Monday, November 30, 2009

Last Kitten Pictures

It's late Sunday morning and the first kitten has gone off with her new owner. So here are the last kitten photos. By tomorrow the rest should be gone. I'm still not sure if I'm going to keep one or not. It will depend what happens. There are three left and one person might be taking two which will mean I get zero. We'll see. So here are the last kitten photos.

Sad to see them go but happy Catman can get her health (teenage pregnancy has seriously done a number on her- be warned you teenagers out there!) and her life outside of motherhood back.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

From Where You Write

Short story writer and enthusiast Tania Hershman has been running a series at her blog about writing and place. I loved the most recent post by Cypriot short story writer and poet (who is apparently a Betty Boop look alike ) Nora Nadjarian. Pop over and read it. It has inspired me, perhaps it will do the same for you.

How much does where you write affect your writing?

I've been thinking about this for awhile. First, I live in Botswana but I am a naturalised citizen with a very rudimentary ability to speak the main language, Setswana. Under duress I can survive, but I will sound far stupider than I am. This is a handicap to me in many ways. Though Botswana is the only place I can call home and is the place where I have lived the longest, I will always feel like an outsider. Because of this, I sometimes hesitate with a story. Is it authentic for me to write this? Am I allowed from the widest moral sense to write this? I don't want to be like the old colonialists writing from a position of false authority, lies and speculations, interpretations from a foreign perspective. This is my biggest fear. I want to be a Motswana writer.

I also have yet really to write from my true position. I can't write a story about the outsider in this culture. It always comes out sounding bitter or judgemental and I'm not that way. I'm always astounded when I read the words, it's not how I feel. I can't seem to pull out far enough to find truth, so I lapse into another place that is only misunderstood emotion.

I try, when I write about Botswana, to stick to what I know for sure from experience; the experience of others.

And what of my birthplace? What of the effect of America on my writing? Oddly, almost all of my writing set in America is the opposite. Almost always autobiographical. If I try anything else it rings false and is sent to the dustbin. I have only part of the novel that I'm currently working on that is set in America and is not autobiographical in any way. I'm still not sure if that is working.

I find this very curious. Why can I not write from my perspective here in Botswana where I am an outsider who should see better from my view than anyone else's but yet am unable to see from any one's view but my own when I write of the place where I grew up? Is it as simple as the selfishness of a child? Can I only see America through my youthful eyes that lived there? But then what of the quandary here in Botswana? Have I lost me in the crowd?

I have applied for a writers' residency for next year. If I get it, I intend to use the month to work on a novel I am just beginning. In this novel, set in Botswana, I want to try my best to force myself to see from my eyes, the place I have made home. Somehow I hope that leaving here will let me see things slightly clearer. In any case it is an experiment. I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Years Keep Getting Shorter

I know many people as they age complain that the years keep getting shorter but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the eating of the end of the year by the ravenous holidays. One of my publishers sent me an email a week or so ago saying she hopes I enjoy the last days of the year. It was mid-November. Yesterday a different publisher said he wants to pay me and clear up the accounts before the year ended. It was the 24th of November.

Every year the holidays keep eating days away at each end. By rights the holidays should start 24th December and everyone should be back to work by 2nd January, 3rd at the latest. Instead you have people knocking off the first week of December and coming back mid-January. Do they really need that much time off to open a few presents and set off a couple fire crackers?

I'm really not a Scrooge but many people are not very efficient in the first place and then they stop work completely for a month and half. Even when they do come back it takes them a few days, sometimes even a week, to get caught up on things just so they can be at zero.

I think we should ban the discussion of the holidays at least until December. Am I alone in thinking like this?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Procrastination- the Path to your Inner Genius

If you're like me, a lot of your writing day is unfortunately filled with worrying blocks of time solely devoted to procrastination. Things that keep you from writing. But have no fear. This article brought to me via the abundantly talented Liesl Jobson claims that if you want to discover where your true genius lies follow your tracks of procrastination.

