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“I decided today that I absolutely hate words!” she says. There’s a war on.
“Why? They trip you up, drive you round in circles… then you finally say what you mean,” he smiles. “Well I
words… When my book’s finished it’s not going to have any double p’s r’s or s’s,” he adds as an afterthought. It’s just going to have those spelling mistakes. and no capitals!”
“Good for you Andrew!” she says.
The words are losing.
“I’m just thinking… I like
,” she says.
I’m eavesdropping again. This time it’s “grundge kids” (his words) on campus.
Saw him again today. Him being the winner of the
a few weeks ago. (Seems like he’s in the supermarket every day. But then I guess that would suggest that I’m there every day too.) That’s what I love about this country. The smallness of it all. If you need to speak to someone on the phone, chances are likely that you’ll get directly through to them.
He got street kids to paint pet rocks, which he sold on the plane. He deserved to win. This time I did go up and say “Mazel tov”. He seemed pleased.
He said she had an “air of neglect” when she was younger. I never thought of it that way, but I think he’s right. Not in the sense of not having enough to eat, or being cold, or unwashed, or even unloved. But just not having enough care. Too much responsibility and worry too early. No childhood, really. And then, hankering after it, she never quite grew up or took full responsibility. The twilight zone of the
. The upside is that she looks a lot younger than she is now. And she learned to take care of herself.
“Travel writing is Sex”, he says provocatively. And “edge”, “danger”. Is this why all the examples he’s given us are written by men, I challenge him? He’s never thought about it consciously, he reflects. (Really! thinks me.) But Robert Elms
Taking the Plunge
piece on Naples really is fab. It’s online, check it out. If you live in the UK he has a radio show. I’m envious, lucky buggers.
Now I have to rise to my own challenge. Though my Ithaca piece is filled with widows, and women waiting for sailors to return. Bicardi Breezer’s as raunchy as it gets!
Bumped into my father’s oldest friend (friends from the age of nine, he’s now 72), just up from Cape Town, in the supermarket today. I had just thought of him yesterday. He’s editor of a Catholic newspaper, and I’d been having a conversation about a friend, the “seventh child of the seventh child”, who’d said her parents had practiced the rhythm method: “they practiced and practised and practiced, and never got it right!” It gave him a laugh. He said of us bumping into each other that it was “God having fun”. Supermarkets… great places to catch up and network.
Waiting for light
Peaceful, noiseless, calm, dark
The only haiku I ever wrote. In primary school as I recall. And it remains in some corner of my mind.
My Dad used to say that he liked working at night because it was quiet. As I get older I realise more and more what he meant. In his final years he got to sometimes going to sleep as the sun was rising, and sleeping till the light began to fade. Scary. Twilight Zone.
2.04 am and still going strong (so technically I’m a day late with this).
“You’re not as fat as you think you are”, said Mary Schmich. (
.) Or was it Kurt Vonnegut? It’s true. I don’t know whether photographs are a good or a bad thing. Looking back at how young and beautiful we all looked…
But the people who
interest me, are the ones who grow more beautiful as they age. She was quite frumpy when I first met her, when she was about eighteen. Could it have been puppy fat? Now she’s graceful and sensual. Perhaps it’s motherhood.
Saw her in the supermarket today. I know, what would we do…
“You’re so neat!” he says. It sounds like a reprimand.
I want to tell him that the first twenty years of my life were messy and chaotic. And I spent the next twenty cleaning it all up. My own mess, and others’. So this is my alternative to Prozac. Neatness. Order. It helps me breathe easier. “If I should die before I wake…”, no mess for anyone else to clean up. My personality is formed now. Unlikely I’ll change in the second half of the course. The pros and cons of being a ‘mature student’.
But instead I just smile.
Had another article published today. I guess I’ll think of myself as a writer when I no longer say that, and it’s a regular occurrence. Still no payment, but I’m working on that.
I remember when I outgrew my father’s little dictionary that he’d bought in Canada in the 50s. (Passed on to the receptionist at work.) Too many words that I looked for weren’t in it. Now I have a ’99 dictionary. The last millennium. Do you know that “New Age” and “trail mix” are in the dictionary? “Mixture of dried fruit and nuts eaten as a snack food.”
Don’t you just love the way the Universe conspires to create intersections? The autobank swallowed my card, which in and of itself is a schlep. But if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have come home to call and have it cancelled, and would have missed
call. And she’s only in town till tomorrow. I’ve the inconvenience of going to the bank to get a new card, but I’ll get to have coffee with my friend! Don’t think there isn’t a plan.
In the meantime, I’ll raid the laundry money. See the waitress cringe at all the change!
He’s whistling as he sweeps the garage.
Chariots of Fire
. It’s unusual. Many of the staff on the property whistle or sing while they work. But mostly they sing African songs.
“Vangelis,” I say as I pass.
“I love it” he replies.
I wonder where he first heard it. And what it is that he loves about it.
