Friday, September 30, 2011

Writing Prompt Three: Dottie

Another writing prompt. This one I struggled with and I think the story is a little silly, but I don’t have the energy to write/think of another and I want to do them all, to complete the full thirteen prompts, as tempted as I was to just ignore this one. Historical figures are not my forte and so I did cheat slightly – I’m not sure she really falls under “historical”.

My mother never thought I’d amount to anything. It’s not really expected, you see, for imps to amount to anything, so my mother’s attitude was not unreasonable. I, however, had other ideas and from when I was knee-high to a flea and scribbling poems in my tiny imp diary, knew that I’d prove her wrong. My goal – to use a human to take me to greatness, even if it was unrecognised greatness, my mum would know it was me, and that’s what mattered.

Imps are, essentially, set on this earth to be, well, impish. We were of the New Jersey Imps, a particularly good breed, if I may say so myself, known for impishness pertaining most often to baking. That cake that flopped in the middle and tasted soapy? Probably one of my uncles, swapping the baking powder for washing powder. Not that we were only into baking, we did the common garden imp stuff like hide one sock behind the couch too. I, however, wanted more.

Luckily, I grew up under the floorboards of a Manhattan apartment lived in by the Rothschild’s, a family prone to tragedy with a daughter who they referred to as “difficult”, Dorothy. She was indeed difficult, but I knew I could make her clever and witty and so I moved in, just behind her right ear and started reciting my poetry to her. She wrote them down, my poems, thinking they were hers.

As she grew into a feisty woman, I started giving her my one-liners too, and watched how people laughed and called her “ascerbic”. She got our poems published, we ran with an artistic crowd, she fell in love, over and over, married three times (I can’t claim that as my doing, I was the poetry, the wit, she was the passionate lover.)

I also can’t claim to be responsible for her political aspirations or views, imps are just not into politics. I could’ve done without having to be arrested with her that day in Boston but there you have it: the joys of being an invisible imp behind a famous person’s ear.

Also, I tried so very hard to make her happy. I thought my funny, witty one-liners would perk her up and that our poems, despite them not being of a frivolous nature, would make her smile, but she was a dark soul and the drinking didn’t help. All through those suicide attempts I was fearful, and sad, and became inspired by it in my (her) poetry.

I got her notoriety though, and recognition, and almost an Oscar, twice, and, most importantly, I showed my mother that I could (under cover) make something of myself, despite being a tiny, invisible imp behind somebody’s ear.

If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide,
If cool my heart and high my head
I think "How lucky are the dead."

Dorothy Parker

Prompt 3: Choose your favorite historical figure and imagine if he/she had been led to greatness by the promptings of an invisible imp living behind his or her right ear. Write a story from the point of view of this creature. Where did it come from? What are its goals? Use research to make your story as accurate as possible.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Writing Prompt Two: The lake

Further to my writing block deblocker challenge, here’s my second attempt. The city has again wrapped its little fingers around me and is leaving me feeling slightly deflated or, rather, paralysed when it comes to writing. Here goes:

It was one of those grey days that wraps itself around you like a damp shawl. The mist hovered over the lake and twirled amongst the bulrushes around its edges. Next to the path the trees rustled and whispered to each other, telling the secrets of the night before in the early morning coolth. It was strangely quiet and perfectly still, as if even the birds had burrowed back into their nests on seeing the chilled mist.

The man walking along the path looked young, but wasn’t. He walked slowly, struggling slightly with two plastic bags from a grocery shop in town filled with something heavy. Around his neck hung four brightly-coloured ropes that made him look as if he were about to be part of something fun. But he wasn’t.

He walked out along the wooden jetty where he’d fished as a child, the worn planks familiar beneath his feet, and sat down at the end, his legs splayed in front of him, the heavy bags between them. Threading the ropes through the plastic bags he sighed, an exhalation of pure relief that joined the swirling mist.

Once the bags were tied, firmly but not too tightly, he stood up and shuffled awkwardly to the edge of the jetty and looked down into the clear water while inhaling the earthy smell of the tiny gardens of moss on the jetty’s edge. He looked up, smiled, and stepped off, sinking rapidly to the muddy floor where he rested, still smiling and looked up through the water, watching his air bubbles rise, to see a milky sun pushing its arms through the mist, turning it golden.

As the sun poked through, the dull cries of the hadedas interrupted the stillness as they called their morning greetings to each other.

Prompt 2: Write a short scene set at a lake, with trees and shit. Throw some birds in there, too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart

There’s something really comfortable about reading a book that’s set in your home town. Finuala Dowling’s Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart is exactly that – comfortable. I read it in a day, and was sad when it was finished because I really liked the characters and I wanted to interact with them more.

You see, they’re real and believable and imperfect, like us all. And they’re living in my world, well, just down the road from my world, but in places that are familiar and doing things that are equally as familiar and flowing between happy and sad and disinterested and guilty-for-being-disinterested and tired and productive and just-bloody-getting-on-with-it, determinedly.