According to the article, Leonardo di Vinci was a terrible procrastinator. He was forever dodging people he promised statues or pieces of art because they were never ready on time. His main time eater was his notebooks. In his notebooks is were one can find his sketches of inventions including the parachute, the machine gun and his flying machines. It was also where he sketched out his thoughts on light that he later applied to his paintings including the Mona Lisa.

The writer of the article, W.A. Pannapacker, portends that procrastination is where Leonardo was free to explore the things he had passion for. If he was late with a commission, the type of work we all must do to make a living, so that he could fill his notebooks with his brilliance- so be it.

If creative procrastination, selectively applied, prevented Leonardo from finishing a few commissions - of minor importance when one is struggling with the inner workings of the cosmos - then only someone who is a complete captive of the modern cult of productive mediocrity that pervades the workplace, particularly in academe, could fault him for it.....Productive mediocrity requires discipline of an ordinary kind. It is safe and threatens no one. Nothing will be changed by mediocrity; mediocrity is completely predictable. It doesn't make the powerful and self-satisfied feel insecure. It doesn't require freedom, because it doesn't do anything unexpected.

Tends to shine a whole new light on the way we work doesn't it?
In conclusion the writer says something that makes me want to try harder at my own avenues of procrastination.

If there is one conclusion to be drawn from the life of Leonardo, it is that procrastination reveals the things at which we are most gifted — the things we truly want to do. Procrastination is a calling away from something that we do against our desires toward something that we do for pleasure, in that joyful state of self-forgetful inspiration that we call genius.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Will this Girl's Death Change Anything?

The recent death of an eight year old Mosarwa (Bushman/San) girl living in the north of Botswana is haunting me. I keep seeing the image of this little girl lost in the bush infested with lions and elephants and leopards. For seven days walking, hoping that she'd find her way home, hoping that someone might be out looking for her. And finally laying down in the grass and dying all alone. Why was she out in the bush in the first place? Because she could not bear to stay another day in the boarding school where she had been left.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, the little girl, Kelapile Kayawe, was left at her school Xakao Primary School, by her elder brother. Because many Basarwa live in tiny informal settlements the government cannot afford to build primary schools near them. Instead the primary schools are boarding schools called Remote Area Dweller (RAD) Schools. The schools have received a lot of bad press, citing abuse of the young children who attend them. In Botswana, though few like to say it outright, there is racism against Basarwa, the first people of Southern Africa. Since staff in RAD schools are appointed by central government, in most cases they are not Basarwa but rather people from Setswana speaking tribes, many of which arrive with their burden of prejudice. Even if there is no prejudice the staff do not speak the children's home language nor do they know the traditions of people in that area. For children new to school, this is a problem.

After dropping Kelapile at the school her brother turned to head back home, but what he didn't know was that Kelapile decided to follow him. In a short time she was hopelessly lost. This was on the 21st of October. According to the article, no one at the school reported the girl missing. On the 25th of October, Kelapile's elder sister was given permission to go home and tell her parents that Kelapile had left the school. Once home, her parents became alarmed and organised a search for the little girl.

Meanwhile Kelapile's older sister returned back to school on the 26th. The article says it was only upon her arrival, when she alerted them that Kelapile was not at home, that the school began to take notice of the situation.

On the 28th of October Kelapile's already decaying body was found. She had walked 155 km in the hot summer sun. She died alone. No post mortem on her body was done since it was too decomposed and she was buried the next day. Inside the paper, Kelapile's father Shushu Kasanga says, "I doubt Kelapile would have died if she was not a Mosarwa."

This issue is a very tricky one in Botswana. The recent skirmishes between the government and the radical and often ill-informed, UK based Survival International over the issue of Basarwa scares people into silence. Because Survival International tried to link the problem incorrectly with diamonds, Batswana circled the wagons. At the same time, Batswana wonder why outsiders feel they can meddle in our problems.

