are going.

Miriam Tladi’s story is one of unmitigated courage, strength and determination against an oppressive regime which not only saught to control the black body but the black mind.

She demonstrated through her dedication and fearlessness that we are greater than our physical circumstances. She epitomised the kind of leadership our country sorely lacks in this moment. Leaders with a vision not only for themselves but for future generations.

How can we become such leaders if we have no models of it. If we don’t know our own herstories?

It is sad to realize that the Apartheid regime succeeded in conquoring us. We have been conquered in the cruelest way possible. We have internalized the oppression so much that we don’t even see how we are still living in subjugation and bondage. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves bear testament to this. We are missing out on a chance to change – a chance to become more than we thought we could be.

This time there’s no one else to blame. It is simply too soon for Miriam Tlali to be out of print. It is way too soon for that. We don’t know nearly enough.

“A good book, if it has the right messages in it, it can change a whole human being into something he never thought he would be” Miriam Tlali

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A MILLION WAYS TO LIVE: WRITE HARD, DIE FREE

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This weeks’ blog post features a story by journalist, editor and writer Clinton Nagoor. My former colleague, editor and boss. We’ve worked together for the greatest part of my career as journalist. He never seized to challenge me to come up with more creative ways to tell a compelling story, to write well and to write stories that matter and have an impact. He’s pushed me to do better and inspired me to be a better storyteller and I have admired his ability to remain so positive and focused in a profession that can sometimes  be brutally unforgiving. In many ways he has been my mentor and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. Last week he moved me. Here’s why:

WRITE HARD, DIE FREE by Clinton Nagoor

I used to be a crime reporter. That first murder scene. I can’t recall her name. But she was eight-years-old and still in her white school dress. She lay in the gutter of a park known as Strawberry Fields. She lay there next to the swings and merry-go-round. Her shoes kicked off-her panties scrunched and thrown beside her. Head turned to one side, her knees slightly drawn up- almost asleep-like. But she had been raped. Then strangled with surgical tubing. Raped and murdered at eight. And left there in the gutter of a child’s playground. It was the early 90s in KZN so I attended many more crime scenes. Massacres where families were shot and their bodies set alight, suicide by gunshot, robberies gone wrong, gone right, death by friends, by serial killers and customers. Political violence and tribal violence. A violent death is an ugly thing. The last crime scene. July 28th 2003. It was a Monday. The house was empty when I got there. There was bloody handprints as I walked up the stairway to the first floor. I noticed blood on the panic button and the alarm panel. A great pool of dark cloying blood on the kitchen floor. Lots of bloody marks in the corridor leading to it. I didn’t look intently but there was enough to burn in my memory. The police docket, witness statements and picture book told a story. The home panic button had been set off sometime in the night. Security guards came to the house but no one answered and everything seemed to be in order. So they left. The alarm went off again. This time they returned with policemen. At the back of the house through the kitchen window they could see a man lying on the floor He was not responsive to their calls so they went in. One of the constables says in his statement that the male victim’s fingers were still twitching. But by the time paramedics arrived there had been lots of blood loss. He was declared dead on scene. The post-mortem will show a massive blunt force trauma to the back of his head. Several stab wounds to his face and upper body. I remember everything about this scene of murder. The man was a 60-year-old who had celebrated his birthday on April 18th with friends and family. He was a printer by trade. Ink dyed into his finger tips. A lifetime of work to raise his sons. He never met his grandkids. Never got to play with them. Nor regale them with childhood stories or teach them to kick a ball. I remember everything about that last crime scene of mine. His name was Larry. But I called him Daddy.

THE SWEETNESS OF BEING YOURSELF…

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Hello, Hello! Today I thought I should share a surprising fact I learnt about my blog in the new year. I started writing this blog three years ago since then it’s gone through many name changes from What’s Art, Between The Lines, to The Bottom Line. In many ways the evolution of this blog mirrors my own life. Trying to figure out if I was indeed an artist, a writer and how to make ends meet while I figure out who I am and what I am good at. The journey has been full of challenges, adventures, phenomenal highs, risks, heart-breaks, a taste of  life on the streets, loneliness, discovery, joy, peace, new friendships, new countries and always having to start over and over and over again. Because Just when I thought okay, I can do this, something would happen to change all my best laid plans. Each time it was harder to make decisions, nothing was black or white.   So I could not believe my eyes when I opened my email and read the  Annual  Report for The Bottom Line in 2014.  The Bottom Line was viewed more than 6,000 times in over 100 countries around the world. South Africa came first, followed by EU countries and America. You make me feel so important 🙂 .  Seriously, Thank you!Click here to see the complete report.

The biggest surprise of all however, was discovering which post was read the most in 2014. What was most surprising was that it was  an old article, written in 2012! I’m sure you’re curious about what it is right? Hang on a second, it’s coming. Let me thank you first. It has been a humbling experience learning  to write in the public eye. I appreciate all your support. But the coolest thing about the whole thing is  that a  tribute to my childhood icon, a woman who inspired millions of African black girls and boys to dream bigger dreams for themselves especially in South Africa, Brenda Fasssie, is the reason people were drawn to view The Bottom Line.  I love this woman. That’s  just awesome! So here’s the coolest story on my blog since 2012 and counting.

The Sweetness of Brenda Fassie’s Zola Budd

04 November 2012. Today is the 1st day  of the 12 Week The Artist’s way challenge to myself,  I wrote about it earlier this week.  I started writing my morning pages two days before to avoid the dread associated with starting  something new, to limit you know, the anxiety and high expectations..  This morning however I was tired and even though I woke up to my beep at five, I went back to sleep instead of writing. When I did eventually wake up at  7am, I am normally at work by this time, I debated whether I should spend time writing my morning pages, three pages of hand writing can be daunting when you don’t have time. So I decided to write them anyway.  They went pretty fast and in no time I had crossed the road to hail a minibus-taxi, pointing my index finger up to the heavens signalling that I am going to Jozi. And what a surprise when I climbed into the Taxi, which was at that very moment playing late South African Pop Icon, Brenda Fassie’s – Zola Budd song!

A song which was once so popular and spoke to almost every facet of South African Society at the time, Apartheid South Africa  circa 1980. That’s the  genius of being an Artist,  I am slowly finding out (bear with please those of you who have been down this road before)  that being an artist is having the ability to provide commentary, reflect on the sociopolitical concerns of the nation while making people smile, have fun and forget about their misery even for just a moment.   Brenda Fassie was gifted in this way. She was a true entertainer.

