Thursday, September 25, 2008


Gosh how time legs it when the walls around you are tumbling down. Quite a couple of weeks, eh? Much has been blogged already I'm sure on the fallout and impending fallout of finance world as its tottering legs give way underneath it all.

Here in the South we've had our own fireworks and drama - presidents being 'released' from duty, ministers resigning from cabinet en mass, the ANC haemorraging members (oh dear how do you spell that there's an H in there somewhere..) As someone who considers herself a dual citizen of both Zambia and South Africa - heck, what's with all the president loss lately?

In the meantime, I've had my own mini Jericho as the impenetrable wall of two posts ago has finally come crumbling and tumbling down with an almighty roar. Well, actually if there was a roar I didn't hear it. I had the sound turned down. I was looking at it through yellow spectacles and all I noticed was that suddenly there were birds going about their business, plump with spring pickings. Cats groomed themselves on stone steps without paying me any mind. The world does not depend on me to hold its strings together. Isn't it funny how we get ourselves into headlocks where your own perspective becomes so choking, so dominant, you feel your own role in the events around you overly bloody important. And then - a certain breath, a shift in perspective. aaah, the relief when ego just subsides and the terror of a deadline that could not, would not be met suddenly loses its power.

No, I haven't finished this job, but its lost its beastliness. I am back in control. I relax my brain and allow myself to enjoy it. At bloody last. No, I didn't do this on my own. I have a clever friend who does some marginal therapy called holographic repatterning and it works for me every time. Like taking your computer in to the nerds to have it cleaned up. I no longer have evil little pop-up windows that tell me how unworthy I am, how unsuited to the task at hand and how DOOOMED to fail. Yep, I turned the volume down and watched those bricks fall. Now I gotta whole lot of scattered rubble and the sweet task of arrnging it all to make a pretty path to freedom. Whew. Until I do, I will be scarce here. Because I am focused. Not distracted, not swallowed by black boxes or beating my fists raw on powdery concrete. Shudder.

See you on the other side.

Oh! I almost forgot. Notebook extract of the day:
"Notes from a forum on audience development. Circa April 2000.
Man from Lovedale: Should we not be introspective rather than blaming audiences? Film & TV make people lazy. We are their ancestors. We should take them on. The way in which we have been trained as artists does not filter down to the grassroots. We are a diverse society. Need for common ground in productions. Economic restraints are used as excuse for people not to come to the theatre. What techniques/ aesthetics can we steal from other cricket - seating."


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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The wall is tall, grey and utterly smooth. There are no chinks or chunks.
She is sitting on the gravel in front of it. A slight pain develops in her neck as she stares up at it.

There is silence, at first. Tiny points of gravel dig into the soft flesh between her sitting bones and the ground.

Touching the wall leaves a fine grey film on her fingers – concrete dust. After a while she realises that the silence is not complete. There is a far-off chink-chink sound. As if somebody somewhere is stuck behind a similar grey wall but has a chisel to chip away at the concrete. Or perhaps it is a team of men who are building another wall like this one. She looks around her. There are no tools. No chisel or hammer. No pole or rope.

The sky is vast up there where the wall ends. No clouds. Just a hurting blue.

A strange thing happens when she looks down from the sky. The wall has curved into a continuous sweep around her, enveloping her like she's at the bottom of a well. A dry well, with no water-softened pebbles, only sharp gravel. She blinks. A minute ago the wall was distinctly square. She still has the imprint of a right angle, a corner. Perhaps that was another wall, at another time. This one is definitely curved now. Not softer. If anything its more panic inducing, this benign curve.

She has a soft memory of what the doctor said. She must keep out of the sun. But here she is in a hot flood of light. No hat. A lick of sweat on the back of her neck. She must move, to there where the shadow starts. It must be afternoon. But muscles do not follow the impulse that rises in her. Or perhaps it is not an impulse. No, you could not call it an impulse. It is a dead set of words in her head. A sound like something falling onto hard ground. Her muscles do not obey. She will wait, until the shadow creeps onto her. Then she will be in the shade.

