Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The Colour of Water
It had been 18 years since she’d last seen her. Time enough for a child to be born and grow and leave, to start a new life. Almost a lifetime. She sat on a white plastic chair one of the many lined along the store-front window, smoking. The clunk-clunk sound of someone’s sneakers in a clothes dryer hit against the cinder block walls of the dingy laundromat. She stared blankly in front of her, lost in the white noise of the machines.
She flattened herself against the pillar outside next to the open door, trying not to be seen. She hadn’t yet made up her mind. She didn’t know if she wanted the rolling counter that ticked off the years since seeing her mother to come to a stop and reset itself to zero. She’d thought through it constantly since she got the call, she’d even made a list written in bold block letters at the top- ‘PROS’ and ‘CONS’- with a ruler-straight line separating them down the middle. She tried to pull apart the tangle of emotions that her mother created and place them in the tidy columns with the headings that would point her to a decision. Everyone knew the longer list was the right, rational decision. That’s why she was here. She’d done it and the ‘PROS’ had won out. She even had her list in her pocket, though now it showed itself for what it was- a fraud. Nothing about her mother could be rational. There were no straight lines and degree-measured corners. Even colours didn’t fit anywhere. Nothing could be sorted out, or seen clearly. Nothing could be understood or named. It was like describing the colour of water.
Despite her hidden position, she had a clear view of her mother. She was older of course; everything being pulled downward, her hair died a flat dull auburn, an insult to its once radiant colour. Her lips were dashed red with a shade popular in the 1950’s, the time where she’d got stuck. Pharmaceuticals, procedures, therapy- all tried in the perpetual optimism of Western medicine’s belief that all could be fixed. They attempted to force happiness where it didn’t belong, to un-stick her, but they failed. She was unfixable.
She watched her light another cigarette. She eyed the cheap nylon stretch pants, the light blue freebie windbreaker with a beer brand logo at the back. She searched every detail of her mother from her hidden place. She wanted to decipher from these details what would happen if she walked through the door. She wanted a clue. The dream story meeting in her head was all she would be able to handle and before taking the few steps required to stop the counter, she needed some assurance. She studied the way her mother brought the cigarette to her lips and how she placed her feet on the floor. Were any of those the evidence that it would be safe? Perhaps it was the smudge of mascara on her eyelid or the way she kept worrying the elastic of the free beer jacket too tight at her wrist. She searched for the one solid right answer that would release her from her indecision.
Her mother stubbed out the cigarette and reached forward to the scratched, wood chip table in front of her. It was dirtied with drink tins and candy bar wrappers. Magazines and newspapers were thrown with the care afforded to communal property. She began picking up the rubbish and putting it in the nearby bin, stacking the magazines and newspapers, sweeping crumbs into her hand.
The common everyday-ness of it was an insult to what should happen if she stepped through the door. She couldn’t bear to look. Ordinary could not stand up to what she needed. With the certain answer she required, she turned and headed back home.
One of these writers is Ivor Hartmann. I just finished reading his award winning story Mr Goop at African Writing. What fun! Science fiction set in Zimbabwe, post the Big Flood brought to us by Global Warming. It is a Zimbabwe where each child has his very own Geneform but Tamuka unfortunately is stuck with the slightly less than perfect Mr Goop. It is an imaginative and moving story.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Anyway now I am a little disappointed though at least I can be assured that I won't have any more of those scary telephone bills that have your hands shaking before you even open them. So that's a good thing. I'm just hoping today is a slow day and things will pick up after this. Though to be honest I really have no time to be looking at videos or playing on the internet so maybe it's the writing goddess pushing me back to work. Yeah, I think that's what it is.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I remember being a child and people asking me- what do you want to be when you grow up? I had a mind filled to capacity with ideas and not a single answer. Perhaps I'd be a famous ice skater (I was in love with Dorothy Hamill). I liked the idea of being a veterinarian. (Yes- I'd read every James Herriot book ever written). I thought a teacher seemed like a good job. Maybe I'd be a life guard and get to swim and sit in the sun all day. I liked the idea of being an ornithologist or a botanist and travelling to exotic places in search of undiscovered species of plants and bird. I thought writing for a newspaper would be fun. I knew for sure I'd own a monkey. As an adult little has changed. I still have all sorts of things I'd love to do. I'm always reading job advertisements just to dream a little bit about standing in someone else's shoes.
In America where I grew up, we were forever given aptitude tests that were supposed to guide us to the careers that we were most suited to. I was good at English and science and maths and French. I was not a genius at anything I was just above average at quite a few things. Nothing shouted out -choose me.
And now I'm a writer. I love writing, I have a bit of aptitude, but mostly because I love it I love to work hard at it. My generalist mind leads me into every field of writing. I write fiction for children and adults. I write for radio and television. Yesterday I worked on an essay about the best way to set up a programme to cultivate innovation. In every instance, I am interested since my generalist mind is open to a wide array of possibilities.