Zola Budd ( now Zola Pieterse) is a former (white) South African  Olympic track and field competitor, who in less than three years broke the world record in women’s 5 thousand meters twice.  She was the fastest woman in the world and  a little peculiar because she ran barefoot. In 1984, aged 17 she broke the women’s 5000 meters record with a time of 15:01.18.83.   But she  ran in Apartheid South Africa ( which was then excluded/ sanctioned from international athletics ) So her time was excluded in the official world record. Ag shame, broken dreams.While (White) South Africans were going on about the unfairness of the exclusion (I assume it was talk  of the Nation at the time, I was three), Black South Africans  found a way into the conversation by naming  a new fleet or range of  minibus taxi’s (public transport used mainly  by black Africans in South Africa which carried  14-16 passengers)  especially in Johannesburg as Zola Budd, because they drove just as fast as she ran. Then comes little Brenda Fassie, the newest boldest, black girl making music in town, with a Hit Song, Zola Budd (taxi, runner, you decide), the lyrics are pretty simple…

“Bhuti (brother) Ngiceli’ lift ( can I get a lift)In your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, Zola budd!

I wanna be in your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, I want to be in your Zola Budd,  Zola Budd, Zola Budd!!

Two very simple lines  and a melody that still makes me want to stand up run and dance on the spot like she did in the video , with her index finger flaying in the air. The Apartheid Government could not ban her (music/song) like they did so many more  other  black revolutionary  artists at the time.  Brenda’s Music was classified as “Bubble Gum” music. You know what you do with bubble gum, you first chew it , play with it, make bubbles, then spit it out when the sweetness is gone.  But I can still taste the  sugar in Brenda Fassie’s music today.  The song Zola Budd, which apart from having a pop theme in the beginning ends with a soulful  choir like hymn with her almost crying..slowly repeating Zola Budd.. Zoooola Budd, Zola Budd!!. It echoed the pain and aspirations of both black and white South Africans at the height of the country’s state of  emergency, her song  spread and became popular like wildfire.  No only putting a shine on Brenda the artist our beloved star, but on the mini-bus taxis  (which the majority of black south african workers depend on to get to work everyday)  and even Zola Budd herself ( she has a song and taxi named after her)

You can imagine then how Popular Brenda Fassie must have been to little black girls like me  who growing up in the literal dusty streets of  Soweto (because that’s where I’m from) emulated her.  We all wanted to be Brenda when we grew up, even boys; we imitated her from head to toe voice to actions. She  popularized braids (we called them singles)  with colourful  beads  ( like those worn by traditional healers sometimes) because that’s how she wore her hair. She was a trend-setter. She had bad teeth, but  nobody cared, she was more than her tiny frame, bigger greater and larger.   I used to love doing impersonations of Brenda Fassie as a child, any chance I’d get,  especially the “No senor”, track about  a woman being held hostage by her spanish lover.  I was  dark and awkwardly beautiful like  Brenda,  so even as a child in the process of becoming aware of myself and what made me different from other humans I could see myself in her, I identified  with her. She embodied mine and South Africa’s aspirations.  She inspired me, made me believe in myself. That I am black , and that is beautiful. I think my mother took me to TV auditions once, because I believed I could be a star, like Brenda Fassie. Maybe she did too.

So later on in her career Brenda Fassie released another hit song “Indaba ya’m i straight – ayifun’irula” [ My story is straight it doesn’t need a ruler]. It was a response to media accusations, if I am correct, about her sexuality or sexual orientation and activities, she was often rumored  to keep  multiple partners  – male and female. I think she was mostly seeing women at the time of her untimely death.

I think about that song and wonder what Mabrrr (as she was affectionately known) would have to say to the state of the nation today, when women are being raped and assaulted  on a daily basis, others only because they are gay – to “correct” them. Or what she would have to say to the fact that  our very own Runner and 800 meter’s record breaker, Caster Semenya, was almost stripped of her title and dreams of being an international athlete  because she was accused of being a man, running as a woman.

So this  got me thinking about writing and how we document and celebrate our history,  our heritage and those people who had an impact in our lives such as  Brenda  Fassie, as we mark  the  UNESCO World Heritage and Archive week .  I  have always wanted to be a performer, an artist , an entertainer. But since art didn’t pay,   my mother who was and still is my greatest supporter (and I)thought journalism would be best.  So now I would like to be myself, today, and use what I have now, today, my journalism education and vast experience ( Thank you mom)  to live out those childhood dreams wherever possible, so that when I do have children one day, I can allow them to explore  and accept who they are sooner, so they are more balanced and happier adults.  One of my colleagues who is celebrating 15  years as a  journalist at the public broadcaster today came to my desk this morning and said to me ” I wish I had the insight, 15 years ago, of using what I have been given to the best of my ability. I wish I had known then what I know now, that life is what you make of it now, here where you are, not somewhere in the future,  I’m glad I’m doing it now but I swear, I could have kicked myself”  – She is in her 50’s.

” Nothing has a stronger influence  psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life  of the parent” C  G. Jung.

What are you still waiting for.

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 WHAT’S NEWS TO YOU?  LESSONS FROM A 13 YEAR OLD JOURNALIST

 

Keeping notes
Keeping notes

This month on September 11 I marked 13 years as a journalist. So I thought I should dedicate this week’s blog post to an activity that has dominated my life for the past 13 years. Of course, it’s a long story.

IN THE BEGINNING: WHAT AM I?

I had many dreams and aspirations before I decided on a path to become a journalist. In fact I wanted to be a great many things. I had dreams of becoming a cartoonist: working as an animator for Walt Disney, I also dreamed of being a dancer, a singer, maybe even an actress. Everyone in my family had at some point stood silently near the bathroom watching me talk to myself on the mirror while trying out different facial expressions. They would watch me practice over and over at the mirror, talking in a language even I didn’t  understand until I mastered the art of crying and laughing on the spot.  During those times I took on different characters, a broken-hearted lover, maybe some kind of a star, a teacher, maybe a university professor at an academic institution of high repute, a writer, a mother and so on. At some point I tried competing for the Miss South Africa Title. Alas.