The government is trying its best. They want Basarwa integrated into mainstream Botswana society, that seems the only way toward development. But the racism issue needs to be addressed. If it is the case that Basarwa have the same rights and opportunities as all other Batswana then where are the Basarwa nurses, the Basarwa police officers, the Basarwa teachers? There is a problem and continued denial is not helping to find a way to the solution.
I wonder if Kelapile's death will finally get people speaking about the unspeakable.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Your Author Photo

I take terrible photos. I dread the inevitable request- "...and send a photo." I've struggled along sending the best of the worst. What could I do? But now that normal level of photo dread has become much, much worse. I just read this very disturbing article about the Right Author Photo.

What I've learned from this article is that ALL of my photos are WRONG. (Yes capital letters must be used here- that's how wrong they are). I have the wrong clothes, the wrong photographer (usually my husband - a big No-No , BTW), the wrong light, the wrong focusing.

All this time I thought I wasn't doing so badly. Sometimes, honestly, ignorance really is bliss.

For a long time I used this photo.

Besides being unfocused, the photo is grainy and my hair is a complete mess. Would you buy a book written by this person? Of course not. I wouldn't even do it and I know her.

Then I had this short hair photo I used for a little while:

Of course in this one I have some sort of neck situation going on and the colour is all funny, like I'm taking the photo inside of a fridge. Though I have to admit- my hair is really shiny. But apparently shiny hair is irrelevant in author photos. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I hate to even show you folks this one. I recently wrote an article for a magazine and I used the photo below. I really don't know why. Even before reading the article about author photos I knew this photo was wrong. It was a flight of fancy, a plan working better in my head than in practice. No- this one is very, very wrong. A morning after the night before sort of mistake I'm afraid.

Below is my newest photo which I thought was okay. I'm even sitting at the computer though you can't see it. I thought it looked very productive. The background is wrong (the edge of my kitchen and the other edge of my dining room), and the shirt looks un-ironed probably because it is (I haven't lifted an iron since the 1980s), my eyes look a bit reddish (I actually thought that was a nice touch-pre article, I do occasionally write scary things and what is scarier than red eyes, all monsters have them) and the wrong photographer- hubby, yet again.

I don't know. I wish I would have just gone and watched TV instead of reading that stupid author photo article. It's bad enough we have to worry about the writing, then the publishing, then the marketing -but now the photo.

I feel very tired suddenly.

Next time the request comes for a photo....I think I'll pretend I didn't get the email.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A New Old Model for Small Publishers

In these harsh current times, many small publishers are struggling to stay afloat. Although these times may seem difficult they also often force people to think widely to try and find a way to survive.

I read this article at The Fiction Desk blog. The author suggests that looking back in time might help small publishers find a way to stay in business. According to the article, in 18th century London it was common for bookshops to also be publishers. There are some publishers who have retail stores on their publishing premises, but normally they only to sell their own titles. In the 18th century model, the bookstores stocked titles for all publishers alongside their own. Since most publishers also had bookstores little cash changed hands between the companies. Instead they swapped books.

This would be an ideal way to knock the wind out of the wild and reckless price wars that are erupting all over. Consolidating the selling of books and the production of books ensures that they are sold at the correct price and not subsidised by other product lines in an effort to squeeze out the competition and eventually be able to dictate prices from publishers. It also has a lovely bartering and cooperative feel to it that appeals to me.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guidelines for an Uncomplicated Life by Sgt. Viola Catman

Number 1: In new situations, try to maintain your dignity at all times.

Number 2: Do not crap where you sleep.

Number 3: Keeping a safe distance until you understand the situation is always a good idea.

Number 4: Always have an exit plan.

Number 5: Don't believe everything you hear, even when the speaker appears very sincere.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Path We Choose

I am by nature a decisive person. Being in the middle of a decision is very stressful for me. I even feel vicarious stress when people around me are indecisive. I would rather make a bad decision and change it later than sit in the purgatory between paths. Because of this it seems odd how I dwell on those paths not chosen. I spend many hours thinking of the lives that might have been. The turned down marriage proposals- what if they'd been taken? What of the careers I turned away from? What would that woman look like?

Though I think of those could-have-been lives, I don't have regrets, mostly because I chose. I actively stepped forward. I dream of those could-have-been lives only out of curiosity. The wife to the Italian, Catholic boy- what does she do everyday? The peace worker at the United Nations, where does she find love? The wildlife vet -does she sleep content? Questions to ponder nothing more, no regrets.

