Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 escapes and emergenc(i)es

Well the thing about doing that last meme is that it puts the fear of Christmas in you, and sends you scurrying off to complete a to-do list that grows like invader pond weed as soon as you pay it any attention.
So. Most of the urgents completed - ie, cats and malaria tablets.
And, in a packing / tidying / admin scramble, I found the missing cable for my digital camera so all the blog catch ups become possible now too - ie all the pictures I wanted to show you earlier.

In the spirit of lists, then, I give you some 2008 highlights.


New Year in Bagamoyo - the place to lay down your heart. Writing a play about Livingstone and his crew, I became fascinated by tales of this spot, where slave caravans brought their shackled and malarial cargo, sometimes having walked from as far as Congo. I feel so, so lucky to have been there now and breathed its sultry air. My year started with a grand ambition: to arrange a sponsored walk, along that same old route, to raise money to combat human trafficking.

February to April were spent in a kind of a depressive blur. Writing my play, dreaming and scheming and being broke. And collapsing under the weight of all that could be, if only, if only.

May - A horrible month in South Africa, as xenophobic violence erupts across the country. These events sear right into me. I identify with every displaced person, every travelweary homelost person trying to scrape together money to send home. The lucky ones, who don't get killed by a mob, or burned alive.
One day in May my therapist gets that look in her eye and silently pulls a book from her shelf, hands me a copy of Inanna. Reading this ancient story - such a gorgeous translation, starts to break my state of emergency. I begin to emerge. I start to blog.

June - spent a week in wintry Cape Town designing a show for the Grahamstown Festival. Still in a depressive blur but putting one foot in front of the other. My cat has a dire emergency on our newly installed horrible Joburg spike fence.

July - August - In Malawi,
contracted to do a big writing job for the UN. Travel to places I haven't been since I was a teenager. Visit my old school and rescue my shadow selves.

September - October - weeks become months as I try to decipher what the UN really want me to write for them. The papers I read through, if placed end to end, would probably create a path, if not from Joburg to Bagamoyo, then at least to Mangochi. But its an elusive, Hansel and Gretel path with too many twists and u-turns. Unlike in the fairytale, where the lost siblings' trail is erased behind them, in this dream it is the path in front of me that keeps being blown away. The paper trail becomes a snowstorm of dancing pages, taunting me with glimpses of clarity, hurling acronyms and words ending with 'ation'.

I finally hand in a scrappy draft, and we escape to the Waterberg. Ah, the soul of the Waterberg. Deserves a post of its own. Where Eugene Marais wrote the Soul of the White Ant and the Soul of the Ape, (which was plagiarised by that bastard Maeterlink). Make acquaintance with some splendid trees.

November - my greatest achievement of the year. Convincing my house mates that I should paint our garden wall a splendid Mexican blue. The kind of blue that soaks up light and delivers it back when the sun has gone.

- Cape Town again, briefly - this time in the midst of a heat wave, to visit an old friend. The view from my cousin's house changes each time you look at it. The city bowl. That mountain, it lurks behind the house.

And one long gorgeous jewel of a walk.

And now, as my departure date draws near, I am distracted and full of shifting plans. Like when you go snorkeling in shallow water and see your shadow on the sand beneath you - now its close, now its far away, now its a flat watery shelf and now its tangled in a grove of seaweed. Much of what I planned to accomplish this year did not come to pass. But that's also coz I know I always plan too much, too huge.

2009 is looking manageable. Ironically, as so many people wrestle with shrinking budgets and joblessness I feel somehow more secure than I did at the start of this year. I have some work, at least for the scary months of Jan - April, always tough on the freelancer. I have some plans, much more concrete than last year's ones. Sometimes it really really pays off to have a fallow year and next year feels like its going to be a hottie. As in, the tarmac is hot you have no choice but to fly


And I have this:

I am very lucky.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sixes and Sevens (and eights)

Well I don't normally respond to prompts and memes and tags and the like but in the spirit of it all I'll do the one that Miranda tagged me for - the seven Christmas things.