 A  WHOLE WORLD IN MY HEAD

The list was (still is) endless. One of the options I considered to my mother’s chagrin, was joining the army. I thought then than it would be the easiest way for me to acquire a driver’s licence at no cost to my parents. I wanted to learn how to be disciplined because I had a short attention span and would find myself wondering to foreign lands in the middle of tasks, while washing dishes  for example, studying or trying to pay attention during Math class. I was intrigued by the story of numbers .  By suggesting I join the army  I hoped I would reign in the dreamer in me, and become more like my father who is disciplined, hardworking and always on time. As my mother and I poured over alternatives for my future career while lying on her bed, looking dreamily into the ceiling like lovers planning a future together, the word journalism surfaced. My mother acted as my career guide and told me:” you like to talk; to write, you are very curious, you enjoy reading, finding information and you want to travel, so journalism would be perfect for you. Plus you enjoy asking questions and you can be on TV  too if you want to”. It had never occurred to me that I could be a journalist. I was more than a  little overwhelmed with the number of things I could do or be for rest of my life, and at 17 the world seemed to contain an infinite amount of possibilities. But when my mother mentioned journalism I thought this would be a good career choice. It seemed the best way to contain all my aspirations. So I enrolled at the best institution for practical journalism at the time and here I am today.

WHAT IS JOURNALISM ABOUT?: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

An online definition of a journalist reads as follows:
A person who writes for newspaper or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio and television. Synonyms include: a reporter, correspondent, newsman, newswoman, newspaperman, columnist, writer, commentator, reviewer, blogger, investigative journalist, photojournalist, war correspondent, lobby correspondent, editor, sub-editor, copy editor, paparazzo, pressman, legman, wireman and the list continues.” 

I think that’s the  best definition. Even journalism professors  struggle to define who or what is a  journalist. So to keep it simple we will go with the above description. My entry into journalism was a very frightening event for me. I was never sure of myself at all. I was always scared and intimidated by fellow students and later colleagues who always seemed more intelligent, knowledgeable and more  experienced  than I was. My favourite subjects included History, Business Economics and Politics. History because it was fascinating,  it put current events into context, Business  Economics because it made sense to me (I understood the basic principle of supply and demand.) Politics because our third year Politics lecturer Ashwin Desai was so passionate about his subject he brought the world into our lecture room and made what we were studying real and tangible. Writing essays, however, was my worst fear. I really could not imagine how I ended up studying journalism after all. A profession which at its core involved copious amounts of writing. I remember I once broke out in hives while writing an essay during an exam because I was so nervous. It took me 13 years to gain control over my nervous condition. Even today I have to work up the courage to start writing or  even to speak  when I am live on Television and or  Radio. Each time  I write, it feels as though I am writing for the first time.

 TOO MANY QUESTIONS…

While studying journalism I learnt that the point of being a journalist, at least as far as I understood it was to ask questions. Who (did) What, Where, When, How and Why. And after you have answered all those questions ask the most important one of all: why should anyone care?
Imagine then my surprise when I discovered years into the profession that: asking questions, the very reason for my existence as a journalist was the worst thing one could do in this profession! I finally discovered that while I was taught/learned to be a journalist, someone who asks questions, in order to give context to current affairs. No one cared about the history of why things are the way they are or why people behave the way they do. In the real world journalists were merely reporters. People who merely presented you with the most basic answers to the five questions. A reporter for me was similar to a minute-taker at meeting,  someone who takes minutes of a meeting. It’s a great skills to take great notes, but it’s not journalism. The more you questioned the status quo the more you were ignored, or became less popular with the officials. To get ahead in the profession you had to choose sides and not the middle ground as I was taught. Journalism had become a cross between public relations and reportage. More over in many cases as a general reporter even if you wanted to give context to your work there was never the time to. Newsroom were so that you had to jump from one story to another, and sometimes even do multiple stories a day. Which were ultimately identical to your competitors. Journalists or reporters were often recruited into high level communication positions in government and business so that, journalist often just  copied and pasted  text from  press-releases without question as if it were their own original writing. Spokespeople who were once journalist were even harder nuts to crack.

I always refused to be called a reporter, always thinking in my heart that I was a journalist not a parrot. But the industry dictated otherwise. Each Media house has an agenda, is politically affiliated to a number of people in powerful positions and the merit of the story was always weighed on these factors. The higher up you go – the more compromises you had to make. At the end of the day, you didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds you so to speak, even if the chain of command is as far as the distance between Johannesburg, South Africa and Timbuktu, Mali.

BEYOND THE QUESTIONS: ETHICAL JOURNALISM

So when I finally decided to work independently as a journalist I discovered an even darker side of journalism which I would not have believed existed,  had it not  happen to me. I was on more than one occasion offered an exclusive story that could potentially put me in the league of award-winning journalists. “All you need to do is just put your by-line (name) to the story. You don’t have to do anything I will write the story for you” He said. I was incredulous, and looked at him laughing because I seriously thought he was joking. “How do you think journalists get leaked documents? Do you think all those famous investigative journalist you read about, write their own stories? “he continued realizing that I had no clue. “ Do you think they just stumble on documents?” This is how they do it he said. You just let me write the story and all you have to do is add your name to it.” He pleaded. I refused his offer and suddenly felt relieved. Until that moment I had never doubted the integrity of journalists – I being one them of  course.   I understood that some days are better than others, as some stories are better than others, but never had it occurred to me that journalists or reporters could participate in ghost writing, pass –off articles or stories they had no hand in writing and pretend it was their own hard work.

I always admired journalists who won awards, because I understand the amount of time and effort that goes into writing a great story. It has been my daily struggle for the past 13 years and each year I hope to write better than the last. I had up until that moment no idea what’s so ever, that journalists were capable of that, more  people I had looked up to. For the first time in my life I was proud of myself – proud that even though I had never won an award or been acknowledged for my work by any organization or editor in the country, all the work I had done as a journalist had been my own original work. I was not winning someone’ else’  award. And if I were to ever win anything, it would be  based on my own original work. The man in question  eventually refused to grant me an interview, but in the end, I was able to write the story without his help, I had to think of other ways of finding information, I had to depend on my own eyes and ears, and finally I had to trust myself. I finally had to ask myself how much do I want to win anything, and is it worth it and is that why I was a  journalist in the first place. There is a cost to everything.

