Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Seek and You Shall Find
The poisoned wind blows through the bare trees,
And the birds fall from the purple-grey sky
Dead as a nailed door.
The kingmen and their shadows eat until bursting
Then dream of golden toilets,
While the children eat black worms
Scratched from the hard earth.
And the churches fill.
She looks at her only son axed in two
By a man who could not accept no
And punished her for her audacity.
Another son, against all rational thought,
Walks into the wall of bullets
Without a chance of survival,
Holding tight to those
Memorised stars and stripes.
And the churches fill.
He slips the money out from under their dripping noses,
Then pales his face for the cameras just in time
To snag government’s ignorance.
Working from dawn to dusk,
The house is gone,
Her children lay down their heads
On the plywood beds
Of the shelter and, oddly,
She still believes in the lie.
And the churches fill.
The stones rain down on her
For a misplaced love.
She will pay with her life,
Torn from her piece by piece,
By the righteous who know better.
The brown boy pulled from his family
To be anglicised, civilised by the state.
Life and culture ripped away.
Adult, he hangs in an alcoholic abyss
That he alone is blamed for.
And the churches fill.
What is the world seeking?
Push and shove.
Find your place.
There is little time
To receive salvation
For crimes too many to count.
Listing them will only burden our progress;
Wipe it clean with the cover of your holy book
And all will walk through the pearly gates,
Where virgins wait or wings for flight.
Close mind to pain and suffering,
It is mortal and of no consequence.
Holy talk will heal your wounded heart.
All is forgiven,
And the churches fill.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The Bessie Head Heritage Trust is accepting entries again for its third annual writing competition. Below see the rules from the organisers. Send those entries and good luck guys!!
Bessie Head Heritage Trust and Pentagon Publishers announce prizes in literature, one prize to be awarded each for poetry, short story, and novel.
Residents and citizens of Botswana are invited to submit manuscripts on any topic in one of the above categories. categories are defined according to standard literary characteristics, and are limited to the following lengths:
Novel: no limit
Short story: 10,000 words/10 pages
Poem: a set of one to three poems
All submissions must adhere to the following criteria:
1. All work must be original, unpublished and not submitted to any publisher.
2. All manuscripts must be typed. No handwritten manuscripts will be accepted. You must submit four copies of your work.
3. No more than one submission (novel, short story, or set of poems) per person. You may only submit in one category.
4. No school assignments will be accepted as submissions.
5. All submissions must include one cover page with the following information: author's name (no pen-names will be accepted), at least two ways the author can be contacted, a clear statement of the category of the manuscript ("novel", "short story", or "poem"). All submissions must also include one photocopy of omang, passport and residence certificate, or other form of identification (this copy need not be certified). The first page of the manuscript (not the cover page) must also state clearly the category of the manuscript.
6. All submissions must be written in English, and be thoroughly revised and proofread for grammar and spelling.
7. Except for the cover page, manuscripts must not have the author's name on them. Judges will judge all submissions blindly; that is, they must not be able to identify the author.
Any submissions that do not follow the above criteria will be disqualified.
Authors are advised that they may be asked to authenticate their work, and therefore SHOULD NOT DESTROY any drafts, including the first one, since winners may be asked to produce them as proof of originality.
Contestants may only win once in each category (once you win, you are barred from entering in the same category again for three years), and contestants must enter their own work (a publisher or friend may not enter your work).
Short Story P1,500.00
Send your cover page, copy of identification, and four copies of your manuscript to
Bessie Head Literature Awards
P.O. Box 70401
Deadline: All submissions to be postmarked on or before 31 March 2009
Winners announced early July 2009 on website www.bessiehead.org
Prize-giving ceremony details to be announced.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I have my first post there- A Character is a Character.
Very excited, especially that it involved some techno stuff to post. I'm starting to impress even myself.
I live in a small village in Tswapong called Lecheng. It is a temporary situation as my husband is the headmaster at the junior secondary school and we live within the school compound. We’ve been here about five years. It holds a bit of a tender place in my heart, this village, because when I moved here is when I decided to give my writing a serious chance. We’ll move from here soon, but I’ll always think of this village fondly.
Another reason I love Lecheng is the beauty of the place. It sits in a ring of hills, part of the Tswapong Hills, that have provided many a lovely Sunday for me. Climbing up the hills and scrounging around on top I have uncovered all sorts of wonders. Yesterday was a case in point.
Up on the ridge far behind the school, I found this.
In the red sandstone you often find trees searching for any way to take hold and grow, creating very interesting shapes. I laughed when I saw this. This next weekend we’ll be off to
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Got this from Tania Hershman's blog who got it from Writer's market who go it from Forbes.Writer's Market: Forbes Announces Top Ten Author Salaries
I don't know. I suppose literary types might look at this and pooh-pooh on it, but I'm a more practical sort. I want to earn my bread and butter being a writer; a writer of fiction in my best possible world. That does not mean writing literary novels that sit on the shelves, but are praised to the roof-tops. I'm happy that there are JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings out there. I have no MA in creative writing and I don't see one in my future. I like to know that people like me can be writers too. Successful ones to boot. Yeah for them!
