Flowing Forward, Looking Back.- A refreshing interruption.
I was introduced to this touch-tag relay by Ashen Venema, whose blog and website is Course of Mirrors where she posts serene and stimulating reflections on what catches her thoughts. In that sense her title is apt (although it is also the title of her novel soon to be published). She is a flashing mirror that concentrates light on an area and helps it catch fire. I never fail to draw something new and quietly inspiring from her occasional posts and beautiful photographs.
I have always avoided blog tours partly because just thinking about waving myself or my book through a daily marathon is exhausting, and its self importance seems inescapable. (Guest posts are different; they seem a kind of marriage of interests.) But I can do it once (and willingly) when writing binds me to others and paying it forward prevails rather than self-promotion. An opportunity to highlight the generous community of writing friends was much more attractive-so this blog baton now falls to me, en passant.
What am I working on?
Right now I work to distract myself from the tarnish of achievement, much more aware of the tarnish than the achievement. Involution- the book just published, has written my life, gone through a series of incarnations, until it cried ‘Enough already’ and forced me to be reconciled both to my inadequacy for the task, and to the compromises that reconciliation required. It forced nose-to-grindstone and whole nights of sleepless note-making (and moments of wondrous uncorrected flow),until it was finally finished. Five years it took to refresh historic research and write; but since publishing I have been beached, like a cuttlefish, empty of inspiration.
To find a structure to the day I am digging out former short stories of both African, and European encounters (Minding the Gap between Old and New World attitudes) and writing blog posts that reveal my restless examination of why the bleedin book chose me ( when there were so many others, better equipped). I am searching through the equivalent of the sock-drawer for answers. The prosaic socks are like fragments of clothes, once loved; my grandparents and their grand disdain for the ordinary; my children and the education they afforded me (instead of the other way round); the country that first nurtured independence and bloody-minded refusal to accept given answers; and above it all, the wonder of the English language in which to convey all this.
My life was written by a book, and nothing in that life was irrelevant. When I have finished sorting I might find an answer, and from that answer new inspiration. Meanwhile this naked life is all relevant to the book’s domination of its author! Those of you who have ventured into the African Quilt posts (below) may have wondered why they were written- blame the hair-shirt itch of the book and pinning its provenance.
How does it (the book or the writing in general) differ from other works?
I think this fence is best taken at a gallop. The history of science written as poetry? Creative non-fiction? I don’t think I need define how this book differs. The ‘why’ is perhaps more interesting. First because the real subject is what lies behind the scaffolding of science—the cathedral of consciousness. Close-knit prose weighted with the necessary evidence would have obscured that subject. Economy: the science is familiar, but used as evidence for a different hypothesis- that science itself has been the recovery of that cathedral, memory through inspiration. Also, addressed to those willing to embrace subjective experience- unlikely to be scientists in the main. Finally, because I have lived with this book for so long and our marriage needed spicing up; the moment I wrote poetically it flowed, impressionistic, broad-brush, and I could tuck the necessary evidence in left brain endnotes. I hoped to entertain; a few readers are beginning to appreciate that. It is not as ‘worthy’ as it may look!
I must now confess to a phobia: I hate being bored by the prosaic or predictable, and the idea of boring other people, and that includes readers. This phobia is now taking the form of searching for a new economy that will not mean minimalism. The richness of language is my greatest joy, using it like a human hand, a tool to shape any kind of construction, hopefully without leaving any traces of effort. Recently that has meant narrative poetry, economical words to tell tall tales. Involution is a poetic journey through Western scientific history, and another work, A Shadow in Yucatán is a simple (and tragic) story, mythical in its echoes , that recaptures not only what happened to the main character, Stephanie, but what happened to the glory of the sixties in which she lived, betrayed by indifference to its promises. Her story was a kind of magnifying fractal of her (and my most fondly remembered) age.
All my work is about eccentrics, or mavericks, individuals rejected, but in their own ways, heroic, courageous outcasts. I seek to sketch them in universal terms, so that what remains (I hope) is the familiarity of recognition, not of their circumstances but their resilience in which the unique calls out and reflects the hunger for meaning ( and meeting). The individual is the face in the fractured mirror, finding itself.
My writing process?
This is much more difficult to answer. I can tell more about what it isn’t than what it is. I have an idea, it might take shape in a dream, in which a whole story is encapsulated, atmospherically. Sometimes there are small details to launch a story, often no more than a smear of sympathy for something not yet formed.
It feels like a current persuading me to swim, so I wade out.
What then happens is the current gathers strength, and tows me into a tide. On a good day, and sometimes for whole weeks, I dive and surf that tide, and follow characters that swim with me, and signal for attention. Sometimes they simply wade out and dry their hair, and the story is done, or they are no longer important and it continues with others. Always the characters take hold of the story, and gain weight, and speak in ways over which I have little influence. Mostly I like them, a lot, but even when I cannot, I come to understand them, and their inhibitions, and if they are smaller people than the ones I like, I try to offer them chances to grow. When they resist it gets explosive, and as surprising as shouting in a cricket pavilion: it should not happen, but it does. Those who read ‘how to write’ books will know this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. I have to be ‘grabbed’ I cannot contrive.