7 Things I Must Do Before My Parents Arrive
My parents are not arriving. Well, my dad is popping in on his way back from NY en route to Lusaka, but its not the same thing. I'm going to see Mother, in my home village, the wee cluster of dwellings known as Kapani Ruins. (we never quite knew why it got that name. Was it because the place looked so ruinous, or the inhabitants?)
Before we fly, I have a week to:
1. Get Christmas puddings and Christmas crackers.
2. Find a lift from Lusaka to the valley
3. Buy pressies for the girls
4. Find someone to feed the cats
5. or find a kennels that will house them (such a last minuter I am)
6. Do the admin I've been putting off since December last year when I was supposed to do it before Christmas! Aaaah!
7. Spend one full day polishing and finishing off my script. It has to be launched into the world in 2009 and it must look its best.
8. Prepare 'the room' for our lodger who arrives early in January.

Aaaah! Thats 8!!

find a medical aid. aaah thats 9. Do that creative voices list that was supposed to done last week. Get malaria tablets. Aaah. Stop it. Can we stop this one now?

7 Things I've been Doing Instead Of Preparing For Christmas
1. Reading blogs
2. Spending time with a friend who hasn't been well
3. Gardening
4. Reading blogs
5. Loitering on facebook
6. Reading James Martin's The Meaning of the 21st Century. Awesome book. Must.
7. Reading up on 2009's astrology

7 Things I Can't Do This Christmas
1. Spend time with my sister
2. Swim in the sea (my man and I usually try to get the ocean once a year, and its usually at this time)
3. Eat Christmas pudding (unless I can be bothered to make a wheat free version)
4. Swim in the river (it's full of crocodiles)
5. Forget to take malaria tablets (that's more of a mustn't than a can't)
6. See my Granny, who is in Cornwall and too frail to travel now. See my Grandfather in the flesh, but I will definitely see him in my minds eye wearing a silly paper hat and insisting we all do the same.
7. Talk to Angela Merkel in person about the climate change deal.

7 Christmas Wishes
1. A strong global climate change deal (how likely is this?) go and make your voice count over here. If serious planning doesn't happen now, Christmases are going to be less and less fun in years to come.
2. For the 'secret issue' to go really really well.
3. For Janine to find healing, peace, and a route to a stress-free existence
4. To see elephants as we eat Christmas lunch at my uncle's spot. (Very likely.)
5. For those gorgeous girls to have the time of their lives
6. For my admin pile to do itself
7. For the admin angels to appear

7 Things I Say As Christmas Approaches
1. Can't we do it tomorrow rather?
2. Oh! I forgot.
3. I'm just quickly going to check in on facebook
4. Oh! I forgot!
5. Thank you B, thank you B, thank you so much for going along with the Zambia plans even though we haven't been to your family for so long!!
6. Who will feed the cats?
7. Do you think I've left it too late?

7 Celebrities I'd Invite For Christmas Dinner
Hmm. I'd love to say - Angela Merkel and all the big heads who are supposed to be hammering out the global climate change deal, along with Obama and James Martins, author of the amaazing book I'm reading. But I'd like a festive Christmas, so I'll arrange that dinner party next month. Lets see
1. Stephen Fry - the wittiest, most erudite and articulate man alive. Superb conversation guaranteed (and my uncle's his biggest fan)
2. Emma Thompson coz she's his buddy and she's also extremely witty and clever and so down to earth and wonderful and I'd cast her in my play if I could.
3. Eric Francis - he's not a celebrity but he's my favourite geopolitical current affairs astrologer environmentalist
4. Richard Branson. I have some business to discuss with him over a couple of gin and tonics
5. Alan Ginsberg (you didn't say they have to be alive)
6. Oh well in that case, my grandfather. He's famous. Sort of.
7. Well if we really can go there, then Katherine Hepburn. Without a doubt.

ooh - can I have one more? Jeremy Clarkson. He'd have a ball testing out 4x4s in the mud. With a winch or two for extra games.