The Top Ten Money Making Writers:
1 JK Rowling, $300m
2 James Patterson, $50m
3 Stephen King, $45m
4 Tom Clancy, $35m
5 Danielle Steel, $30m
6 (Tie) John Grisham, $25m
6 (Tie) Dean Koontz, $25m
8 Ken Follett, $20m
9 Janet Evanovich, $17m
10 Nicholas Sparks, $16m
Saturday, October 25, 2008
People outside of Botswana probably know little about the recent ruckus in the country over alcohol. Since our new president, President Ian Khama, took power he has been threatening to sort out the country in terms of alcohol. It is a well know secret that he does not drink and has a hatred for the stuff, believing it is the root of many of the country’s ills. He’s not far off base perhaps, but history has proven closing up bars and shebeens and making alcohol illegal does not stop people from drinking, but rather changes drinkers into law breakers and pushes the industry underground leading to all the problems associated with underground illegal activities.
Most recently the government began the process to introduce a 70% levy on alcohol to push it out of the economic reach of most people. The major brewery in the country took the government to court and somewhere during the process the government discovered that they are the major shareholder in this brewery. OOPS!
The government has also stopped bars, butcheries, and liquor stores from setting up braai stands (barbecue stands) where people can braai meat when they’re drinking, a very common practice in the country, hoping somehow that if there is no meat there will be no alcohol.
Poking fun at these issues is well known poet, Barolong Seboni in his column in Mmegi called ‘Nitty Gritty’. Of late, he has been giving us weekly instalments of “A Political Dictionary of Botswana” explaining the real definitions, as per Mr Seboni, of political terms in the country. Very funny indeed. For example: Speaker of the House: a man who makes sure members of the house sleep peacefully without disturbing the budget speech, only to wake up and demand more pay.
Seboni added quite a few terms this week having to do with Khama’s anti-liquor campaign. Here are a few hooters.
Meat: a red piece of food item, high in protein with a 70% chance of making you drunk and disorderly when eaten in the vicinity of a bar or a braai stand
Braai Stand: a piece of equipment that is essentially harmless until you stand it next to bar or butchery, then it becomes a weapon of mass intoxication (or WOMIN)
Braai Standers: suspicious looking characters usually lurking outside bars and butcheries about to cause havoc and disturb the peace by grilling meat on a braai stand
Beer Industry: a key industry in which government has a major stake, where trouble is brewed
Liquor Bill: a bill that has moved from a 70% to a 30 % chance of becoming law
To Be Bottled Up In A Beer Can: this is an idiomatic expression that will soon find its way into out daily language. It means to introduce heavy taxes on liquor only to find that you own the beer industry
Friday, October 24, 2008
He arrived with the wild purple of the sunset, at the end of a long, hot, dusty day. They sat on the cool veranda and watched him walk up the side of the road into town.
“Where’s he from?” Mma Boago the owner of Mable’s Takeaway asked.
“Not from here. What’s that he’s carrying?” Johnny-Boy, Mma Boago’s perpetual customer and occasional bed mate, asked squinting his eyes to get a better look.
“Looks like a guitar. Dirty long dreadlocks and a guitar. He’s not bringing anything we need around here, that’s for damn sure.” Mma Boago turned and went back inside; she had magwinya in the deep fryer and couldn’t waste time keeping track of strangers.
Warona was dragging her daughter, Kelapile, to the clinic when she spotted him. She wasn’t one to believe in love at first sight and fairy tales with happy endings. She’d been there when Kelapile’s father professed his undying love and then slipped into bed with the neighbour. It was more than being heart sore, Warona’s heart was beat down and hung out to dry, then placed back in her chest to perform only the bare minimum required to keep her moving. Sometimes she wished it would give up on that too.
“Hurry up! Mr. Roberts will fire me if I’m not back in an hour.” Warona tugged at her daughter, but Kelapile’s legs could only go so fast, decided by their 3 year old length. Warona gave up and bent down and pulled her onto her back. When she looked up again there he was.
“Do you know where I can find the guest house?”
Warona blinked her eyes. And then blinked again. Something was wrong. Everything had gone funny. A golden light surrounded this odd stranger. It made her feel warm and a barely held memory flooded over her. A remembered feeling, but one she thought she no longer had a use for; one that she had flung away deep into the folds in the grey matter of her brain to be forgotten forever. It was joy; a warm yellow joy.
“Are you okay?” he asked. His full lips and kind dark eyes twisted into concern.
“Sure, yeah. The guest house? Come with me it is near the clinic where I’m going.”
As Kelapile fell asleep on her back, Warona with each step, fell in love with this stranger. It was reckless and without sense, but unavoidable. It was a curious, spooky magic and she welcomed it.
“I’m Silas,” he said.
That was the beginning. The village looked on with jealous eyes as the pair flew high up to the clouds floating lazily in the cobalt blue sky, while they stayed stuck to earth with their leaded minds and chained hearts. Resentment built against the two and leaked out in words whispered in hidden corners and small actions made in public.
“Nothing good can come of that,” Mma Boago cautioned.
Johnny-Boy nodded in agreement. They knew only love defined by the limits of a lived life. Status gaining love. Money grubbing love. Security seeking love. It had been so long since pure love moved among them, all they could see was an outsider, an enemy.
Days passed. Silas played music while Warona hung bits of forest green glass in the sunny window to create emerald patches of light that flicked around the one roomed house. Kelapile danced. It was like that every day as they tried to circumnavigate the tricky business they’d set out on.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The hovering gossip filtered through their shell of private dreams and Warona was affected. She wondered if they were right. When she slipped into their way of thinking, she fought against Silas. “Stop it!” she’d shout. “What do you want from me? Go back where you came from, you know you will one day!” Tears flowed and she pushed her mind to make her heart a block of cold white ice. She couldn’t take anymore love. She would soon drown in the endless pit of it. She was frightened.
Silas was not troubled by this. He knew there would be no drowning. He knew words were nothing more than that. He would slowly reel Warona back in, pour warm love over her ice heart, and set her back on the course they were travelling.