Thirst. This is the next thing. Her tongue wraps top teeth, drags over bottom lip. Moisture has moved away from her mouth, it has shifted to different parts of her body. Her hairline, and the backs of her bent knees.

In fact the wall is not completely smooth. You can see the seams, the tiny pockmarks where the water bubbled quickly away from the cement. It was cast in sections. That's how you cast a big concrete wall. In sections.

A quick memory of her grandfather. He was an amateur builder. The way the hairs on his arms stood up so tall. He taught her to mix cement - remember? How water slakes the grey powder, sludges it. Swift nausea. That feeling on your hands when you touch unmixed cement. Could he have built a wall like this? Unlikely. Besides, he's gone now. Not coming back. The image recedes.

Grandfather. Doctor. So there is memory then. Yes. She can picture cold lettuce leaves, water. Television. Shells on a beach somewhere. Something before. Only - how she got here, and how long its been since the wall was there - this is not available. There's a slow spooling out of thoughts then. Like an old movie when the tape finishes and its just the white flick of snow under a too cheerful tune. And this dry mouth, and the slow trickle of sweat down the left calf.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dorothy Parker does not have a blog

Because, just like the last time I checked, she is dead.

However, in my dream last night, I went to Dorothy Parker's blog. I was delighted to have found it. As things are in dreamland, it was a place you could sort of swim into, and have a drink, merge with other presences in a more vibrating way than the real cyberland allows. There were an additional couple of senses involved.

Can you imagine what a bristling pool of snappery and grumpiness and playful cheek her blog would have been?

She was well known for her fabulous verse and her witty epithets, but as Constant Reader she brought us beautiful bitchiness in her literary reviews.
"There are times when images blow to fluff, and comparisons stiffen and shrivel. Such an occasion is surely at hand when one is confronted by Dreiser's latest museum piece, Dawn... The reading of Dawn is a strain upon many parts, but the worst wear and tear fall on the forearms."

"I don't want to review books any more. It cuts too much into my reading."

Dear old Dots, who only wanted to "make enough to keep body and soul apart." What a splendid read her blog would be, if, well, y'know. Time and place and all that.

P.S. I will not play with the Black Box. I will not play with the Black Box. Not until this job is over...
Hey, I don't need to... my dreams take me to very interesting places as it is...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

the myths of our times

Its a strange old world. This is a chitenje (sarong wrap) worn by a woman in a village on the shores of Lake Malawi.

I wasn't sure whether to post this. I put it on facebook, hardly expecting the furore of comments it provoked.

We had a beautiful afternoon with a group of women who are part of a radio listeners club, a community radio project that gives listeners clubs their own recorders so that they can record inserts on the issues that affect them. They send the tapes to the local station and then they get aired - its a lovely, elegant design for community involvement - mostly in public health matters.

The photo was an afterthought - as we were leaving I noticed what she was wearing and asked if I might take a pic. She didn't really see what all the fuss was about - F the photoman was very excited by the image. You often see representations of Saddam, Osama, the towers, if you travel around Africa. On wall paintings, on cheap shirts made in China or India. These images have become like comic books or campfire stories to explain mysterious forces of the universe. Like the angry gods of old, they've grown out of their contexts like billowing dust clouds. Signifiers run wild and then tamed again.

I've decided that its safe to post it. Even though most of my dear loyal readers will have already seen it on facebook.

Safe, as in - I don't think Mrs Phiri (not her real name but common as Smith or Jones in Malawi) will get found out and arrested for running a terror outfit. Even though they do have their own radio.

And while we're talking about conspiracies... (er, we were though, weren't we?)
What are the chances we could arrange for the Hardon machine, I mean, sorry Hadron machine, to create a black hole that could devour Sarah Palin.

Ho hum.

Here in Jozi, where the air is hot and still, we pray for peace.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

the lines are dead

Oh look. The door, its open. I wonder if its safe to go out?
You know you mustn't. You promised. Something terrible will happen if you don't stick to the Deadline.
Just a cup of coffee?

Look, I could just nip out and be back in a second. Its safe out there.
Isn't it.

Oh bollocks is that the time?

Doooon't look at the liiiight!
But its so beauuuutifuuuuul.....!