A THIN LINE: OUTSIDERS LOOKING IN:

Perhaps I was inspired by the movie starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts called the Pelican Brief. Where the journalist (Denzel Washington) worked in collaboration with an economics student – an informant (Julia Roberts) to write a story which uncovered corruption within the american judicial system. It was  dangerous but it’s the story that caught me, the potential power in being a journalist, that you can change history, or someone’s life.  Perhaps I thought I could travel around the world, go places I would not otherwise have access to and meet people who would pass me by the next day. A word of caution: not everyone who says they are journalist is actually a journalist. Perhaps I got into this profession for the wrong reasons, but I stayed for the right ones. I believed in justice, in the right to know, in providing people with information that could change their lives, help people tell their own stories, uncover the hidden side of things – how they work or don’t work. In fact truth be told, I approached this profession naively, thinking that everyone had the best intentions at heart. So what have I learnt? That all those years spent in the mirror have helped me to keep a straight face in the face of danger – even when I  was shaking inside.  Words are numbers. And numbers are words. So If I love words it means I love numbers too!!! The more I write the more I realize that it’s a mathematical equation. It is ultimate all about numbers which are words.  I could tap into any career imaginable just by writing about it. I am in the right profession. But here’s a fun list of things I learnt in the past 13 years of being *flinch * a reporter – journalist:

 

13 LESSONS FROM A 13 YEAR OLD JOURNALIST:
1. Information is key: read money.
2. Spokespeople/Media liaisons/ Public relations personnel are information gatekeepers. In other words they are trained to manage information: their purpose in life is to feed you only the information they want you to know. They are trained to stop you from asking probing questions or from finding out information they want to hide.
3. Politicians are trained to be creative with the truth – and only tell the truth (leak information) when it serves their interests
4. There’s an infinitive number of ways to obtaining information. Officials ideally should be the last the last point of contact.
5. It’s the “invisible” people, that you don’t pay attention to who can give you amazing stories – which are true – family and friends, the homeless, etc.
6. Everyone has an agenda. Including your editor, your organization, you, every one.
7. Ultimately journalism – is about storytelling – the stuff that Novelists do without having to back it up with proof.
8. Asking (critical/simple) questions can be a career limiting exercise ( Choose carefully who you work for)
9. Sometimes people don’t want to know the truth. The truth is not always convenient. So your great expose can be conveniently ignored.
10. There are many truths.
11. Journalism is fun ( choose wisely who you work for)
12. You can go to most things   and places for free. ( if you don’t mind doing PR read marketing and public relations)
13. Acting is a great skill to have as a journalist (use at own risk)

 

A sneak preview to my upcoming project…

 

UNMASKED: APPROACHING THE PAGE TO SURRENDER

unmasked

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
― James BaldwinThe Fire Next Time

Recently a reader of this blog asked a question I have been thinking about this past week.   Before we get to the question though, I first want to express my heartfelt appreciation to you my dear reader for returning to the page with me and reading me. Thank you.  I am happy to be here. Grateful for the opportunity to share myself with you, to learn and to grow. Thank you. The reader asked the question:

HOW DO YOU TIE YOURSELF TO A CHAIR AND JUST WRITE?

It is indeed an important question. As you can tell by the tardiness of this blog this week, it is not all an exact science of routine and schedules that we often create for ourselves. For me personally it has and always is an exercise in: surrendering.

Writing this blog has been unlike my other writing for paid contracts for different media outlets and somehow in that space I find the capacity to “Just write” because I am on deadline or someone is paying me to do it.  But approaching this page and this blog requires me to always clear my heart and mind and simply surrender to the page. And that is not always an easy task.

Writing I have discovered is not for the faint hearted.  Any writer worth the title I believe will tell you of the often excruciating pain of approaching the page. Because in this instance it is ironically less about the subject you choose to write about – it is all about you and your soul. Facing you and allowing the words which you sometimes don’t have control over to land on the page – mostly – in black and white.   Self-flagellation is a common hazard, regret, guilt, all of  it stand between you and the page – you have to face yourself, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself, and allow it to be what it is. And it is never perfect.

Often I have an idea of what I want to write about, but I don’t know how this will come out on the page.  What will it look like? Will I like what I read back? Is what I am writing true? Am I being honest? How much of myself: my inner turmoil, my anxieties, my narcissism,  my insecurities, delusions of grandeur and all the good and the bad that make me who I am right now, do I want to share with you? What do I want? How do I want this story to end?

It is much like writing the future. One which has nothing to do with anyone but me. And this my dear is the scary part. Jumping into the unknown. Writing is creating, it is Art. Building a world in which you would like to live, your world. The power of words can be overwhelming, a constant exploration of yourself. Some of my friends who read my blog tell me, it is sometimes as if they’re entering into my mind, and reading my thoughts and feelings, which at once make them feel as if they are with me even though they haven’t seen me in a long time.

SO HOW DO I DO IT:   FACING THE TRUTH

It’s a daily challenge in the Art of Surrendering. Since I decided to commit to a life of being a writer four years ago it has been a whirlwind romance filled with everything you can imagine, all the ingredients of an epic love story. Passion, frustration, Anger, Love, fear, rage, jealously, confusion, misunderstanding, mis-communication, lack of trust falling apart and falling back together again. Over and over each time. Hence it is not for the faint hearted.  At first it was a grasp for survival, I ran to the page to save myself, save my soul, to breathe to live again. To see myself tangibly written down somewhere – to know I exist. So I would write on my journal for four hours and then go to the computer and just write, through my tears, through my anguish, through pain, through the joy.  Sometimes I wrote for 8 or more hours at a time sometimes with just one hour of sleep. I had to be reminded to eat, drink, and take a bath, sleep, and walk.  Nothing else was real to me but the page. It was a form of “purging” getting rid of everything which was of no use for me anymore.  Most of it didn’t make sense, most of it had so many errors it would make any editor cringe in fright and disgust.  Often even I can’t bear to look at it. It is so raw. That was  my experience in the first few months of writing for myself. It was like medicine, bitter to taste but necessary to live.

Then  it was for no one else but me. A form of prayer saying to my creator:  Here I am. With all my errors, with my wrong punctuation, spelling, grammar and bad language. I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. But I’m here – because there’s nowhere else I can be.  I’m here.  Save me.

Then came the time when I decided to publish all of this unpolished, rough stuff on the internet. For all to see. And that was even a scarier. What would people think of me, would anyone understand what I am trying to say? Going through? What’s the point of it all? Why do I do this to myself when it will be easier to  do something else.  Will I lose friends, my ego suffered, had to die every day.  In many ways I could not help it. I felt I had no choice.  I jumped head first because it was the only option open to me at the time.