On a certain day they disappeared, all three of them. Mma Boago was cutting off chicken heads when Johnny-Boy came rushing in. “I saw it with my own eyes.” He ran this way and that his eyes wild with excitement.
“Saw what?” Mma Boago said as the cleaver came down with a thud, separating surprised body from instantly dead head.
“Warona, Kelapile, and the stranger. They walked down the road, back into the sun from where he came. Walked and then just … they were suddenly gone.”
“Better. People were getting ideas. We don’t need that kind of thing around here.”
Johnny-Boy pulled a beer out from the under-counter fridge, took a big gulp, and nodded his head. Like always Mma Boago was likely right, he thought.
Just now on Countdown on MSNBC, they said that the ubiquitous “Joe the Plumber” (JTP) has hired a lawyer to organise a book deal for him. It’s not unexpected in a world where celebrity of any kind for any thing equals money, but it still makes me feel unwell. I realise publishers are trying to survive and they must latch on to the nearest JTP or OJ so that they have money to publish real writers, but it’s all quite sad. What would the book be about? Will it be his life story? How he grew up to be an unlicensed plumber attending an Obama rally and then all hell broke loose? Or perhaps full of his sagacious opinions on things like taxes and the financial crisis? He seems just about as all knowing as the next guy and maybe even the guys on the top making decisions. Why not? Why the hell not?
(It is now and this day has gone from really crappy to entry-level intolerable. Time to go back to bed and wake up to tomorrow and hope for the best. )
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Thoughts from Botswana is included as a stop on award winning short story writer, Tania Hershman's blog book tour for her book The White Road and Other Stories.
Tania Hershman (TaniaHershman.com) was born in London in 1970 and in 1994 moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where she now lives with her partner. Tania is a former science journalist and her award-winning short stories combine her two loves: fiction and science. Many of Tania's stories, which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in print and online, are inspired by articles from popular science magazines. In November 2007, she founded The Short Review, a unique website dedicated to reviewing short story collections. For further information, visit the White Road and Other Stories. Tania blogs at TitaniaWrites.
See the tour stops below:
28 Oct 2008 Keeper of the Snails
5 Nov 2008 Literary Minded: Angela Meyer
9 Nov 2008 Vanessa Gebbie’s News
18 Nov 2008 Sue Guiney: Me and Others
26 Nov 2008 Tim Jones: Books in the Trees
2 Dec 2008 Eric Forbes’ Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books
10 Dec 2008 Eco-libris
16 Dec 2008 Kelly Spitzer (Writers In Profile)
23 Dec 2008 Kanlaon
29 Dec 2008 Thoughts from Botswana
Here is one of Tania’s flash fiction stories which is included in the book, just to get a taste. Enjoy!
Plait by Tania Hershman
Winner, Creating Reality's Flash 300 competition
Someone behind started plaiting my hair.
Hey, I said.
Sorry, he said. Just given up smoking... hands fidgety... hang on.
I sat there waiting for the lecture to start, feeling the gentle tug as he pulled one section of hair over the other. My knees said, Marry him. Don't turn round, just decide.
We married six months later. His face was as delicate as his hands were dextrous, his temper cool and his love eccentric. He washed my hair, made me pies with pastry messages on top, grew prize-winning roses, and said that the washing up was his meditation.
When I cut my hair, he said that it was fine, that he could tickle my scalp now, but his hands were disappointed, and soon I smelled tobacco.
Stress at work, he said.
I talked to a wise friend, who said, Grow it back. My knees said, He should love you any way. I saw him in a cafe with a woman I didn't know. His fingers were playing with her curls. I threw up in a rubbish bin and went home. I found a pack of his cigarettes and started one a day, even though my knees weren't pleased.
I love you, he said in bed, when my hair had reached my shoulders again.
I know, I said, and fought my knees' insistence that I go into the garden and dig up his rose bushes.
This morning when I went outside heading for my daily walk, the above is what I found. It was the nightly work of
1) Has my garden become a nursery for snakes?
2) Are these the offspring of the mammoth monster which nearly ended my life a month ago (see ‘How not to look for a Snake’ in September posts)?
3) If so, how attached to their offspring are mother snakes?
4) Can snakes count? Will she notice the absent two? Or perhaps think that the two dead snakes are from her competition and think we are her allies?
5) Should I hide the evidence? Or leave it to be found when the giant mother is out playing the delightful game of ‘Scare the Bejesus out of the Writer Lady’ so that she might have the opportunity to mourn?
6) In general, are snakes retributionists?
I think, dear reader, you can understand how this whole thing has put me into a state. My husband has confirmed that these are black mambas, the almost most poisonous snake on the planet. I can’t help myself but I fear for the worst.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
For two days running, France 24, the all day news service I get on my television, has shown interviews with Americans who are not voting for Obama. These interviews are shocking.
The day before yesterday a man in Oklahoma City said he wouldn’t vote for any ‘nigger’ for president. The guys around the table in the restaurant where he was sitting smiled and patted him on the back. All they needed were a few burning crosses, a black man swinging from a tree in the distance, and a handful of white sheets and I’d have been positive that they were showing footage from a Ku Klux Klan meeting; alive and active thriving in the land of the free and the home of the brave. They were so proud of themselves. I felt like vomiting.