I told you something terrible would happennnnn!!!!!!!!

Don't you hate deadlines? And dead lines? Some jobs are just plain hard work. This one is not happening for me. I love the idea, I love what I could do with it, given more time and a little more space to interpret freely. But, no. Client wants it this way. Client is nervous of lines that take on a life of their own and maybe try to dance a little. Let the words be neat, and all in the right sequence. They say they don't want jargon but when I cut it all out and worked very hard to make it clear and direct, they got nervous. Now they want me to put some back in.

I read it out loud to myself. Every line is weighty, porridgy. No sting to it, no sing.

Aah well. I have to amuse myself in other ways...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

night noises and morning spoor

When you sleep in the bush in Africa, you seldom sleep through the night. There's nothing quite like being woken by lion voices vibrating through your blood. Or the bellow of some beast giving its last to teeth and claws. The scuffle of a chase right through camp, right past the thin grass walls that you're sleeping behind. Hyena sirens streaking your dreams with colour. The slow soft breath of an elephant, metres away from your head.

Sometimes, its the silence that wakes you. Its so rare to have utter silence, it usually signals some drama about to unfurl. Like when there's a lunar eclipse - the deep darkness and silence that creeps across the bush for a few long minutes while everything holds its breath, even the insects that I used to think were stars singing. Truly soul awakening stuff.

Luwi camp, one of my favourite spots on earth. Waking in the morning, and last nights mopane coals are still alive in their grey jackets of ash. The horizon is steely, before the ripening blush, and your breath is grainy smoke, fingers cold but before you clutch a handful of warm air at the fire, you must walk around camp and look for spoor. That's footprints, for those of you who don't know. Signs of the drama of the night.

When we was kids, my sister and I, it was daily routine. Bonkar would show us the perfect pugs marks on silty riverine sand and we had to identify - porcupine, honey badger, civet. We got good at it. We learned how to fake them, even, to make our own. We could read the map of an elephant footprint, outside the house at night, in between the toys that we had left out the night before. Never a single toy trodden on, mind you. Those eles just pick their way through. And yes, one thrilling morning there were lion prints in the sandpit where we played.

As I sat at my desk this morning I realised - I'm still doing this. Treading through blogland with my morning coffee, looking for the signs of the night. Ah, good, Janelle's feeling better. Miranda has a clutch of friendly comments. Ooh, look who came past my front door. Now, which of my cross continental facebook friends have left tracks in my inbox, or pissed on my wall?

I guess we're all just territorial beasts at heart.

Monday, September 1, 2008

six word me

Ok I am procrastinating heavily, and I couldn't let the last post stand on such a grumbly negative note.

So - have taken up the gauntlet cast by Ernest de Cugnac

Write your life story in 6 words.

Here are some run ups at it. (is that cheating?)

Learning to love: from sprouts - baobabs.

Shy girl onstage returned to books.

Thin bush waif ate a library.

Loved trees, ate books, spat words.

Born screaming. Grew quiet. Too quiet.

Couldn't find the words. Til later.

Ok so they're more descriptive than narrative - but you try, its blerry hard!

floods and drought

My deadline looms at me across the narrowing gulf that separates Now from Tomorrow when it is Due. Three chapters took me two weeks. I have until tomorrow to do two more.

The dishes of the weekend tower in the kitchen.
Laundry creeps across the floors.

August winds toppled plant pots in the night, their crashes and woke me and used up the last spurt of adrenalin I had been saving. I did not get up at 5 to work.

What should I do first, I wonder. The chapter on Aids orphans, the section on floods, or the one on drought and famine? Or Governance? oh, this is no way to treat the muses.

My friend arrived in Nwarlins to start his new job. Hasn't been there since he was a student, when Katrina flushed him out. He arrived, found a place to stay, unzipped his bag. And zipped it up again. Gustav blowing him off for a little while longer.

Fires floods and droughts all over the news.

My computer screen scowls at me, stories husking, flaking in its glare. Tears and tantrums in my coffeecup.

Aaah, how delicious it is to nap in the middle of the day, curled up in the sun like a cat.