LETTING GO: LETTING LOVE IN

Today I choose to be here. Today I want to be here. Because there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Not because it is any less difficult, or less challenging. Each time I come to the page I reveal a part me that has been hidden even to myself. But this process has helped me to love myself unconditionally. To accept that I am part of everything and everything is a part of me. To love me with warts and all. It’s allowed me to see myself in the same way my mother sees me – a beautiful precious human being, a ball of love, a blessing.  And that is what I was afraid of, I was afraid of seeing myself as love. That was the hard part. I have to see myself as love first and foremost, always without a shadow of doubt. Love helps me through the storm just before I approach the page. And that’s why I come back again and again. Each time I fall deeper and deeper in love and the writing process is less about my mistakes, which I make all the time, less about my faults, which are all still there. I focus on love and then I come to the page knowing that I’ll be fine. I am safe. I am worthy. I am love. And often when I read back, I find myself laughing because I realize only afterwards that there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

Some days are easier than others. Mostly I find myself looking forward to being here, more and more everyday. I am learning to change my perspective, to look at the 15-20 minutes which sometimes turns into days into the same feelings you get  when you’re expecting to see someone you love you haven’t seen for a long time – those few minutes of waiting, of suspense and excitement those butterflies you get when you’re about to do something new but fun. I know that if I turn the corner I will find love. It’s exciting. Like reading a great book you don’t want to finish, a wonderful meeting you don’t want to end.  I change my feelings. Those same feelings of anxiety into ones of hopeful excitement, jitters of a lover impatient to  reunite with their beloved. Then it’s less scary and more exciting! Such fun!

I read a lot of people’s advice about writing, and many of it is very insightful and helpful. Some techniques I do incorporate in my own writing.  But If I were to give anyone advise or a suggestion on “writing’ it will be to focus only on love.  Our journeys are different and we have to find our own path one way or the other. The only way I found to be helpful, is to focus on love. Play the music you love, think of a person you love, find something anything  you love even if it is painting your nails in your favourite colour (which I have done this week in order to come to the page! ) so you can see something you love and appreciate, especially when the subject is a difficult one for you. Do it.  If love is too big a word or too abstract, think of something fun, something you enjoy, that pleases you, think of that.  Focus on Love and Love will find you.  Always.  Nothing else has worked for me. And with love it all works out it end, magically, effortlessly.  I surrender to Love  each time.

My A-E-I-O-U Struggle Continues…..

Going back to my a.b.c’s

Dear Reader

I really don’t like crying.  It makes me feel a little weak, more than weak in fact. But for someone who doesn’t like crying I do it a lot. I don’t plan to do it, it just happens, like most people’s careers.   I’ve been trying to stop crying over small things like  loosing my favourite pen, saying goodbye, hello,  or crying when I see someone else cry, I really hate crying. I hate it more when I feel it coming, like a wave and I know there’s nothing I can do about it now, these tears are going to come, the only option is to leave the room  if I don’t want whoever I am with to see me.  I have been practicing controlling my tears on my own, when I feel them coming.  I try different methods, laughing, breathing, walking around, squeezing something,  but they still fall these stupid tears, even when I’m sleeping.  When I feel them tears  coming, when the back of my eyes start to burn, my ears get hot, a huge lump floats on my throat, I suddenly need  oxygen, the only way to breathe is to let the tears fall, Then I wish I were stronger, tougher, that I was someone  else  who didn’t cry so easily and that makes me cry even more. It happens so unexpectedly, when I least expect to cry I do. And its annoying.  Sometimes there’s no emotion attached to them, and I laugh, but not before I cry….

My mother  likes telling me the long and short story of my tears. I used to cry a lot as a child, like most children do,  I assume. But  noo my crying was epic she would tell this story with a flourish…” each day I  dropped you off at kindergarten (pre-school)  you would cry and cry and cry  like an animal about to die  at the hands of a ruthless butcher.   Your shrill pained  screams left me  heavy with worry throughout the rest of the day  wondering what in the world they could  be doing to you  those teachers there at the pre-school.   So one day the  teacher noticing my  growing concern and skepticism when they repeatedly assured me that it was all just for show,  told  me to wait and not leave after I dropped you in  class.  She just said, wait and stand by the window and watch her, make sure she doesn’t see you, then you will see what I’m talking about.”  My mother says what she saw was amazing. I would cry and cry and cry and once I was sure she had disappeared I stopped as if I was not the  animal about to get slaughtered a few seconds ago. I stopped crying , wiped my tears,  without anyone consoling me ,  and got ready to take on my daily duties as the teacher’s assistant, helping my fellow kindergartener’s  with whatever it is the pre-schoolers get up to, eating, wearing aprons (  mine was green – I remember)  –  a leader in my class, naturally!  My mother’s jaw must have been on the floor, she could not believe the total transformation that had taken place in a blink of an eye.  I was  calm, pleasant and actually in my element being the class monitor.  Then my mother was like ” Ha! this child! All this time I’m thinking they are treating her badly but meanwhile she’s fine and happy ehh? so then what’s with the crying? ”  I don’t think she ever found out why I cried so much.  But I think I have separation anxiety,  it is very hard for me to  let go, but when I do it is more often than not (8 times out of 10) – for keeps, permanent.

So I’m sitting here crying because I have a problem. A struggle.

I have a few struggles actually,  the list is longer than my ABC’s , but the most hurtful of all my struggles is the fact that for the life of me, I can’t seem to spell or produce grammatically correct – clean copy – as  they say in journalese.  I have to  spell check five or six times and even then I still find  (or others find) bucket loads of errors, missing words, spaces and commas in the wrong places. If there are any here, just know I’m not trying to be ironic.   Maybe  I can not type. But I learnt how to type the old-fashioned way on my mother’s “brothers” typewriter which had an erase button – that would tap-tap-tap erase all the  errors with a back-space key.   Her type-writer had the modern keyboard similar to the ones we use now for desk tops.  She used to say  ” You , you guys have it easy, you know, when I was learning how to type  we had to type  without a single error or  erasing and if I were typing so many errors like you do now  I would fail, and I couldn’t afford to fail” I still failed I could type fast 40 words a minute, but I could not spell. I have done those typing exercises  (sometimes I would try to mimic that guy at the end of the Investigative series ” Murder She Wrote”  with the thick black framed glasses and flying papers) repeatedly over and over again at home after school  and in  afternoons  spent clicking away in typing class with the older iron heavy machines  – I can still hear that sound,  a collective click, click, click  you could hear a mile away – like  synchronized  rain drops  falling  on corrugated tin iron roofs.   You had to remember each letter for each finger top, bottom, side etc.  I did okay  in high-school because I could practice at home ( even though I dreaded it) and did badly in college because  maybe we have moved on to computers and it became difficult for me to remember where all the fingers should be while, clicking the mouse or I did badly because I already had a typing/ spelling phobia.