This morning they were interviewing a barber in Philadelphia who said he couldn’t vote for ‘no Muslim’. When the interviewer said that she thought Obama was a Christian, the man said he’s never heard Obama come out and say it clearly, and besides he knew Obama wanted to make America into a socialist country. Not sure what planet the barber has been vacationing on, but Bushbaby has been doing his share of socialising things only from a Reaganistic point of view- from the top down. Trickle down socialism- who could have imagined it? But it’s all good for this barber.
I’m not sure how many of these lightly educated sorts are out there, but I have a feeling America is rife with them. Americans have a strange tendency to worship stupidity. This is why they love the Republican Robot and this strange neo-celebrity ‘Joe the Plumber’. Even Obama is not immune. In his speeches you find ‘gonnas’ and ‘folks’, I think I even heard him throw in a few ‘ain’ts’. He was the first black person to head the Harvard Law Review, I doubt very much in his day to day conversations he uses gonna and ain’t. He is dumbing down to get votes. In a country that worships ignorance and stupidity, what else can he do?
It’s so bizarre. The allegedly ‘most powerful country in the world’ and yet they’re frightened to have an intelligent black man as their leader. So frightened they will lie, and might even kill to ensure it won’t happen. I’m holding my breath and hoping the dream is not shot down with one well aimed bullet from a gun constitutionally held by a proud, dumb American.
This week’s Botswana Gazette features a half page article about one of
But the fall is going pretty well so far. She has had substantial success in a relatively short time. She won the now (unfortunately) defunct Alexander McCall Smith Short Story Contest and pocketed P10,000 for her story “Who do you tell?”. She participated in the British Council’s Crossing Borders programme and had her story published in their magazine. Last year, she won highly commended in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Contest, a contest that has been a stepping stone to success for many African writers including the hugely successful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her stories have appeared in the prestigious Edinburgh Review,
In the article, Molefhe laments, as all Batswana writers do, the lack of a book reading and, more importantly, a book buying public in
When asked by the interviewer, Gothataone Moeng (who is, by the way, an excellent short story writer in her own right) when she will consider herself a successful writer, Molefhe said, “When my name is said in the same breath as other writers that I admire; when I see my books on shelves and not just gathering dust, that would bring me some measure of satisfaction.” That day will indeed come, Mma Molefhe, and I predict it is waiting for you in the not so distant future. Get ready.
Friday, October 17, 2008
1. Where is your cell phone?
Next to me
2. Where is your significant other?
At school being a headmonster
3. Your hair color?
4. Your mother?
5. Your father?
6. Your favourite thing?
Sunny Sundays by the pool with a good book
7. Your dream last night?
8. Your dream/goal?
Win the Caine Prize.
9. The room you're in?
10. Your hobby?
Walking in the bush
11. Your fear?
Not having played my role
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years?
Living up the Skeleton Coast and writing with the wild Atlantic in front of me and the searing Namib behind and the bare minimum of people around me
13. Where were you last night?
14. What you're not?
Patient, though I’m trying
15. One of your wish-list items?
The White Tiger ( the book not the animal)
16. Where you grew up?
17. The last thing you did?
Made a list of article ideas for Blood Red Pencil
18. What are you wearing?
Summer top, comfortable pants, no shoes
19. Your TV?
I watch it???
20. Your pet?
Chelsea, my Jack Russell, and her dog, Buster, the African Sausage Dog
21. Your computer?
He’s called Presario.
22. Your mood?
Good, a bit techno-overload at the moment though
23. Missing someone?
The giant teenager at boarding school
24. Your car?
25. Something you're not wearing?
A winter coat and swimming goggles
26. Favourite store?
Exclusive Books when I’m rich and Snip when I’m poor
27. Your summer?
Unexpectedly great so far
28. Love someone?
29. Your favorite color?
Cerulean- the colour and the fun of saying it
30. When is the last time you laughed?
31. Last time you cried?
I’m premenopausal- I cried when I wrote ‘Yes’ for ‘love someone?’
Who am I tagging?
Ms Karen, Elsa, Selma and Petina.
Now cooking this stuff is a very dangerous business. I would like to alert the Guinness World Book of Records folks to come down here and take a measurement of the temperature of paleche. I believe it may very well be the hottest substance on earth.
In addition to being hot, I have a feeling corn doesn’t like humans. There is a commercial on South African television right now showing a potato field with these cartoon potatoes singing about how “I want to be a Simba chippy”. Simba chips are the crisps (potato chips) we have here. I don’t like this commercial. I doubt very much if a potato likes being sliced up and thrown into searing hot oil. I sort of think the same thing goes for corn. They don’t like being ground up into meal and then dumped into boiling water. The difference between the potatoes and the corn is that the potatoes are not fighting back.
When you cook paleche, you first boil the water and then add a bit of meal to cold water in a bowl, mix it up, and pour it into the boiling water. When it comes to a boil again you sprinkle dry mealie meal inside, stirring all of the time, until you get the consistency you want. The dangerous part is just when the water starts to boil again before adding the dry mealie meal. This is when the corn begins its attack.
When it comes back to a boil it shoots out from the pot without warning. You come near and everything looks okay and then -WHAMMO! Out comes a flying piece of steaming hot paleche. The war has begun. When you are trying to deal with the scalding hot paleche on your arm, another one has been launched into your hair, then one on your neck, then down the front of your shirt. You are at its mercy.
There are a few things I’ve discovered along the way to defend yourself from this daily assault.
1) Never cover the pot. I’m not sure why, but this really pisses the paleche off. When you open that lid – YIKES!
2) Wear your reading glasses. There is nothing that will be required to be read during the process, BUT they protect your eyes. I’ve had a hit in the eyes. Believe me it is not nice.