The other day I watched a movie about women surfers. I love learning about people who are specialists and geniuses in the area of their choice. I've been fascinated in the past when I've met people whose worlds revolve around a single thing- they raise and train cocker spaniels, they study a virus infecting ducks, they have given their lives for their religion. I have respect for them and at times have wished I could be pulled by such passion and devotion to a single thing, that I could devote the entirety of my life to it alone.
We can't fight who we are. I love being a writer and I chose it among many options. It didn't chose me. I have absolute respect and awe for writers who are specialists, who knew as soon as they could know things that writing was to be their passion. They will grow to become novelists described as geniuses. I know that won't be me. I will have success, I already have in my limited sphere, because I like to write.
I know too I will never be able to answer that question - what do you want to be when you grow up because I'm still testing the waters and I realise now that's how it will always be.
Friday, April 24, 2009
We have a new family member- Sergeant Catman. Already he has added all types of fun to our lives.
I have been most pleased to discover that he is, in fact, an aspiring writer. A few days ago he made his first attempts with the cryptic -54- typed onto the screen. Then the day before yesterday, while I was finishing my last standard one English script, he deleted the whole of my vowel song (set to the that jolly tune- Mary Had a Little Lamb- obviously not his type of music) and replaced it with: ///////////////////////////// followed by some of this xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I'm sure it is brilliant if only I could have deciphered what he meant. Needless to say, since I was under a deadline, I had to put the vowel song back in. I wait with bated breath for his next work.
The other day a man stopped by to speak to my husband who was still on his way. He sat in our sitting room waiting staring at this in the corner (yes that is an old lid from a toilet seat as the base- way to recycle!) :
In Botswana people don't care much for cats, and if they have them at all they are outside. The thought of someone taking the time to actually build a cat toy (this fine cat toy was assembled by my husband who has taken a strange liking to the Catman) would be unfathomable. After the man left I wondered what he thought it was, likely some sort of strange muti. We are probably, even as I write this, acquiring quite a reputation in the village.
And so the Catman stories begin....
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Last week we ran foul of the Green Scorpions. My husband had hired someone to cut the hedge that had grown tree like while we were living in Lecheng. The person had piled all of the hedge cuttings outside of our gate and the plan was it would be taken to the dump but my busy headmaster husband was unable to find the time to get to it. The Green Scorpions were not interested in hearing excuses and decreed that it must be gone before they returned.
So my husband piled it in the 4 x 4 and headed to the dump. At the dump he found one of those ubiquitous people- a man with small power. He declared that- no- the bush could not be left at the dump without a permit. Apparently these permits are needed to ensure that people don't dump hazardous things. Fair enough, but it was the weekend and the bush was obviously not hazardous.
In the end, my husband managed to convince the dump man that he would not be returning home with the bush as the Green Scorpions were waiting for him with red eyes. He left the dump bush-less, but not happy with himself because he had let the man get him angry.
It got me to thinking about the very different way that an American would approach this situation as compared to a Motswana. Batswana see a person who loses their temper as immature. They are unable to control their emotions, they have no self control. A respected person maintains their dignity by controlling their emotions. If he fails to accomplish what he set out to do, well that is unfortunate, but at least he did not lose his temper and behave childishly.
An American on the other hand would look at a calm Motswana facing this situation and think - What the hell!! They would wonder why he wouldn't sort out the dump man by explaining how the whole situation was ridiculous. If the American had to lose his temper to accomplish this, that's fine as long as in the end the bush was left at the dump where any sensible person could see it belonged.
I truly do not want to judge. Even after 20 years of living here I still stand with a foot in the home of my birth, a country with many wonderful attributes; I know now that's how it will always be. But I do think there is something to be said for the Setswana way. Perhaps Batswana don't always get what they want but then the handy African fatalism steps in to rectify any regrets. It may slow down life a bit, but I'm finding too, that's not such a bad thing either.
Friday, April 17, 2009
So you writers out there- how about coming for a visit???
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Not all the Somali "pirates" are gangsters: some are locals who've watched their loved ones sicken and die after European toxic waste was dropped on their shores and decided to do something about it.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."
This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a "tax" on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence".
No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters - especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas."
SO- what do we think about this? The unbiased global media- ain't it wonderful??
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
What does my current list look like....
1. Finish 10 radio scripts for standard 1 English.
2. Begin last (please god say it is so) edits on last TV series
3. Begin scriptwriting on new TV series
4. Finish English textbook
5. Begin science textbook
6. Start edit/proofing process of last science textbook
I am happy I am a working writer earning money. But I wonder where I'll squeeze in my fiction writing. It will have to be somewhere or I'll become irritable, at least I know that.