But today I am crying because this problem is getting to me. I didn’t mean to cry. It just happened.  But  I am  sick and tired of reading my copy with errors. I practice to write the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, I have been writing everyday with  pen and paper  to see if I make errors, sometimes I send in  my copy late not because it’s not done, but because I’m busy correcting a litany of errors, typos like writing  send instead of sent, it’s not a spelling  error per se  but it’s still an error. I did not write all those years ago for any form of  publication because of this.  I’m not a writer, I can’t spell. I practice paying attention to each and every word I type, some days are better than others but it’s a  problem for me. Even with modern technology.

Maybe that’s my talent, tearful-errors. So I need to find solutions to both problems,  the tears – stop crying for long enough to see what I’m typing. Or don’t type at all. Or don’t cry.  I still haven’t managed the latter.

It’s not like I can’t spell really. If you ask me how to spell something – verbally I can say – B e a u t i f u l = Beautiful.  But who will admit they can’t spell? At 31, after 12 years in the “writing” profession.   My mother taught me how to spell and I am not that  bad really – I’m just not good at spelling with my fingers. I’ll tell you – ask me the next time you bump into me.

If I was not in an office typing copy…. I would be a black woman dancing.

For example I used to take dance classes – moving into dance – back in 2008 or 9 I’m not sure. I love dancing guys, I am the Happiest Person ever  when dancing at one with God the Creator  et al. For a moment there’s peace in the world, no spelling errors or tearful mistakes, or being unworthy or not being  good enough. There’s nothing wrong or right, good or bad,  I just disappear into the music and none of my hang-ups  have a say. I am fine, complete,  content when I dance. But  I cried then too  because I could not get the steps right – 1-2 3- 44 -5-1 2 -11 2-3-2-5- 6 – 7-9-1 -2.  I stopped  once after some fish net twists and cried because eish ja ne, how is it possible that everyone gets the steps and I don’t, after weeks of going to dance classes? When I am not being choreographed I flow, but when I have to follow a sequence, choreography I fail, so I quit dance classes not immediately but eventually I found a reason not to continue with dancing classes because of this ( anyway they clashed with my  9-5) . You get where I’m going with this?

That’s why I’m writing to you dear reader,  because I don’t want to quit writing, dancing or to quit again – at least let me see something through you know?

Perhaps my problem is the fact that I have been using my voice more on radio where  spelling mistakes  or typos are not met with the  similar wrath copy editors in newsroom will unleash on you if they have to correct one, two many errors everyday ( I meant to do that). In radio no one else but the reader sees your  copy and if  you see that a word is spelt wrong you can correct it by saying it right, no? I also quit reading the news because I couldn’t find my voice somehow, somewhere deep inside me. When it comes it’s great, even I don’t recognise it,  but to get it out  requires , blood, sweat and you guessed it – tears.

Today at the  work place my team  couldn’t look at me, I cringed because I misspelled a word (s).   I could face myself, tears stained my brown boots.

So now that I am moving into the world of the written word (at least online), I know it is imperative to get each letter right, or risk loosing readers, the context, tone etc of whatever  it is I’m writing about.  Or stop all together.  I don’t want to quit. I have quit on myself too many times. So I’m asking for your help.

I am in my second week of the 12 Week Artists Way Challenge, and according to Julia Cameron  spelling is the most  common reason why people who are gifted story tellers  never even put a single word down on paper because they can’t spell.  I guess the  idea of a page full of red is  daunting.  Can you imagine how many people have given up on their dreams because of red-ink? I hear you, some people (maybe  even I) should just quit while they’re ahead – maybe the best thing to do would be to concede graciously. I also agree. After 12 years working as  a journalist I should have fewer errors in my copy than I do now.

But in the spirit of the Artist Way 12 Week Challenge, I will push through this fear, continue to write despite the errors, do my best to do it right the first time  and hopefully by the end of the three months I will have improved.

If I am feeling so traumatized and even  crying about it ( though my tears  leave room for speculation)  I am sure there are many like me who fear too – to see their mistakes, indiscretions, lack-of attention right there staring back at them in black and white and red.

So in the spirit of letting go of my ego.  I don’t mind the public  shame of being a self-confessed writer/journalist  who can’t spell.

Have  you read 50 Shades of Grey? I hear it is  the  worst written best-seller. The Author is smiling to the bank, and people  are reading it regardless.  Porn.  If I quit writing it’ll be because I have nothing  of interest to say,  and that is something that could happen even to the spelling bee champion of the world (…)

I  have decided ( I’ve stopped crying now  by the way) to rise above my weakness,  spelling phobias real or imagined and do  the best that I can, because not all great writers were perfect and I’m sure there are many who probably couldn’t spell. But that didn’t stop them from publishing books. So perhaps I may not publish a book ever. I might just decide to let my fingers do the talking through my feet but whether I am a ‘writer’ or not – I still have to write  emails…. so it’s still a useful exercise.

Thank you for your time and feedback.

Is it really this serious…. seriously?

Time of The African Writer Today

Writer Mpho Nthunya from Lesotho.

Today the  07th November 2012 is the International day of the…

African Writer 

Once upon a time 21 years ago, African leaders  attending the Conference of African Ministers of Education and Culture in Coutonou Benin, under the  Organization of the African Union (OAU) now AU declared that  we as Africans need a day to  ” Afford the African people a moment of pause to reflect on the Contribution of African Writers to the Development of the continent” Back in 1991.

Today

A conference celebrating  African Writer’s is underway at the University of the Free State in South Africa.  Do you Know about it? Former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s is going to deliver a Key  Note  address on  the  role of the African Writer today and over the last Century on Saturday the 10th of November.

Organizers hope to form a formidable African Writer’s Organization (union perhaps) to represent African Writer’s and Defend their right to probe and expose injustice. To Write what they like. To write what they see.   We are trying to make the world of literature more accessible says  the African Writer’s Conference  director Raks Seakhoa.  There, there shall be music during the writer’s music festival at the weekend to demonstrate that even music starts with writing.  His comment made me think of  Bob Marley and the Wailer’s song WAR, whose lyrics were literally derived from a speech by the Ethiopian Haile Selassie the 1st, which he delivered before the  United Nations General Assembly in 1963:

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie

Let us all  pause for  moment and reflect.

Have you  read any of  Africa’s Best Books of the Century? 