3) Use the pot lid as a shield. With practice this can block about 88% of the missiles. Combining the pot lid and the reading glasses can push that figure to 92%.
4) Add the dry paleche as quick as possible. From my observations, I’ve come to the conclusion that the wet paleche is a bit like excitable teenagers and when they are grouped, as they are in the pot, their anger at humans is exponentially grown. The dry paleche seems to be the adults who come and say something like, “Hey let’s all simmer down and think about this rationally”, except in corn talk. So the quicker you can get the dry paleche into the mix the quicker the assault will come to an end.
I’d be happy to know of any other handy hints in this dangerous business many of us face everyday.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
As I look down at what I’ve found, I think it odd what is running through my head are the comments made by friends about my perfect marriage. I am not sad at love lost or even that angry at being lied to. I’m upset that my friends will be disappointed in me. It’s me then, I think. Maybe I have my priorities all messed up. It wouldn’t be the first time. Perhaps I am guilty too. Were all of these years just about making a pretty picture for the neighbours? It makes me like myself a little bit less.
Anger surges, but again I’m disappointed at the source. Are we to be so normal? After all of this, are we to be cheapo novel, bad TV show normal? The normal I’ve fought against my whole life. Did he do this just to force me into that box? The betrayed woman box. I’m furious about that. I slam my hand on the dresser in frustration.
I’ve used my mind to survive. Not necessarily to excel in any particular field, but I’ve manipulated my thoughts to enjoy wherever I’ve found myself. I realise as I look at the crinkled pieces of paper in my hand that I’ve led myself to this place blinded, by kneading and forcing my mind to see what I’ve decided is there. Too many difficult spots to drown in that half empty glass. Since I couldn’t change them, I floated on the surface of half full. Silly cow I’ve been; it’s quite evident now.
He comes in unexpectedly. “What’s going on?”
I hold out my hand with the three receipts I’ve been studying all morning: hotel, dinner for two, and perfume I don’t wear. “It appears somebody in the city loves you,” I say with forced casualness.
He looks at the receipts but does not reach for them. He sits down hard on the bed. I’m relieved in a way that he has chosen not to lie. At least he respects me enough for that. He fumbles. He grabs for kind words, putting them in places he thinks might make the hearing less painful. Like honey mixed in castor oil, it only makes everything worse. I want bare truth. Where they met. How she fucks. What he told her about me. Since he knows me, he knows that the very truth I crave will work like acid inside me, corroding a little more everyday until I’m nothing more than raw meat and eaten bones. He won’t let me do that to myself. I know as he does; he loves me too much for that.
“It was a stupid mistake.”
A stupid mistake- like knocking a valued vase off the table or tripping in the bank queue. The words just sit in the air. I won’t accept them. It was nothing like a stupid mistake. It was a conscious decision made by him against me. Treason from the inside. Not an accident, that fact the very thing that slices into me when I think it. What tipped the scales in the moment the decision was made? Another answer I want that I know will kill me once known.
“What now?” he asks. Like always the burden is on me. What now?
I look out the window and am surprised a bit at the blue sky and the shining sun. It doesn’t seem right this incongruous weather. I want a wild, red dust storm or iron grey clouds cut through with flashes of threatening lightening. I can’t make a decision like this under sunny skies.
I get up. I can survive this, I’ve survived worse. I won’t slump into madness as my genetics prefer. My mind is waiting for direction. I take it in hand and move it firmly to the track I’ve chosen to follow. The receipts will fall away, the ink fade, and the paper tear and decompose back into its elements. He will never mention it and I’ll have rubbed my mind clean. Perhaps they know better; our marriage is perfect. I stand up and tell him, “I have work to do” and I leave.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Before ESL, I avoided the semicolon. I just accepted it was a punctuation mark out of my league. It was for writers who really got it; people who know what a non-defining participle clause is, for example. Those people do not include me. I just accepted that I would make my way through the writing world with the comma and the full stop. I would manage. If I needed more, I might resort to a dash, but that was moving toward shaky ground. It was okay. It was a smaller life, but still a life.
But after ESL, I feel I can now use the semicolon with a bit of authority. And doesn’t writing look so nice with a semicolon? It is one of the handsome punctuation marks, not the most handsome though; I still love a question mark, but frankly, who doesn’t?
Semicolons alleviate your reader from that timeless question all readers battle with-“Did I pause long enough there?” The writer who is adept with the semicolon allows the reader to rest at ease, literally. She takes the reader by the hand and says, “I don’t want you to pause as long as a full stop or rush off in a comma-like sort of way. I want you to wait for that in-between length; a semicolon length”. It makes the reader believe that you know what you are doing; that you know why an intermediate length pause is needed at that particular spot. It is a reason quite highbrow and literary, and it will be very difficult for the reader to figure it out. They must just accept that you know what is best for them. And that’s good; readers like that- being bossed around. Of course, the side benefit is you come off looking far smarter than you actually are. It’s win-win.
So use that semicolon; there is nothing to be afraid of.
(Unless you use it incorrectly on your blog and some smarty pants points it out.)
Monday, October 13, 2008
Liberals put Mandela securely above God. One look at the recent London birthday bash for Mandela where people like Victoria Beckham blessed the gathering with her vacuous, sickly-sweet tributes, confirms that they worship the myth not the man made of blood and bones and trailed by a life of mis-steps and regrets as all humans are. For liberals, Mandela is perfect and only Satan or lightly educated, right-wing rednecks would say otherwise. But like all myths when you scratch a bit, the cracks show.