I just finished On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and if there is book I wish my children to read above all others it may well be this one. I can't bear the sadness of a life of omission, a passively led life. There is where you will find unbearable regrets. The waste and inefficiency of allowing a passive life, tossed by the whims of fate and happenstance seems the largest crime a person can commit. That life is one of unfathomable depths of sadness where those other lives mercilessly taunt you.

The saddest line in the book for me is: "This is how the entire course of a life can be changed - by doing nothing."

We must act. Is there a decision you struggle with? Is there something you need to say but hesitate? Is there a wish in your heart? Why wait? Doing nothing may cause more harm.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chinua Achebe at Brown University

I find it quite wonderful when great people are humble.I wonder even if being humble is part of the package of greatness. Unfortunately many younger people of today confuse confidence with arrogance and that's very sad. One act of such arrogance can taint people's view of you forever. One must never forget their true place. Just recently I read about someone who met one of our young, up and coming African writers and how after the person met this writer she could no longer read the writer's books in the same way. The writer showed such ungratefulness and arrogance everyone involved in the event lost respect for the writer.

Chinua Achebe has done so much for African literature and yet this interview in The Brown Herald shows that he tries to keep things in perspective. He does not accept such titles as "the father of modern African literature" because he knows the establishment of African literature is and was a cooperative process.

When commenting on what the Brown community has done to increase awareness of African issues, Mr. Achebe had praise for the university.

"That’s really where our hope is — peace and harmony in the world, peace and harmony among thinkers. When I say harmony I don’t mean that people who disagree should stop disagreeing. If there’s a good reason to disagree then disagree as strongly as you can — that’s the only way we can straighten out our problems."

I love this most because he points out that peace is not agreeing. If we all agree, we can't move forward, we get stuck in one spot. Points of disagreement are where we find a new thought, an angle we hadn't taken into consideration, a new way to solve our problems. Respectful disagreement is the way to true peace and development.

A great, humble man- Brown has much to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Perfect Rejection Letter?

I recently discovered The Rejectionist, a very amusing blog with even funnier comments from The Rejectionists' many talented readers. Recently, he held a contest for people to write the best form rejection letter. There is quite a list of very clever letters but here is the overall winner. I was duly impressed. Hop over and read the others.

This is by the very talented Brian Buckley! Congrats Mr. Buckley!!

Dear Sir or Madam:
Please don't be offended. Your query's horrendous.
We can't understand why you'd bother to send us
a missive so deeply in need of an edit
we wanted to vomit as soon as we read it.
Its hook was insipid, its grammar revolting,
its font microscopic, its manner insulting,
its lies unconvincing, its structure confusing,
its efforts at comedy less than amusing.
We think that on average the writing is better
in comments on YouTube than inside your letter.
"No matter," we said to ourselves after retching,
"The novel itself may be perfectly fetching.
"On reading your pages we promptly were greeted
with something a wallaby might have excreted:
a plot so moronic, a premise so weary,
and characters so unrelentingly dreary,
descriptions so lifeless, a setting so boring
that only our nausea kept us from snoring.
In short: if your book was a vaccine for cancer,
its margins inscribed with Life's Ultimate Answer,
and all other novels on Earth were rejected,
we're still pretty sure we would not have selected
this terrible, awful, impossibly hated,
unspeakably horrible thing you've created.
But thanks for submitting!
We hope you'll consider
alternative ways to get published (like Twitter)!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Long Term Effects of ARVs

Botswana is one of the most affected countries when it comes to HIV/AIDS. With a population of about 1.6 million it is estimated 23.9% of the adult population may be HIV positive. In the early 1990s people were dying continuously. There was hardly a weekend that we didn't have a funeral to attend. But then the magic of ARVs arrived. Thanks to generous donations from overseas and the commitment of our own government, ARV treatment is free to everyone. This may be a mixed blessing.

