Sunday, September 21, 2008



There are the big A4 ones, for dreams and morning pages, Plot outlines and ideas that never made it into a story but are still trapped there like sacrificed insects in the pages of some explorers journal. Pressed flowers that were so pretty when they were first put between the pages, but have since become brittle and faded. Still, one day...

There are the handbag sized A5 ones for everything - lists, scribbles, dreams, travel observations, notes scribbled on the move, rehearsal notes, phone numbers that never get transcribed into the address book.

And then there are the little pocket sized ones, which mostly have lists: usually the to-dos generated from being a theatre maker. Shopping lists. Props that need to be made. Moments that need to be fixed, plot holes that need to be plugged.

The last post - the wall thing - is a fragment that emerged from a dire period of writers block earlier in the year. I was all out of fresh words last week, as I had to commute to Pretoria daily to teach at the Schools Festival. A workshop on the Hero's Journey - lots of fun and storymaking with fresh young minds but by the end of the day I was exhausted by that dreadful drive. One of the joys of being a work-from-home freelance writer is that I get to avoid traffic, and so when I am confronted with it more than once in a week it puts me in a Very Bad Mood. Poor sods who do it daily, I cannot even fathom it. So, yes - that feeling was evoked again. The Wall. I think this must have come out of reading Haruki Murakami, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Wow what a great book. I say no more. Read it if you haven't.

So anyway, an idea I've been toying with gently for a while, is to start mining these notebooks and throwing a few bits and pieces into this here blogspace and see how well they withstand the light of day.

Some of them date back to very many years ago. I've not been able to throw them away and have lugged them from Grahamstown to Zambia to Cape Town to Joburg. Ten moves in the last 13 years. Believe it or not. (Yes, I have shallow roots, the subject of another post another time). Maybe if I had a terminal disease or had to go to prison I would probably burn the lot. Maybe its my fear of memory loss that prevents me from actually chucking them away. I hold on to the hope that one day I will read through all of them, and find patterns and meanings and sequences that I could not see at the time. Treasures that I will respin and they will become the burning best seller, the great African novel. Etc...

Mostly though, they are filled with what my dear friend JP calls 'anal scrapings'. Of necessity, you know. Having a journal is NOT the same as having a blog, obviously. As Natalie Goldberg says, in that gorgeous book, Writing Down the Bones, morning pages are not the real thing, they are the training for the race. I think of morning pages as the act of clearing the dead leaves out of the gutters so that flow can happen.

Writing in these notebooks during darker times of my life has kept me sane. Or should I say, has prevented me from severer bouts of insanity than i was otherwise prone to. I have counselled myself out of relationship confusion, where my boundarylessness led me to lose sight of who I was. I have used words like tiny pinprick torches to light the way through dull periods of monotone depression. I have chastised, comforted, complained and plotted world domination.

There are great empty gaps, periods where I didn't write at all, and I wonder now, was it happiness - daily contentment, no need to push pen across paper? Was it misery - too lost to remember the notebook therapy? Or busyness - those heady weeks of rehearsal where you are rushing to and from, no time for introspection, just go go go and run run run?

In any case, there they stand, shelves of them, snapped shut and slightly accusing. Boxes of them, waiting for the day when...

I seldom look back. Oh no. Occasionally I page through them, glass of red in hand. When I do this, its usually the dreams that are most interesting - like I didn't see it at the time but now that dream language is blindingly clear.

Some of the writing makes me laugh, and feel old and wise. How I used to tie myself in knots, complaining of the same old thing month after month (particularly the relationship stuff) and then - duh, one day I don't write about that anymore - must have solved it. One of the reasons I started a blog was simply because I felt I had so much writing and no readers, so much secreted away, and no bloody mirror, no feedback, no exchange.

So its a very brave or perhaps rather foolish child who stands before you now and declares that she is going to play a form of black box with her notebooks and select random samplings to extract and post here.

Oh not really random, c'mon I'm not that cruel. I'll find little snippets that don't completely make me cringe. Like the meme where they describe the contents of their handbags, this is my version of petticoat lifting, which is already starting to make me feel a little anxious.

I'll start next time!

And if the posts degenerate into anal scraping, I have my trusty friends who will tell me so. You know who you are.


Reya Mellicker said...

Anal scrapings? Nahhhh!! I don't believe it.

The photo is beautiful!

I, too, keep many notebooks of different sizes. Some have fancy covers and expensive paper, others are just funky lined school notebooks. And like you, I use them for everything - writing, drawings, lists, tirades. I find old veterinarian bills for Jake stuffed between the pages, flowers, leaves, blades of grass all brown and crinkly.

Like you, I hardly ever look back at any of them, though whenever I do it's so helpful. My scratchy writing brings back many memories and revelations.

Some days I feel like burning them all, but I've never worked up the nerve.

Thank you for being out there, for blogging. Thanks for the notebooks, even though that's such a different thing from blogging. I'm so so so happy to "know" you. Really I am. You always make me think. Thank you!

Val said...

Tam your writing is beyond beautiful! and always so much FOOD for THOUGHT - like drinking water when you are parched.
I also have a stack of notebooks - fishmoth bait at this stage. Have even burnt a few tho cant say if the flame was a diff colour from all the outpourings!!!
write those books - we are all waiting

tam said...

Oh, you women are so wonderful.
Reya, I couldn't have possible known when I started blogging that there would be such rewards as finding kindred souls on faraway continents. Thanks for all your thoughtful feedback. It really makes a difference, truly truly. And I love your blog as well - your photos are incredible.
Val - you too, your encouragement goes a long way. Mwah!! And happy painting.

macjanet said...

I'll tell you, don't worry. Stern editor that I am.

"Anal scrapings" ha ha! I blew coffee out my nose when I read it.

much love

tam said...

Janet, all credit yours for the delightful phrase. And I am counting on you.

Bill Stankus said...

I've read similar observations from other bloggers who write, want to write, get blocked, get frustrated, take classes, do workshops, etc.

I appreciate the agony because agony is often part of the creative process - but not always.

I've known many successful artists and generally they simply make art. Some do it better than others but the thing they all have in common is the obsession to do whatever is they do. There's less introspection, at least of the anguish type, than is commonly thought.

If there's struggle it's usually associated with the business side of art - getting shows, finding publishers, getting in galleries - that sort of thing.

We all working differently but the basics are always the same- push forward, find your voice, keep at it and screw the small stuff.

Miranda said...

Ah dearest, even your anal scrapings...I'm sorry I can't complete that sentance.

Janelle said...

a\WUIEY OEI7R928374HJBC AQGERJKHjhdfkswfiuwh ...i throw roses in your path many many...xxxx j

tam said...

Bill, thanks for the visit. I agree with you that the challenging part is the marketing and self promotion. Coming from a family of artists, I've noticed that too. As for the angst - I associate it not so much with art making as with the messy business of living life. That's where my 'morning pages' have been helpful. The 'art' comes later!


Janella, thanks... i think I trod on some thorns.