In last week’s Mail and Guardian, John Pilger in his article entitled “The downfall of Mbeki: the hidden truth”, pulls the curtain away for a moment to let us see the strings. He discusses how the demise of Thabo Mbeki is more than the mistakes of an arrogant man, and how the fall started long ago when Nelson Mandela made a deal with the apartheid baddies, a deal which sold the soul of the ANC for a chance to grab those golden reins of power, leaving the poor blacks, like always, far back in the dust.
The builders of the apartheid system might have left the situation indefinitely if it was only about the deaths of people in all of the rainbow shades of South Africa. That was not a big concern and, if anything, the death of a white person was a good advertisement for the regime’s position that black people were dangerous, just imagine what havoc they would cause if they got power. Fear is a fantastic method for social manipulation. No, dead citizens were not gonna be enough to start the change. Something more important was needed.
According to Pilger, in 1985 when the Johannesburg stock market nose dived, the capitalists got scared. They warned the government that something had to be done. In September of ’85 Gavin Relly, chair of Anglo American, met with ANC president Oliver Tambo. The deal was the ANC could get control, but the status quo must be maintained- meaning the white run capitalist machine stays. Meetings ensued in which a certain faction of the ANC was invited, a faction that included exiled moderates who could be convinced to drop one of the basic tenets of ANC policy- the nationalisation of the mines and other big businesses acquired as a direct result of apartheid policy. The troublesome UDF faction, who battled away in townships hoping that the legacy of institutionalised poverty based on colour would come to an end once the ANC was in control, was not included in these meetings. Divide and rule took on a slightly different meaning.
After these meetings, Nelson Mandela emerged as the leader with comments such as, “The ANC will reintroduce the market to South Africa”. Pilger says in the article, “It was as though a deal was that whites would retain economic control in exchange for black majority rule: the ‘crown of political power’ for the ‘jewel of the South African economy” as Ali Mazrui put it.”
There was the hope that as a few blacks were let into the rich boys’ club enough money would fall by the wayside to help the poor masses. That didn’t happen. The whole trickle down Reganomics lie has never worked elsewhere so why they thought it would work in SA where a heck of a lot more than a trickle was required one can only wonder. According to Pilger, the waBenzi turned out to be even stingier than the status quo whites. Apparently there is no white guilt to work against the rampant, bare knuckles greed of the new black upper class.
Thabo Mbeki just kept to the deal set in place by Mandela and friends. He did such a sterling job, he and Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, were loved by the World Bank and IMF, those darlings of the capitalist big-wigs. This was even more apparent when Mbeki resigned and the markets showed no reaction, but when there was rumour that Manuel would follow suit the world panicked, showing clearly what the movers and shaker valued more when having to choose between money and power.
Now Bo-Zuma are speaking sweet nothings into the ears of the swooning love struck poor; saying everything that is needed to worm their way in. But Pilger warns, “…beware those successors of Mbeki now claiming that, unlike him, they have the people’s interests at heart. And mark if or when they continue the same divisive policies. South Africa deserves better”.
Indeed they do, Mr Pilger.
Friday, October 10, 2008
The other wonderful thing about Bonty is the way she launches her books. In her day job she works as a freelance hotel manager and game ranger up north in the Okavango Delta. There she has organised a group of unemployed youth who she puts together to perform her books through dance. I attended the Patterns in the Sky launch and I thought it was fabulous. Fun songs and fantastic costumes and such an interesting way to get book cautious Batswana interested in reading.
Now people in Botswana should clear their schedule this month end because Bonty is launching her third book, The Seed Children. I was lucky enough to have heard her read it in the early stages when she goes out into local primary schools to hear what her constituents have to say about those early drafts. I was at Westwood Primary School when she read to an enraptured group of young children. The book is about a place where children are turned into trees. It has a strong environmental message about how we abuse trees and cause deforestation.
She is holding her launch on the evenings of the 31st October and 1st November at Westwood School in Gaborone. Hoping this book goes on to great success! See you there!
Then by accident, mostly because I wanted to make an actual living at writing, I attended a radio script writing workshop. I started writing radio lessons in science. On a whim, after a couple of years, my writing partner and I took a chance at TV script writing. Now we have one television series (almost) behind us and a new one starting. We just found out we’ve been awarded a 26 part radio drama series, too, that will likely take us well into 2009.
This is how life is. One thing follows another and then when you thought you were the next Sue Townsend, you find that you are now a screenwriter. A bit of an unexpected shock, but a lovely surprise nevertheless. I’m learning and growing in a direction I never thought I would. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still intend to find my Adrian Mole or write a great literary novel because I do.
The moral of this story, said the woman who as a girl loved Aesop’s Fables, travel that unknown road with all of its twists and turns, you might find the thing you’re not looking for and discover it was just what you needed. If nothing else, it’s always nice to take in new scenery.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Yesterday a friend sent me an essay from the New Yorker about the short story. I hardly ever go to the New Yorker web site. It could be my slow dial-up connection or a fear by The New Yorker website to get inside my chaotic computer, but in the time it takes to download a page from that website I could cook a seven course meal and serve it to a party of eight. So I’m happy when people send me things from the New Yorker, and this time even more so since the article was singing the praises of the short story.
It is a brilliant article entitled ‘The Ambition of the Short Story’ by Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser. He writes in the article about how the big showy, take-up-all-of-the-room novel squeezes the short story into a dark corner. But he warns, “The novel is exhaustive by nature; but the world is inexhaustible; therefore the novel, that Faustian striver, can never attain its desire. The short story by contrast is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains.” That forced selectiveness is what Millhauser believes defines the short story.