7 Favourite Festive Foods
See Miranda's post for a description of why we don't really have a strong grounding in Christmassy foods. But, still -
1. Marzipan
2. Pimms, or any minty refreshing drinks
3. I love the smell and taste of cinammon, and I know this is a Christmassy smell, from the time I visited my German aunty. I love chewing cinammon sticks raw.
4. Ice cream
5. Prawns. Its so much better to have light seafood for an African Christmas than heavy roasts
6. Anything that comes out of my uncles kitchen will be delicious. Usually some freerange game meat, I imagine. I'm not a vegetarian, though I am rigorous about only eating 'happy meat'. It doesn't get much more organic than Luangwa kudu.
7. I love Christmas pudding but due to a wheat allergy it usually means I have to donate the whole of the next day to the back of my eyelids. I must make wheat free something for myself.

Gosh, I'm exhausted now. And I think most of the people I would tag have already been tagged. Except maybe you, Chimera. I'm supposed to tag 7 people, but - oh go on, you know if you want to....

I'm just going to check in on facebook quickly

Thursday, December 11, 2008

End of year delights

I still have not been paid from my big mammoth job of the year. The shopping mauls are full of too much glare and shine - nothing I want in there, anyway.

Its been a dismal year for financial wellbeing, and I'm so far down the bottom of that barrel I've probably tunnelled halfway to Australia by now.


I have some regular work lined up for next year!! Woohoo! I shall be teaching the first year design and drawing course at Wits School of the Arts, for the whole year. Only six hours a week, which is perfect because then there's a guaranteed income trickle, and I still have plenty of time to nurture the other stuff. I've missed teaching, and this way I get to do it without being an institutionalised slave. So that's really great.


I'm going to Zambia for Christmas! Yes, last minute decisions, last minute bookings, NO last minute financial miracle (yet! - always leave space for the possibility!) but couldn't miss the opportunity of spending time with the youngest and most beautful members of my genetic pond - my sweet dear cousins the Kenyan revolutionaries. So I shall be sipping cooling pimms or gin and tonic rather than warming brandy, and watching cloudstacks that will not deliver snow but soaking rains that leave the ground steamy afterwards. We will see elephants, and hippos and frisky baby impala. We will wait for the river to rise so we can go on the boat, and we will overrun lodge swimming pools and bars that are supposed to be reserved for paying guests. We will check our shoes for scorpions and our pillows for creepy crawlies. Tis the season to be knee high in mud. We will slap at drunken mosquitoes and our shoes will slip and slide and our clothes will never again be free of the black luangwa mudstains and we will no doubt play too much scrabble.

I can't wait.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The muses that stood still

Browsing various posts lately, I've loved that lots of people have been listing their gratitudes, from those celebrating thanksgiving, to those dealing with a recent diagnosis of cancer, to those who seem to have made it a regular part of their daily practice.

I'm aware of the power of appreciation. Quite literally, that which you appreciate grows in value. I have many things I'm grateful for, but I'm also prone to wingeing (complaining reduces joy, the sages say) and even the title of this blogspot is an alarmist protest to try and halt the escape of inspiration. So the list I'd like to make now is the list of the muses that didn't flee. The people and landscapes that have nurtured and inspired me over the three and a half short decades I have been inhabiting this (be)mused and (be)wildered self.

Sometimes I forget, what a pedigree I have!
Mother - fine artist and image maker. Inspired me to know that you just stick with it. Even when the toddlers drink your turpentine, and the black dog of depression sniffs at your throat. Just keep pushing that pigment. Trust the daimon on your shoulder.
Father - the same really. Incredible discipline of someone who is self employed and takes himself to the easel whatever the mood, the extent of the hangover or the economic climate. Painter of wild skies and fleeting kudus. And financier of the education that has given me such a bedrock. Thanks dad.
(Actually having two artist parents can be kind of daunting for the germinating creative self. How high the bar? But the example they give is that it is possible to make a living from your art, if you are stubborn and uncompromising enough.)
Grandfather - the 'word of the day' games, the star-gazing lessons, the nature lessons, the stubbornness (Oh yes, we have that in abundance in these genes)
Grandmother - also a writer, like grandfather. Encouraged stories to breed in me.
And recently, I have realised how much that is alive in the branch of my family that I know less well - thanks Geli!