This is what I love about this country. The strange cultural overlaps and mutations. Like the
Soweto String Quartet
, started in someone’s bathroom. Despite years of division and separation, moving towards understanding. Despite the distances we have to cross.
Chariots of Fire.
When I arrived in London, I was told that the desk from which I would be working had a “great view”. “Look, there’s St. Paul’s Cathedral,” said Phil. So my heart sank when I looked out onto rooftops. And a sky reminiscent of Cape Town’s “big-clouded winters”. And this is spring.
Out on the street the gloom seems to spill up from the Underground, where everyone is pushing and shoving their way to Who-knows-where.com. I feel like I’m in Brazil. The Terry Gilliam version.
But mostly it’s my auditory landscape that’s bereft. There’s no bird song.
[Exercise in describing landscape]
Reading aloud is different from writing on the page. Says (my favourite) poet Roger McGough, on ‘In Performance, or On the Page?’: “my favourite journey’s the one from centre stage to the dressing room… People tell me, you should give longer between the poems, let people digest them, but I’m not an actor. An actor would use the silence, milk it, but I just want to get onto the next thing, just let the poem sigh away and move on. But it’s right, you don’t quite know the effect you’re having on people.” I notice that I still have timing.
Tonight will be an ordinary poetry reading
A run-of-the-mill kind of affair
Nothing that will offend or challenge
as far as I’m aware.
Personally, I prefer actors
Reading the Great Works of the Past
The trouble with poets is they mumble
Get nervous, and then speaktoofast.
And alcohol is a danger
So that’s been kept well out of sight
As long as they’re sober this evening
They can drink themselves legless all night.
By the way, they’ve come armed with slim volumes
Which of course, they’re desperate to sell
Otherwise, there’s coffee in the foyer
Alex tells me that she is reading Martin Amis’
, where he talks about his dental problems.
“Bravely struggling against disease can make for a moving and uplifting memoir,” says one reviewer, “but bravely struggling against toothache is never going to lift you into the pantheon of stoic heroes…”
But as Amis puts it in an interview: “Well, would you be [saying] this if it were some other kind of illness that had dominated my life? The fact that it’s teeth is by the by. It was conceivably a life-threatening illness…”
There are different kinds of deaths. I can empathise.
Those moments, when all feels right and in its place. When who I am and how I am is right. Right for the moment, right for the time, right for now. Right for what I need to do.
“You think like a writer,” says Alex. She is a writer (makes her daily bread from it), so I guess she should know. “They tell you at journalism school that the important thing is just to write, but they never really stress how important that actually is. If you want to be a writer, then you have to
Write on, Sister!
I dreamt that Donna, the tough ex-marine/court-transcriber from
, had moved/taken over my desk at work. It was a large one, which she’d taken, and left her small one for me, as she said it was affecting the quality of her research, and anyway “you're hardly ever here”. That was true. She worked full time, and I only came in occasionally. Why shouldn't she have the big desk? I was pissed off though, not because she’d taken the desk, but because she didn’t discuss it with me first. “I’ve been here 9 years,” I said. Woke up with toothache.
She’s having her top teeth out today. I wonder if my toothache recurring today is in sympathy, or if it signals losing another one. More on the subject from Martin Amis:
“I’ve just posed the question, a rather grandiose question, in this memoir I’m writing. The question is: Of these three noted stylists-James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov and me-how many suffered dental catastrophes in their early-to-middle 40s? And the answer is all three.”
Interviewer: Clear link between teeth and greatness?
Amis: Yes, right, yeah. I like to think so!
Andie: I’ve discovered there’s absolutely nothing I’d give my eye teeth for.
She blends right into the forty-year-olds I tell her. She seems insulted. “That’s a strange thing to say,” she says. Of course, I meant to tell her that remarkably she doesn’t seem to age, but perhaps it came out wrong.
As these things happen, Basil says to me, “You’re one of those people that just doesn’t age.” (I don’t say anything about my teeth.) “You should have been in the play,” he says. (It was like a class reunion.) I thought of that. One of the ingénues? I wonder if I’d still be able to act... Like sex ’n bicycles?
“The truth is in the fiction,” says Martin Amis. Perhaps it’s the same for us. Talking about writers and writing, we reveal more of ourselves than is immediately apparent. Perhaps in the same way as “you are what you eat”, we are quite often what we read. But not always. Don’t just assume because I’m reading a book on Marxism… (hypothetically speaking, that is). What’s currently by my bed? Eric Idle’s
Road to Mars
. Not great, but entertaining. Roger Mcgough’s,
The Way Things Are
. Great for reading on the train. (Metaphorically speaking.) I want to laugh.
Let’s talk about books.
It’s a disillusioning moment to realise that, like parents, writers are just people like us, with the ability to at best make magic with words, and at worst use them well (sow a seed/make a baby). But they’re equally full of crap. Arrogant… petulanant… You’d have thought someone who said: “A person becomes a writer because they’re deficient… a writer kind of has to do it in order to keep his or her head on straight,” (Theroux) would realise the same was true for his mentor “Sir Vidia” (VS Naipaul) without feeling the need to trash him and his work.