“I imagine the short story harboring a wish. I imagine the short story saying to the novel: You can have everything — everything — all I ask is a single grain of sand. The novel, with a careless shrug, a shrug both cheerful and contemptuous, grants the wish.
But that grain of sand is the story’s way out. That grain of sand is the story’s salvation.”
That grain of sand holds all of the stories within it, something the novel has no time to discover. Millhauser says, “… if you concentrate your attention on some apparently insignificant portion of the world, you will find, deep within it, nothing less than the world itself.”
Short story lovers know that the art of writing a good one is curtailing the words. This is why flash fiction is such a unique and special aspect of writing. The economy of words forces blinding clarity. A good flash fiction story is often so sharp you don’t recover from it. Years ago I read a story that was only 200 words about an evil child on a boat. It is still tickling my brain in the odd moment.
Millhauser ends with, “The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar.”
Yeah for the humble short story.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
They stumbled into each other against all reasonable odds. Crossing oceans and deserts and emotional divides so vast others would have turned away; but they were brave. For that once, oh so important time, they were brave and set forth at first with brazen determination and then slowing down when the dangers were beginning to be realised and then, finally, tentative baby steps, but always moving forward.
On a cool Botswana night, when the cicadas roared in the trees after a day of hiding from the heat, they made the journey. A night of massive skies and the hint of starlight that couldn’t quite compete with the magnificence of a full, creamy moon. Roosters crowed confused. Dogs howled. And the simple act of recognising a safe place within the other happened. It was frightening beyond measure; liberating like being released from a jail, but then scared straight by the vast openness found on the other side of the gates. Love is like that, they found. Under the heavy moon that squashed the starlight, they fell in love in the dangerous scary way that all falling is. Unsure of what would happen, but unable to stop the process.
Lucky for them the falling has been kind.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Once I recovered from the knowledge that I was now 40 and in the beginning of acquiring all of the diseases I really should get after treating my body so badly, I decided I would try to be better. I started reading all about food. The problem with research about food is that it is quite conflicting and if you take it all to heart you’ll only be able to eat grass, drink water and take the occasional breath of air. You can’t eat most carbohydrates that can be found in Botswana since they give you diabetes. You can’t eat meat because of arteriosclerosis. Be careful of those pesticide laden fruits and veggies and those hormonal packed chickens. And don’t even get me going about the kill-you-dead mercury in fish. I think you see where this is going.
Despite this, I have found my way to a place which I think is safe for the moment. This is why each morning I am faced with the orange problem. We need six servings of fruits and veggies a day. I decided to squeeze these in where I could. First thing in the morning, I wake up and eat an apple before doing stretches and going out on my 35 minute morning walk. Then I am back for breakfast: tea, an egg, brown toast, and the orange. The apple is fine. Apples do not surprise you for the most part. But oranges are another kettle of very tricky fish. Today was a good day. The orange was juicy and sweet, but that is not the norm. Other days I’m faced with a bitter orange which refuses to finish; the slices going on into infinity. Or one of those dry ones, like eating cardboard. It is just so unreliable.
To compound this, it is morning. I spent my formative years knowing that morning meant either sugary cereal or equally sugary donuts. It is quite a shock to now have to contend with this problematic orange every morning. My cellular memory is finding it hard to adjust.
You might be asking yourself- why not change? Why not eat a mango or a peach or even a plum? Where I live apples and oranges are always there, year round. I am a Capricorn, a compulsive creature of habit- I can’t be eating a different fruit each day based on the season; that would just make the situation worse- more unreliable issues to contend with. I’d rather stick to the prescribed uncertainty of the orange.
I have tried to mix it up by eating a few slices of orange then the egg then more orange then the tea, but it just ruins everything. Now I just eat my egg and toast and drink my tea while the orange waits, menacingly. Sometimes on a terrible day when the orange is both bitter and dry – I’ll finish it just before it’s time to eat lunch. Other days I gulp it down in a hurry just to have it gone and inside of me doing, hopefully, something of value. Anyway, I’ve accepted the situation. Much like the Wall Street fat cats who partied through eight years of Bushdom, I had my fun food-wise and the orange is my own Nancy Pelosi reminding me that the party is indeed over.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
There is something so lovely about this. The thought that bad is just an accident and it is only to remind a person of their goodness and the bad is washed away and the good takes over control once again. It seems such a humane way for society to act; such an optimistic way to view humanity.
Social customs, at their best, are there to temper our base human nature and this one does that in such a beautiful way. Most of us, me included, rush to punishment when I’m wronged, but that is bare nature without morality applied. Culture and social norms should make us better, not worse.
I watched a TV show late last night about two brothers in Kansas who went on a terrible killing spree. They’ve been given the death sentence and are currently in the middle of the long appeal process that precedes executions in America. In the trial, during mitigation, their lawyer showed a picture of the brothers when they were children; they looked about 5 and 7.They were little boys with eyes still hopeful, not like the men who sat in the court room applying Chapstick while they learned they’d been sentenced to death. Many things happened between that photo and the day of sentencing. Each punishment didn’t push away the thin shell of bad and reveal to the boys their intrinsic goodness. Instead, the punishment strengthened the bad and forced the good under yet another layer looking for protection from the barrage.
I’m not so idealistic to think we could snap our fingers and solve all of our problems of crime in such a way; but I do think we should set a high goal to head toward and perhaps there are answers to be found in the BaBemba’s way. I also know small steps can make a difference. It surprising what recognition of the goodness in the other can do. It echoes in our ears days and weeks after we hear it. We store those cherished words like jewels in hidden places and pull them out to gives us strength when the tide turns. A big store of them helps to make us believe that those words are indeed who we are.