Now- back to work!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I don’t think your average Joe Plumber would be seeking me out to ask for assistance in understanding the financial mess, but that doesn’t mean a fiction writer can’t have a go at explaining it all. Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood took the bull by the proverbial horns and seems to have steered the bovine quite successfully as she is now up for winning Canada’s National Business Book Award. In a fiction writer’s way, she pulled far away from the problem to get a clearer vision, so far in fact she went back to the early days of humanity to take a look at the way wealth has always been intricately linked to debt.
Her book, Payback- Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, looks at how debt has played a role in ancient civilisations in commerce, but also in literature, culture, and religion. Reported in the Guardian she says, "Debt is part of the human condition. Civilisation is based on exchanges — on gifts, trades, loans — and the revenges and insults that come when they are not paid back.” The current mess we’re in seems to have been started by dividing debts into smaller and smaller pieces until no one could see who owned them.
Atwood is short listed with more traditional business writers and could win the prize of 11,000 British pounds.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
These are the rules:
Answer all the questions and replace one question you don't like as much by a new question you prefer.
Then, add a new question.
If you decide to jump on the bandwagon, let me know and I’ll add a link to my blog so everyone can see.
What is your obsession at this moment?
I am currently obsessed with trying to write a good story for this year’s Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Contest. I submitted one already that I have little faith in and was hoping something brilliant would strike me over this holiday weekend. Still hoping…..
What do you love most about your home?
I am back living in my own house and one thing I love about this house is my bedroom in the late afternoon. The sun shines in the glass doors and there is always a nice breeze and I love laying on the sofa and reading, or sitting and practicing my trumpet.
Do you nap regularly?
Hardly ever- naps make me VERY tired.
Who did you hug most recently?
What do you want to change?
I wish I could be more patient. One would think as we age we become more patient but somehow that’s not working for me.
What are you having for dinner?
We had a big lunch cooked by my daughter so I will likely have oatmeal or soft porridge for supper.
Your last purchase:
Spray paint for my ‘project’. In a move to take back the power – I decided to paint my own car. I give myself a 50% ( mostly for effort). My car that was about a 3/10 in terms of looks has gained two points and is now a 5, which is fair enough given it was born before the new millennium.
If it were feasible, what 3 chores would you LOVE to pay someone else to do regularly in your stead?
Washing dishes, washing dishes, and washing dishes. (Did I mention I hate washing dishes)
Light breeze, 30-32C, sunshine.
Right now my main goals are to find publishers, outside Botswana, for my YA Romance (Claudia Lanchaster’s Adventures in Love) and my children’s mystery (The Curse of the Gold Coins).
Say something to the person who tagged you:
I wasn’t tagged I stole this from Groovy but I say to Groovy- I hope you’re enjoying your Easter holiday, I know you are very close to your God and that’s something I really respect about you.
Favorite vacation location:
My favourite place for a holiday is anywhere along the Namibian Coast.
Films you can watch over and over again:
Harold and Maude, The English Patient, and any movie with Meryl Streep or John Cusack.
What movie will you never see again?
Any Leon Schuster movie. They are a unique form of torture that everyone else in my family loves.
Book you are currently reading:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and
The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith
What do you want to do one day?
Go to Egypt
Win the Caine Prize
Hold my grand kids in my arms
Meet Kate Atkinson
Have a book I wrote made into a movie and have Meryl Streep or John Cusack in the lead role.
Which quality would you like to have?
I wish I was more forgiving. I always trust people when I meet them and think good of them, but once they mess up I write them off.
Name one of your qualities:
I’m pathologically loyal, I think in my past life I was an Australian shepherd or one of those dogs that get left 1000’s of kilometres away and still find their way home.
What are you waiting for?
For my son to set up Monopoly.
Which old fashioned trend do you hope will return soon?
Homemade ice cream and humility.
Tell us one of your most embarrassing moments
Let’s see the list is quite long…. Okay …my husband and I were in the bank manager’s office sitting quite confidently on chairs and, for reasons I still do not understand, I was suddenly on the floor AND I didn’t just fall- I slid across the floor. I got a rug burn on my knee!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
I'll keep you posted how that's working.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Also in a search to find a word that rhymes with lion for my standard one English radio scripts I found this lovely little tool. You put in a word it gives you a list of words that it rhymes with- VOILA! Isn't that dandy and handy and may just taste like candy? (NO- not likely- but it is very nice)
BTW Lion rhymes with Orion, Mayan, Hawaiian, Zion, Himalayan and Paraguayan. Your task, if you choose to accept it, try to make a poem from those. Good Luck!