My mother home schooled me for the junior years. And though I am hopeless at team sports, choir singing and long division, I believe that bush classroom of two preserved my baby creative soul.
When I did go to school, one English teacher saw some frustrated kindlings of wordsmithery in me and fed me combustibles to keep that flame going - poems, stories, big ideas.
Lindy Roberts - what a muse you were. Theatre design teacher at university whose incisive clarity and wisdom spirit were sounding depths of inspiration for me. She taught me about paring down. She taught me how to take a brief - ie how to really listen. Whalebone woman.
Junaq - when I beached myself at the Buddhist Retreat centre all broken and sore eight years ago, how could I have known that I would meet this tiny bird-like redhead who grew up in Fort Jameson and played with my grandfather as a child? She taught me so much more than meditation.

Stacy Hardy. Its so rare to find someone you can truly work with, to create a shared library of references, so that when you say - 'it should be like the scene in...' and they know exactly what you mean. I miss Ms Hardy, although its also been good for me to be on my own and hearing my own voice for a while.
Mavundla. Come on, lets do it again, guy!
Sister. What a friend you have been. To work with, rant at, intuit with. I'm so blerry lucky to have you.

As always, far, far too many to name. I have a host of creative souls who inspire me in ways they will never know. But right now - top of mind - dear Janine, you are one of those who never went away. And you'd better bloody well not do it now.

Standing still has never been one of my strong points. I seem grounded and serene. But it has taken a rigorous, sometimes nauseating effort to just stay put, when all I've wanted to do is run, but something deep in me just says, shhh. Sleep on it. And I've let the roots grow a little deeper.

I'm not sure if I expected that B and I would last as long as we have. I think something bigger than me kind of insisted on it. But there have been many times, many reasons, when either one of us has wanted to run. And we haven't. Something has always intervened, to smack me in the face and make me see - that this is one muse that ain't going nowhere. And for this witty, brilliant, wounded, infuriating, wordy, care-full, holding soul, I am so very very grateful.

And then the landscapes. The spaces that have and hold the muse spirits. The watery dens, the vibrating hillsides of candelabra aloe. The winding river, crowded by gregarious trees.

When there haven't been people, when its just been me and my whirling vortex thoughts, and the feeling of being alone, I've always, always known that there is no such thing as an empty landscape. Rivers, rocks and mulching leafbeds all have their songs and their gossip.

Some places that have sustained me:
The River. Yes, that River. The one that hugs the curves and smiles its smug smile in the dry season, and churns with hungry violence in the rains. The one that eats the land we build on, but gives it back on the other side. The one that taught me that destruction and creation are two aspects of the same smile.

The red soil green scrub of eastern cape aloe fields. The white and aqua froth of east cape beaches.

The mountain,its arms folded, waiting.

The beautiful women who have captivated and enchanted me, who prompted me to lyricise inappropriately, night after night. And some men. But mostly, you, goddesses, who don't even know who you are.

Its late and I'm in Cape Town and I'm affected by the wine and the gravel-crunching feeling of being with a friend who, who -
is not sick but
whose life has presented her with a huge and extraordinary opportunity to heal.

What is a touchstone exactly? Is it something you hold in your pocket, like a familiar pebble, or is it a mightly monolith that you pilgrim to, and lay your hands on and it makes you feel whole? How dare we say that a pebble has no consciousness? Some rocks I've held in my hand and felt more pulse than I have off the vacant-faced mall wanderers of the suburbs.

Ag, whatever. We all need a touchstone.

There are those, who stayed still. And praise be to them. I've needed them.

Finally, something I've never really sought, never really had, but (I guess), always craved.

I love the instant gratification of reading your comments, and your posts, and seeing the mirror flash this way and that, picking up an aspect here or there. Adding another colour, deepening a half-thought-through observation. I just love this medium. And all you museful beings. Thank you.

Don't go away now.