Pointing out the bad can do the same. Those words also have their hidden places. They too are brought out for reinforcement; they give added evidence to what is being said by another. You are bad. You are useless. You are stupid. It must be true since you have so much proof that it’s so.
At the very least, we should try to move through our lives without causing harm, but imagine the change that you can make by pointing out the good in people. Telling them; letting those words settle in the person’s thoughts and take up permanent residence there. You’re not only making their day, you’re giving them the arsenal to prepare for a better future, and a reminder that they are designed, as we all were originally, for goodness.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Like I said waiting.
I am stuck today in waiting mode, or perhaps I’ve melted. It is very hot (maybe 45 or 50 C in the sun) I might be lying, but I am able to fry an egg on Buster, the African Sausage Dog, so it is quite toasty. (That sentence sounds very breakfast-y, dontcha think?) And to compound that, I’ve been reading The English Patient and am mentally living in the Sahara Desert. So I’m hot in and out. Though, I have made a vow not to complain about heat. It really is not fair to complain about both hot AND cold, so since I hate the cold more, I’ve decided to leave the heat alone.
As I write this, I’m waiting to see if I’ll be a famous writer who has written for The Mail and Guardian. As people who read this blog know, I love Mail and Guardian. So now they have this section Voices From Africa, with lovely little articles about life in various countries in Africa. I sent an audition article and I’ve heard nothing. I think maybe I’m not African enough, which is fair enough. I’ll admit I’m in a strange place. A naturalised citizen with an African name, and decidedly white pigment. I cannot change any of that, and I really do accept people are looking for certain perspectives that I might not have, but I wish they would just say- “Hey, stop waiting, we don’t want you”. It would be helpful, though, of course, sad.
I’m also waiting for the results from a presentation my writing partner and I made for a new job. I really shouldn’t always call her my writing partner, but naming her could be dangerous. She is secretive and has a killer look when she’s annoyed. I am not lying. It has been documented. I would point you in the direction of her scary photo which is somewhere in cyberspace, but, I repeat, she is secretive and I’m not immune from ‘the look’ so I’ll pass. Just believe me on that one.
I’m also waiting for my children’s book, Mmele and the Magic Bones, to come from the printers. It should have happened more than a month ago, but the publisher has many stories as to why it hasn’t. Suspect stories. I have a sinking feeling this may not turn out well.
I really shouldn’t make myself crazy. What will happen- will happen, nothing I can do now. Right? I think what I need is a good dose of African fatalism. Maybe I should go back to Mozambique and….. THAT ferry (!)….. but, that, my friends, is another story for a very different day.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
It took three weeks before she tried to speak with him. People had disappointed her so she had taught herself to be wary. Besides, she didn’t want to make the commitment of words if she was on her way elsewhere, which she suspected. Someone would realise soon there was no need for her to watch a broken lighthouse. At three weeks, she realised that was not going to happen. She was here to stay, she thought with relief.
That part of Namibia has a population density of about two people every 20 sq km, the two in this case were him and her. She knew why she was here at the edge of the mighty Namib and the wild Atlantic; she wondered what brought him to the place.
Her days were simple and routine; the way she liked. She woke to tea and bread she baked twice a week. She climbed the lighthouse to see if she could see anything of concern. Though she knew if she did there’d be little help she could offer, she still received a monthly salary from the government and felt she must make an effort. Besides, she liked it up there. The howling wind beat against the glass as she viewed the world from a god-like perspective. The Atlantic along this coast was one of death and destruction, drama and demise. To crash here and survive was futile with only the wide expanse of desert in front of you. A history littered with sadness was one she revelled in.
Nearing lunch, she liked to climb down, and if the weather was right, take a long walk along the beach. This is how she found him that day, sitting in a small hollow surrounded by rocks washing his coloured pieces of glass. “Hello,” she shouted above the roar of the surf.
He was as untamed looking as the ocean, as the desert. His hair long and matted like the beard that poured down his chest. He wore little in the way of clothing, something that might have been trousers were all that covered him and then not very well. His skin was black and criss-crossed with deep wrinkles speaking of a life spent with nature. “Hello,” he said in a voice not often used. He was neither surprised nor interested in her and went back to his pieces of sea moulded glass.
“I live in the lighthouse.”
The wind was picking up and sand was hitting her bare skin like tiny bullets. She wanted to go, but thought it better to firm up their connection since they were neighbours of a sort. “Perhaps you’d like to come up to the lighthouse for lunch.”
He gathered his glass, put it in the leather satchel that hung from his shoulder, and stood up, saying nothing. She turned to walk, glancing only once behind to be sure he followed. At the house, she quickly made sandwiches and asked, “Shall we eat at the top?”
When he saw the view, he set the satchel down, and rushed to the window. She put things out on the small table and waited. Minutes passed then he turned. “It’s very nice.”
That’s how it started. It was a slow, drop by drop, kind of movement to closeness. In the sea-salty air with the desert calling, they began to hear each other without words, to know each other without knowledge set down in personal histories. They started from the present and worked forward.
She never found out from where he came, but she did see his beautiful stained glass paintings made from travelled ancient bits set free from their original objects and then joined together with their own kind producing a resonance that she could not help but accept onto herself. They told her more about him than any words he could have strung together might.
He never unearthed all the cruelty she suffered to make her wary of human contact and relieved at being forgotten. Her first sly, tentative attempts at touching taught him all he needed to know.
They just stepped forward, two souls of a kind, and began.