Monday, April 6, 2009
There is a funny bit in a sad story in Ali Smith’s collection, the first one called “True Short Story” of which all might be a lie I don’t know. In there the narrator is wondering if what she overheard might be correct. She was listening to two men discussing the difference between short stories and novels. The young man says the novel is a “flabby old whore” while the short story “by comparison was a nimble goddess, a slim nymph”. Later the narrator’s friend says when asked what she thought of these men’s comments “A short story is like a nymphomaniac because both like to sleep around – or get into lots of anthologies- but neither accepts money for the pleasure. Unlike the bawdy old whore, the novel...”
I laughed out loud when I read this. Although I love novels; I love to read and write them, I do feel sometimes they have a bit too much space. When I hear of writers writing novels of 100,000 words, I get panicked. I often feel that type of space would make me lax and prone to going off on tangents with no point. When I first started writing, I was stuck in 500 words; at 1000 I used to feel I was being indulgent. I do write novels now which almost always I edit back to novella length. I just tend to find too much fat on them hovering up there in 50,000 – 65,000 range. Perhaps there is truth in what Ali Smith says. I’d be curious to hear from others.
Other short story news. Petina Gappah is a writer that should give all writers hope. I have said here and elsewhere that in a couple of years she will be a household name like her continent-mate Chimamanda Ngozi Adchie- well a household name in a book loving /writer loving household that is. Petina is a lawyer who only really started to gain writing momentum after winning a prize in SA/PEN a few years ago. Now her collection of short stories is being reviewed by The Guardian and she is part of panel discussions that include Salman Rushdie. She is a One World-er, an excellent writer, and a supportive and giving person. Here’s an excerpt of James Lasdun’s review of a few short story collections he has taken a fancy to; he had this to say about An Elegy for Easterly, Petina’s short story collection:
Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer currently living in Switzerland. Aids, corruption, lethally callous attitudes to women and surreal levels of inflation ("we handed over a million dollars each to our driver" is a typical line) form the outward coordinates of her characters' lives in An Elegy for Easterly. The desire to get ahead or, better still, get out - if only to join those who "have flooded England to wipe old people's bottoms for a living" - occupies most of their inner life. … All of these pieces depend on swiftness and lightness for their effect; flaring up into momentary life and then fading out before they acquire any burdensome solemnity, and this, too, seems true to the essential nature of the form.
Yeah for Ms Gappah!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
(This picture is from Vanessa Gebbie's Blog the people are from left to right Dan Raymond-Barker of New Internationalist, Jude Dibia,Vanessa Gebbie, Konstantinos Tzikas, Elaine Chiew, Chris Brazier of New Internationalist, Ovo Adagha. Click on the picture to go and see more photos from the launch)
(Click the book cover to go to Amazon to buy the book!!!)
I feel emotional this morning about our book One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories. I’ve been reading accounts of the launch, which took place this last week at the Oxford Literary Festival, at our virtual office at Zoetrope. A few of us who happened to be near Oxford managed to attend the launch, they were Vanessa Gebbie, Jude Dibia, Elaine Chiew, Konstantinos Tzikas, and Ovo Adagha, the originator of the project. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who also has a story in the collection, was in attendance too.
These people were friends, but had never met each other before outside of the office where we meet on most days. They formed part of a panel discussion to discuss the process that culminated in the book and the book itself. They read excerpts of their stories. The hall they were in was standing room only. And according to accounts from Vanessa, Jude, Elaine and Ovo it was a fantastic success. Afterwards they went out to dinner with some folks from New Internationalist (the publisher) and someone from Doctors without Borders, the charity that we have donated our royalties to.
I’m not sure what has me all weepy. From the beginning I have been fascinated by the process- the fact that we, the writers, did this. We came together from everywhere in the world and cooperated and met a goal. No agents. No publishers -until the job was completed. Even the final edits were primarily done by Molara Wood, one of the One Worlders. The process gives me hope on many fronts. People really are far more similar than they are different. (The stories bear this out too). Cooperation and discussions and even a few arguments (how I miss those wild arguments with Molara and Petina now that Molara is too busy off in Lagos and Petina too busy becoming wildly famous) – prove yet again that talk is the way forward, words are the only path to peace.
I love the power that this group of writers pulled back into their hands. So often as writers we are being tossed by the whims of editors and publishers. They will decide- not us. But not this time. The One Worlders set down the terms for themselves. We decided everything and then gave it to the publisher and asked do you want it? Theirs was only to say yes or no. There was no yes-if. They tried and the group said no. Only yes or no, if no, we would move on. New Internationalist, in the first group of publishers given an option- grabbed it up.
I love that these strangers met in Oxford and immediately found friends in each other. I love how they each describe how the meeting in flesh went after knowing each other only through words written on a screen. How all were impressed with the others.
Perhaps I’m going all pixy dust and rainbows, but I think there is something a bit magical about this project, I’ve felt that way from the beginning. If nothing else there are some bigger lessons to be learned here.