When everyone was dying people had a hopeless mentality, myself included. Fate will see what to do with me. Now ARVs have arrived and we now try to look on it as any other long term chronic disease. Both of these mindsets continue to keep the infection rate fuelled with new cases.

This article in The New York Magazine suggests that long term use of ARVs has its own side effects. These effects include premature ageing including early onset Alzheimer's Disease, cancers, and other age related conditions such as insulin resistance and cholesterol problems. Scientists are not sure if these health problems are as a result of long term ARV use or the fact that HIV is in the body.

"A study presented at a conference in February in Montreal showed that otherwise healthy people on HIV medications at about 56 years of age had immune systems comparable to HIV-negative subjects whose median age is 88. Perhaps as a result, many diseases that typically attack the very old are striking younger HIV-positive people disproportionately, like diseases of the liver, kidney, heart, and veins. One study found that 55-year-olds who are HIV-positive have all the telltale signs of late-life frailty—muscle loss, fatigue, and rheumatological disorders. "

Another very disturbing piece of information is that African -Americans seem to fare worse on ARVs. For example, they have a much higher chance of developing kidney disease as compared to their white counterparts on ARVs.

Scientists have tentatively concluded that the age related bone loss in ARV patients is likely due to the medications while the brain issues are probably from the HIV. Protease inhibitors in the ARV cocktail seem to be the culprit when it comes to impairments in cognitive function. Recent research shows about 10% of HIV positive people on ARVs have cognitive impairments. It appears that HIV can continue replicating in the brain when some of the cocktails have chemicals that cannot pass through the blood/brain barrier.

Of course ARVs have helped to save millions of lives around the world, but these new findings are disturbing. Still the best thing is to avoid contracting the disease , firstly, but then keeping yourself healthy and your CD4 count high enough so that going onto ARVs doesn't have to happen for a very long time.

I have so many HIV positive friends and this article was very disturbing because in Botswana, on this issue- the long term effects of ARV use, everything is deadly silent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kittens at 4 Weeks

To start a very busy week I thought we might do with a kitten update. They are now four weeks old and walking awkwardly. I see now the grey and white one has a patch of brown so I guess there are at least two females in the bunch. I'm trying not to give them names so I don't get too attached, but the smallest one, the calico, I call Christopher Columbus because she is always out exploring. The orange and white one, the one I think I'll keep if I don't keep them all (!!) is called Casper after the friendly ghost because he's so white. When they are up and about walking is a problem as they seem to be everywhere. I've shown them food but they don't understand the concept yet. Catman is finally understanding her role in this production but it will , sadly, soon be over.

And for more cat fun- how about those ambitious cats who go on for further education? Read about them here. I can only hope the kittens will take their education so seriously.

Enjoy the pics!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bookish News for Friday

It looks like Fridays are going to be the Best in Blogland or Book News here at Thoughts From Botswana.

Big news this week was that Nigerian writer Seffi Atta has won the Noma Award for her short story collection Lawless and Other Stories published by Farafina. Short story collections seem to be coming into their own lately which is a wonderful thing. I must also mention the honourable mention given to my Zimbabwean writing friend Christopher Malazi for his book Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township.

Lately everyone is predicting the end of the publishing industry as we know it, but I'm sceptical. HarperCollins reports profits for the last quarter rose from $3 million to $20 million, while romance publisher, Harlequin, saw earnings jump a whopping 22.5%. Who said the book trade is dead?I don't think so.

Have you wondered about the reviews at Amazon? How independent are they? If this article is telling the truth those book reviews are not to be taken seriously since many of the reviewers are being paid to place the reviews. Good reviews of your book are just a few dollars away, or so it seems.

To end a very good blog post for those who would like to run literary festivals written from the perspective of the writer. Is it too much to ask that writers invited to speak or read at a festival be fed? How about a room with ventilation? Should all writers be paid the same fee? Author Amanda Craig makes some very interesting points.