I cannot plan their adventures; they always have ideas of their own. One I am working on at the moment started with a man shaving in a shack in a wood in Vermont. That was very inconsiderate of him, since I have never been to Vermont.
Why do I write what I do?
Involution excepted ( that grabbed me by the collar) I have never thought this through exactly. I think what and how I write is distilled from the things I love, language, people, individuality, and how they reflect the natural world. I like to expose their life, like hatching out ducklings, and watch them waddle and then swim, some better than others.
None of this leads to any continuity, or building a career, because nothing I write follows upon anything else. A reader who might be engaged with one work, will not necessarily read another. Genre and ‘career’ do not find purchase, unfortunately.
This is an obvious disability in a writer, and suggests indifference to readers, but this is rather like suggesting that a cook who has perfected a good lasagne should cook only lasagne, or merely introduce sun-dried tomatoes or anchovies. I suppose everything I write is a form of exploration, of myself and what I feel about what’s happening on the page, and the changing skies of vision. I hope to offer that vision to a reader, as I would meet each person at a party, to present an aspect that might interest them. Different stories wear different clothes, changing language, altered mood. I have never been able to do anything twice.
I am reminded of an interaction; I was once in full spate talking to someone I had only just met. A third person entered the room and said ‘This sounds interesting, what were you talking about?’ Silence followed. He looked at me.
‘Ask her’ I suggested ‘she was listening’.
If you are doing the talking (as a writer) it is only the listener (the reader) that knows what you were talking about and if it met their interests enough to linger or disagree.
That’s enough about me.
My introduced baton followers are:-
Loretta Proctor who first offered me sage advice on the perilous slopes of self-publishing, and continues to reassure me. She has boldly published several novels, blogs, tours and talks without a petticoat of doubt ever showing. We are also linked by a shared genetic connection to Elizabeth Barrett Browning- on opposites sides of her fierce parental forge. I think Loretta got the gentler side (farming and dairies), whereas mine was that slave driver from whom EBB fled at dawn.
Loretta is an Anglo-Greek, born in Cairo, Egypt. Her dual nationality led her to question the theme of belonging to two different and diverse cultures. From this quest came her first published novel: The Long Shadow, set in WW1 Greece, in which the ‘hero’ is also Anglo Greek and makes an odyssey to discover himself. This book is now also being published in Greece and will be out in November 2014. She has since written three more books, the latest, Dying Phoenix a sequel to The Long Shadow. She loves nature and spiritual poetry, art and beautiful gardens. Her blog (Books and Other Things) and all her books can be found here.
Joanna Sormunen I encountered more recently and so much enjoy her courage and passion for the work she does, and the enthusiasm for the landscape and people so far from her home. Her recipes (Finnish tiger cake!) show that longing is present, however. Food always remembers.
Joanna Sormunen is a Finn living in Ecuador. She writes a blog called Ecuador Joannan silmin – Ecuador in my eyes, while writing her novel and searching a publisher for it. She is a ‘psycho-pedagogist’, or a special education teacher, and works for the Finnish Free Evangelical Church in their mission with Kichwa indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazonian region. She is fascinated by their culture and Ecuador in general and wants to document it all in her blog and in her photography.
Susan Scott, a fellow South African who walks the very streets and beaches I long for, has been like finding an old friend that seems familiar. She lives where I can imaginatively call in for a coffee under a Jacaranda and holidays where I can hardly bear to imagine, so hard do the waves crash upon the rocks of nostalgia. Through that familiarity her blog and mine are almost twins, comforting twins who remember the same things, slightly differently, and not a few years apart! Her recent A-Z challenge for posts shared with another Jungian friend are all pithy reflections on a variety of topics.
She offers a verbal ‘selfie’:
‘I’ve lived in Johannesburg South Africa for the last 35 years or so. Is it home? – a question I always ask myself. For most of my life I’ve had a fascination with psyche and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness, dreams as treasure house. The opposites are ever present in life and impact negatively upon us when e.g. we are too fixed on an extreme of the pole. The necessary paradox of them, and their drive towards a closer relationship between non-exclusionary opposites is what is inter alia of interest to me.
I’ve been blogging for the last 3 years, tentatively at first and now more regularly. More recently I took part in the April 2014 A-Z Blog challenge (and last year); this year with Dr. Susan Schwartz, Jungian Analyst in Phoenix Az. We used this year’s challenge to write on ‘Aging & Becoming’. Each letter of the alphabet from A-Z for each day during April except for Sundays, was represented. ‘A’ for Attitude, ‘B’ for Body, ‘D’ for Death etc right through to ‘Z’ for Zero. Our posts were psychological, as have been most of my posts in times past. The 2 Susans are currently writing a book on ‘Aging & Becoming’ and it is by no means a ‘how to’ book. It is a psychological look at Aging – and Becoming.
(Links to the 2014 A-Z blog challenge can be viewed under ‘categories’ further down on right hand side bar.)
I love hiking and walking and the sense of my body inhabiting different spaces in different scapes. I love being at the sea, the bush, the mountains and here at home feeling a part of it all. I read voraciously, one of life’s greatest pleasures. I have two beloved adult sons each self-employed in the arts and loving every moment of it. The younger is a musician, the elder an animator. My hard working husband is a medical specialist.