(here’s a list from  Columbia University)

1. Abnudi, `Abd al-Rahman (Egypt) al-Mawt `ala al-asfalt (Death on the Asphalt)

2. Achebe, Chinua (Nigeria) Arrow of God

3. Achebe, Chinua (Nigeria) Things Fall Apart

4. Aidoo, Ama Ata (Ghana) Anowa

5. Almeida, Germano (Cape Verde) O testamento do Sr. Napumoceno da Silva Araújo

6. Armah, Ayi Kwei (Ghana) The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

7. Bâ, Amadou Hampâté (Mali ) L’étrange destin de Wangrin

8. Bâ, Mariama (Senegal) Une si longue lettre

9. Ben Jelloun, Tahar (Morocco) La nuit sacrée

10. Beti, Mongo (Cameroon) Le pauvre Christ de Bomba

11. Brink, André (South Africa) A Dry White Season

12. Bugul, Ken (Senegal) Riwan, ou le chemin de sable

13Cheney-Choker, Syl (Sierra Leone) The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar

14. Chraibi, Driss (Morocco) Le passé simple

15. Coetzee, J.M. (South Africa) Life and Times of Michael K

16. Couto, Mia (Mozambique) Terra sonâmbula

17. Craveirinha, José (Mozambique) Karingana ua Karingana

18. Dadié, Bernard (Côte d’Ivoire) Climbié

19. Dangarembga, Tsitsi (Zimbabwe) Nervous Conditions

20. Dib, Mohammed (Algeria) La grande maison, L’incendie, Le métier à tisser

21. Diop, Birago (Senegal) Les contes d’Amadou Koumba

22. Diop, Boubacar Boris (Senegal) Murambi ou le livre des ossements

23. Djebar, Assia (Algeria) L’amour, la fantasia

24. Emecheta, Buchi (Nigeria) The Joys of Motherhood

25. Fagunwa, Daniel O. (Nigeria) Ogboju ode ninu igbo irunmale

26Farah, Nuruddin (Somalia) Maps

27. Fugard, Athol (South Africa) The Blood Knot

28. Ghitani, Jamal al– (Egypt) Zayni Barakat

29. Gordimer, Nadine (South Africa) Burgher’s Daughter

30. Head, Bessie (South Africa) A Question of Power

31. Honwana, Bernardo (Mozambique) Nos matamos o cão tinhoso

32. Hove, Chenjerai (Zimbabwe) Bones

33. Isegawa, Moses (Uganda) Abessijnse Kronieken

34. Jordan, Archibald Campbell (South Africa) Ingqumbo yeminyanya

35. Joubert, Elsa (South Africa) Die Swerdjare van Poppie Nongena

36. Kane, Cheikh Hamidou (Senegal) L’aventure ambiguë

37. Khosa, Ungulani Ba Ka (Mozambique) Ualalapi

38. Kourouma, Ahmadou (Côte d’Ivoire) Les soleils des indépendances

39. Laye, Camara (Guinea) L’enfant noir

40. Magona, Sindiwe (South Africa) Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night

41. Mahfouz, Naguib (Egypt) The Cairo Trilogy

42. Marechera, Dambudzo (Zimbabwe) House of Hunger

43. Mofolo, Thomas (Lesotho) Chaka

44. Monenembo, Tierno (Guinea) Un attieké pour Elgass

45. Mutwa, Vusamazulu Credo (South Africa) Indaba, My Children

46. Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya) Caitaani Mutharaba-ini (Devil on the Cross)

47. Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya) A Grain of Wheat

48. Niane, Djibril Tamsir (Senegal) Soundjata ou l’épopée mandingue

49. Nyembezi, Sibusiso (South Africa) Inkinnsela yaseMgungundlovu

50. Okigbo, Christopher (Nigeria) Labyrinths

51. Okri, Ben (Nigeria) The Famished Road

52. Oyono, Ferdinand (Cameroon) Le vieux nègre et la médaille

53. P’Bitek, Okot (Uganda) Song of Lawino

54. Pepetela (Angola) A geração da utopia

55. Saadawi, Nawal El (Egypt) Woman at Point Zero

56. Salih El, Tayyib (Sudan) Season of Migration to the North

57. Sassine, Williams (Guinea) Le jeune homme de sable

58. Sembene, Ousmane (Senegal) Les bouts de bois de Dieu

59. Senghor, Léopold Sédar (Senegal) Ouevre poétique

60. Serote, Mongane (South Africa) Third World Express

61. Shabaan, Robert Bin (Tanzania) Utenzi wa vita vya uhuru

62. Sony Labou Tansi (Congo) La vie et demie

63. Sow Fall, Aminata (Senegal) La grève des battus

64. Soyinka, Wole (Nigeria) Death and the King’s Horsemen

65. Tchicaya U Tam’si (Congo) Le mauvais sang – feu de brousse – à trisse-coeur

66. Tutuola, Amos (Nigeria) The Palm-wine Drinkard

67. Vera, Yvonne (Zimbabwe) Butterfly Burning

68. Vieira, José Luandino (Angola) Nós os do Makulusu (Excerpt available online)

69. Vilakazi, B.W. (South Africa) Amal’eZulu

70. Yacine, Kateb (Algeria) Nedjma

Scholarship/non-fiction

71. Amin, Samir (Egypt) Accumulation on a World Scale

72. Amadiume, Ifi (Nigeria) Male Daughters, Female Husbands

73. Andrade, Mario de (Angola) Os nacionalismos africanos

74. Appiah, Anthony (Ghana) In My Father’s House

75. Cabral, Amilcar (Guinea-Bissau) Unity and Struggle

76. Chimera, Rocha (Kenya) Kiswahili, past, present and future horizons

77. Diop, Cheikh Anta (Senegal) Antériorité des civilisations nègres

78. Doorkenoo, Efua (Ghana) Cutting the Rose

79. Hayford, J.E. Casely (Ghana) Ethiopia Unbound

80. Hountondji, Paulin (Benin) Sur la philosophie africaine

81. Johnson, Samuel (Nigeria) The History of the Yorubas

82. Kenyatta, Jomo (Kenya) Facing Mount Kenya

83. Ki-Zerbo, Joseph (Burkina Faso) Histoire de l’Afrique noire

84. Krog, Antjie (South Africa) Country of My Skull

85. Mama, Amina (Nigeria) Beyond the Mask, Race, Gender and Identity

86. Mamdani, Mahmood (Uganda) Citizen and Subject

87. Mandela, Nelson (South Africa) Long Walk to Freedom

88. Marais, Eugene (South Africa) Die Siel van die Mier

89. Memmi, Albert (Tunisia) Portrait du colonisé suivi de portrait du colonisateur

90. Mondlane, Eduardo (Mozambique) The Struggle for Mozambique

91. Mphahlele, Ezekiel (South Africa) Down Second Avenue

92. Mudimbe, V.Y. (Dem. Rep. of Congo) The Invention of Africa

93. Nkrumah, Kwame (Ghana) Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah

94. Plaatje, Sol (South Africa) Native Life in South Africa

95. Soyinka, Wole (Nigeria) Ake: The Years of Childhood

96. Van Onselen, Charles (South Africa) The Seed is Mine

Literature for Children

97. Asare, Meshack (Ghana) Sosu’s Call

98. Al-Homi, Hayam Abbas (Egypt) Adventures of a Breath

99. Mungoshi, Charles (Zimbabwe) Stories from a Shona Childhood

100. Tadjo, Veronique (Côte d’Ivoire) Mamy Wata et le monstre

The Artist’s Way to A Room with A View

This way. To A 12 Week Artist Challenge.

This week-end I picked up, The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron in my box of treasured-to-read- books.  It’s a  book I bought and half read in 2009.  It was recommended to me by a really good friend of mine. She loved architecture and loved Art and couldn’t quite find a balance that allowed her to do both. So for a while she painted paintings that looked like basic plans or models for re-designing spaces, and phases. Minimalist outlines, for where real life would happen.  Then she enrolled  back to University to complete a degree in Architecture. “At least finish something you know” She said in that sexy polish accent only she could manage.like.   Back at University among young pubescent students, we met for coffee – she was back pushing deadlines. I asked her  how she was doing. “It’s always a process you know” She said with a  smile  and I nodded my head, because I was  still tied to a job I wasn’t sure fulfilled me.  She went underground again and then  re-surfaced, now living at a gallery we often used to frequent for nice veggie dishes  not far from where we all used to live.  I was with her brother, one of my  good friends too. She was down with the flu, but much happier than she’d been in a long time she told me. I sat next to her by her bed side and watched as her sweat made cute tiny balls near her hairline, she really was beautiful, like a porcelain doll. Then she reached the for the Artist’s Way which lay  next to her small side table as if it was her lifeline – like a bible.  Here you should read this she said. It’s helping me, I see things very differently now, it has tasks, like going out on dates  by yourself and it’s empowering, she said in  that way I knew she was convinced, her lips curled sending light to the blue murky waters in her eyes. I looked at it skeptically. I may have squinted upside-down for good measure while trying to figure out  why she thought I needed the Artists way.  She was the Artist. I just hung out with them. This is my copy but I can lend it to you if want. No, thanks it’s fine I said after glancing at its contents. The first page speaks about God/The creator, Julia Cameron began her journey to calling herself an Artist after she stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to continue. Do you want some tea? Asked my the fairest beauty. Yes, sure I replied. Wishing I could have a nice glass of red, red wine, right at that moment.

She got up to make a pot in her colourfully- eclectic kitchen.  I thought then that If I were an artists and had a place of my own I would quite like a  kitchen that  looked and felt  a little more like that , eclectic and warm and homely – an organized and colourful poetic mess ( not too much mess).  All the pictures I used to paint as a child while listening to my mother’s stories recounting how lovely it was to grow up in that house in Orlando West – Phefeni. We used to have jars of candy, biscuits, fruits, vegetables, and my mother would bake and the kitchen will be warm and fragrant with sweet vanilla fumes seeping out from the oven, while red coals glittered in the silver and porcelain coal stove… someone would be telling a lyrical story, and we would sit transfixed, while waiting impatiently for the cakes to come out of the oven. As I grew up I added my own little things to my the picture as I went along.  Flowers lots of them, plants…. some dried out some fresh… books for recipes  books to read while waiting on something, note books, yes , pens,  yes biscuits, coffee yes from different corners of the world, ground and brewed in my very own kitchen… with dollops of cinnamon.  Lemons, yes,  I would have a huge bowl of lemons, candy,  a radio in a corner with some sultry voice reading the news, or singing a nice tune like Michelle Ndengecello’s Beautiful – a vegetable stew on the stove… bread in the oven, a  nice corner couch in the large window alcove in the kitchen strewn with colourful  rusty, olive, orange and green and yellow cushions, where I would snuggle up to read, write or smooch with a lover over a chocolate flavoured glass of red wine, with sweet and tangy berries  or hot chocolate on cold wintry days….

So, What have you been up to ? Her question brings  me back to her eclectic kitchen and as I star between the wooden cracks on the floor for an answer I see my own brown kitchen cupboards which were –  Oh so uninspiring. Ah nothing, I replied feeling lost, same old same old , still at the S**C, but I’m busy applying for fellowships. I was always applying for fellowships, to somewhere, anywhere but here.

Now this week-end as I re-opened the book I closed almost three years ago. I found inside a contract I signed with myself on the 26 of August, 2009. Committing my self to a twelve week intensive course, which included twelve weeks of intensive reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artists date, and the fulfillment of each weeks tasks,  with an understanding that the course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I committed myself to excellent self-care, with adequate sleep, diet, exercise and pampering for the duration of the course.  Now almost three years later,  I had forgotten about this contract I signed while struggling to pull myself through quick sand and yet the one I had made the contract with had not forgotten. The giver of creativity, the source , my creator had not forgotten.

Today I am producing a play  based on my recent travels to Senegal, have sent off a first draft of a manuscript I wrote intensely for six months,without fail, while keeping a daily (nonpunishable journal, i.e Morning pages),  and writing free-lance for news publications, I am keeping a blog, while keeping a 9-5 daily job.  I stopped drinking in 2010 and this year I reduced my smoking to next to nothing, I have a fragrant vanilla chai (tea) next to me as I write this, a stainless steel coffee plunger I got as a gift from a good friend just a glance away.  Even though it’s all happening in the office, instead of my dream room with a view – It’s still a room with a view for me.   It occurs to me that I did the course without even knowing it. I’ve almost come to the point where  if someone where to ask me, do you believe? I would reply to paraphrase Jung, I don’t believe, I know. I think I’m ready for the for the 12 week challenge.

PS: The last time I saw my friend she had decided to leave  the country -South Africa – without really telling anyone including her parents. She Left a note and jetted off to where her soul would find that room with a view.  This is my of way saying Thank You – Kasia.

Love.