To my dear readers, have a lovely weekend. Relax, have fun. Remember folks this life is not a dress rehearsal.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Looking for the Next Challenge

Friday a woman called me to tell me I'd won a prize in a writing contest I'd entered. It was an essay contest for a local business college. I entered earlier this year before my husband was leaving for university. Second prize was a laptop, so I told my husband don't buy a laptop for school I'll win you one. Friday they called to say I'd won the laptop. I was happy but not over the moon happy. Just pleased I'd accomplished what I set out to do.

Today, a publisher phoned to say she liked my three chapters for my novella and could I send the manuscript. That used to be a big deal. It wasn't today. It was nice, but slightly expected. (I hesitate to write that for fear hubris will bring wrath crashing down on me- but it's the truth)

Now I'm wondering what is up with me? Where has my excitement gone?

As I write this I have two children's books, two textbooks, a romance novella and a short story collection in the publishing pipeline on their way to becoming books- as a writer I should be very pleased. I'm happy and thankful because I know getting even one book published is a huge deal, but the sparkle has dimmed a bit, I feel ashamed to even say it, as if I'm ungrateful but I'm not. I'm really not. All the work I'm doing is for local publishing houses here in Botswana or in South Africa. I guess in my head I feel a bit like- "I've done this already".

I've been trying to figure out what exactly has flattened in my view. I guess I'm looking for a new challenge. Something where I can fail for awhile, so that when I finally succeed it feels earned- hard earned. Part of it too is I want to write a literary novel. I want to jump in with the big fish and get bashed about a bit. I know to do that I need time. I need a big block of time where I don't need to earn any money. I'm so hoping next year I will find that time. The credit crunch has taken a big bite out of my expected royalties for my five prescribed books, but I'm hoping I'll still be left with enough money to let me find the time to write. I have stories battering at the inside of my mind I need to let out, but these stories need some breathing room to find their correct size and form. They can't find that in the pressure cooker where I'm currently operating. When I let them out, they get a bit squashed and deformed and don't quite live up to what they could be. I hope next year, all the work I've put in will give me the space to get seriously challenged again by this writing gig.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Trip to Gaborone

I'm wishing now I would have taken my camera to Gaborone so that I might have taken a photo of one of the scariest things I have seen in my entire life. The Western Bypass is a highway skirting the centre of the city of Gaborone. Currently they have dug up one of the traffic circles along this highway. Apparently they want to do something quite spectacular in the way of engineering feats, but in the meanwhile they have created an area where people can get an inkling of how it feels to drive in a place where there are 1) No road rules, 2) Everyone is either angry or insane and 3) No speed limits. They've made this sort of super size traffic circle with really wide lanes that turns everyone into a Michael Schumaker on steroids without the use of indicators.

Every time I had to get into that circle my heart raced and sweat started pouring down my brow. I have a strange sense of direction in Gaborone where I know everything in relation to either the University of Botswana or the Western Bypass, so I was forever finding myself at the Circle from Hell. I think Gaborone residents and I are in absolute prefect agreement on one thing- I should stay in Mahalapye until construction is finished.

I love going to the cinema so I was very pleased to see two films while there. The first was District 9. I don't know if this movie is going to be distributed worldwide, but if you get a chance you must go and see it. I loved it! I thought it was clever and hilarious and touching. It is done like a documentary. It's about aliens which are living in District 9 in Johannesburg South Africa. The police unit is attempting to relocate them to what is basically a concentration camp but things go wrong. There is a fantastic analysis of District 9 and its echoing of the racism and forced removals of the apartheid years and the workings of racism in general here written by South African academic, Andries du Toit. Nigeria has apparently banned the movie because of the way that Nigerians are portrayed in it. I find banning a pretty useless way to engage with a discussion.

The other movie was The Taking of Pelham 123. It was okay because I like Denzel Washington and John Travolta but it was predictable. It was a bit of a letdown after District 9 but still going to the cinema is going to the cinema.

For the first film my husband and I were alone in the cinema. For the second film, there were a total of nine people in the air conditioned cinema. It's ridiculous. You would think they would lower the price of tickets so more people could go. A ticket was P33 (about 5+ US dollars). If they lowered the prices and filled the hall they'd certainly make more money.

After four days of running around I am now back home. Being away is nice, but being home is always nice too.