When I was in London, and had limited funds to spend, one of the most fun things I did was attend a free poetry reading at Waterstones of three new just-published poets. When asked how they kept afloat/what were they day jobs, one replied without batting an eyelid that she maintained a website for a pornographer. Interesting to note that “After studying philosophy at the University of London author [Hanif] Kureishi supported himself by writing pornography under a pseudonym and working as an usher at the Royal Theatre.” Gotta do what you gotta do to be an artist I guess!
She was beautiful to watch, so when I spotted her in the shopping centre, I decided to go over and compliment her on her performance at the play-reading. “You were excellent… so nice to see a new face…” I figured she’d either think me a mad woman, or be pleased. Gratefully it was the latter. “What a nice surprise…”
“Is there any gift you can give or service you can provide that will activate your dormant potential?” my horoscope asks. “Any beauty you can bring to life in your environment that will transform you on the inside?
Listen? Notice? Acknowledge?
It’s 1.30 am, and the shouting hasn’t stopped. The first sounds of domestic violence that I’ve heard in the 3½ years that I’ve lived here. (The surprise of that suddenly hits me.)
Finally I’ve had enough, so I go down.
“Just be my friend,” she shouts. Two women’s voices.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
“It’s my friend, she’s…” her voice fades away.
“I’ve just had facial surgery, and it’s caused…”
Was she burnt? I wonder. Cosmetic surgery?
“Can I do anything?” I ask.
“No, thank you, it’s fine.”
I walk away, and wonder who they are behind their closed door…
After September – when the fragrance of Jasmine fills the air – comes October, when all that the eye sees is softened by the lavender of Jacarandas dotted about the city. November will herald purple rain. Occasionally violet bougainvillea shouts out over suburban walls, “I’m brighter than you all!” And indeed she is. Orange blossoms acquiesce. Spring in Johannesburg.
I’m not a morning person, but at this time of year I open my curtains to the bougainvillea over the neighbour’s back wall, and immediately – despite unexpected clouds – the day is a better place. In keeping with this wild city, colours are rioting.
“I feel like you want to be everywhere,” someone once said to me. And she was right. Not in the sense of wanting to be involved in everything, but rather needing to have a sort of holistic view of things. That necessitated getting around in a way. “The more places you are, the sharper, quicker, and more flexible you become,” says Mike. But I wonder if that’s true. Perhaps in flitting about, you just spread yourself thin, with very little real commitment to anyone or anything. Now I like to dip into different things, but I know where home is.
Carlos Coffee Shop, Sunday afternoon
“What are you studying?”
“Psychology: psychometrics” [the science of measuring mental capacities and processes, says the Concise Oxford].
“Easier to study here?”
“I’ve got three kids at home,” she says. “And hard to stop myself from being distracted by straightening a picture… taking out the laundry. But at night we all sit round the dining-room table with our books. The sixteen-year-old, fourteen-year-old, nine-year-old, and me.”
I’m reading about Muizenberg, wayward township-by-the-sea, in the
They order. “One decaf skinny latte and one ordinary skinny latte please.”
Bet the coffee’s better than at home, too.
“We’re more like we used to be than we were before” says Jenny Moss. Says it all really. I have been thinking how she might say, “You’re not the person that I knew.” “We’re moving in different directions”, she did say. And she was right. Though it seemed to me that she was saying, “you’re changing into something different, something unfamiliar”. When in fact I am just returning to who I was before, before I entered something of a twilight zone. But it leaves us with little common ground apart from the twilight zone. We’re worlds apart really. Parallel realities.
Pritam once said something about the yin/yang balance in a relationship (any relationship)… that if one person takes on the role as ‘the nice one’, the other by default has to be the villain in order to keep the balance. Makes perfect sense to me. How did I get into this argument, with someone I don’t even know? But in truth I’ve found her tone of sweetness and light very unreal from the moment I read anything she wrote. She in turn would probably say it’s because I’m such a horrible person. I wonder what business I had with her.
Caroline Myss talks about how when you don’t belong in a place, you will always be invisible. I suspect you know the feeling. Year in and year out you’re somewhere, and your efforts/contributions never get appreciated. And then suddenly one day you go somewhere else, and you’re
. Recognised as talented and valuable. Because somehow the resonance and harmonics are right, we’re on the same wavelength. And then you turn a corner, and oops… don’t belong in this neighbourhood. Good to be reminded, and withdraw graciously next time. Doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but there’s space for us all somewhere.
The great thing about associating with writers, is their use of language. People with vocabulary! And a poetic way of using it. What a joy to have a conversation with someone and have to go away and refer to the dictionary. After years with politicos, and their endless “tranparency”s and “accountability”s (yuck), it’s such a pleasure. David refers to my e-mail fwds… “Andie’s e-mail motif,” he says.
“I used to love his work,” says Alex “but more latterly…”
People who say, “as Auden said” or “as Proust said”, rather than “as Marx said” or “as Chomsky said”! Bye-bye Karl. Hello…
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