It’s essentially a book about a late-night radio presenter who is an ex-wife to a serial-cheating, unhappy and unfulfilled, pseudo-comedian; a mother to a daughter entering adolescence with an imagination that’ll save her (my favourite character); a daughter to her mother who’s falling into the heart-breaking clutches of dementia; a girlfriend to a guy with a surprising character not shown by his shell; and a landlady to an alcoholic friend who’s a psychic and a dreamer.

It’s written from all of their perspectives, with snippets from her mother’s guide to living, which includes the philosophy that a house must have dirt and mess to be lived in and loved. It also documents her mother’s decline into dementia and the messiness and disappointment and frustration that this devastating disease causes. But it’s not a depressing book about dementia, its real and raw and honest and about life and living it, mainly from the lead character’s perspective.

What I’d really love to do is invite all the characters over to my messy house and drink wine with them and discuss, honestly, the messiness of life as we know it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Soul music on a Saturday

Is there anything better than putting headphones on and feeling music coursing through your blood, through every cell of your body to each nerve ending, a soundtrack to life. The magic of hearing a song that makes your heart contract and your stomach do a somersault. I love it.

While in that magic place in the Karoo, the place where my heart swells-to-bursting, I heard a new band sing a new song (well, new to me) and loved it. I thought of them this week and did a bit of YouTubing, as one does. Yet again, the magic of the place followed me, throwing out this video, pumping hearts and all (headphones, top volume necessary. Feel it):

The complete joy of the song made me get G to drive with me, miles and miles through the blastedly depressing factory lands to get to the only place that had the only one of the CDs left in The City Beneath the Mountain and drive back, music blaring, windows open to our first Summer day's heat, and smile the smile of one who's found some music that hits the soul in one fell swoop. And there, in amongst it all, another song with perfect lyrics for my ever-expanding life soundtrack.

And then to our other ally, who came with us, for a cooling beer, where we drank the last bottle of that spring water brew from that magical place and began some serious plotting to get back there. Perfect Saturday afternoon of sunshine and magic and music to keep the deep red blood flowing through a strongly-beating heart with bass to kill for.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pavement conversations

It's one of those streets where The Beautiful People hang out, seeing, being seen, strutting. We were just passing along it, on our way between food and movie, when we heard G's name being called from across the road, an old university friend of hers. Introductions, hand-shaking, behind a sun-aged face, deep beneath a life-filled-with-stories, kind but desperate eyes. I could see he'd been good-looking, once upon a time, in a place far away from this.

We walked together along the narrow pavement, dodging the open drain on the right, careful not to fall off the ledge on the left, into the 5-o'clock traffic filled with irate people in their tin can cars hurrying home to their suburban lives. I listened to their conversation, one of those catching up after ten years, skimming the surface, and watched his skinny frame as he nervously rubbed his hands together.

He lives on the mountain, in the mountain and was on his way into town to beg. He's been their for six months and says he always knew it was where he'd land. "I'm bipolar and an addict." Straight-forward, simple, the facts, laid bare like a slaughtered pig on the narrow pavement.

We separated at the corner, us to go further down the road into a warm, delicious-smelling little Italian place for dinner, him further into the city. He asked for money, I couldn't say no, and as we handed it to him I saw the monster behind him grin and rub its hands in glee, a dark alley filled with smacked up grins. I wish I'd given him food.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I was left speechless by it. This, as you can imagine, does not happen often. Not only my being speechless, but a movie leaving me so. Skoonheid, a South African movie about a conservative Afrikaans man trapped in his conservative life. We stayed until all the credits had rolled and the lights were up. Speechless.

There is a generation of South African men who went to the army at 17 or 18 and saw and did things that no person should see or do, ever, let alone at that impressionable age. South African society (or a certain section of it), too, is known for its stoic conservatism. Men are men - they don't cry, the don't talk about things, they bring home the bread and protect their families and watch rugby and drink beer.

Skoonheid is about one such man, living "The Dream" in a conservative South African town - he has the wife, two daughters, a successful business, everything society expects from him. Only problem is that he is a closetted gay man who sees in one of his friend's young, beautiful son, something he wants. It is shot incredibly slowly, with minimal dialogue and a couple of toe-curlingly devastating scenes. The mindfuck comes in that you feel (or I did) sympathy for this man, even in a scene of such utter violence that you feel physically ill.

It is brilliant in its social commentary, the search for that abstract and fleeting beauty of youth, the danger of keeping it all in, the flaws in our society, laid bare. It being South African, it was all too familiar and that, I think, was why I was speechless. He could be my next door neighbour.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jumping in, heart beating wildly

I had a friend at university who was scared of everything, from tasting anything she didn’t recognise to throwing herself into love and everything in-between. I often wonder now, where she is with that.

My mother forced taught us as children that we were never to turn our noses up at food, until we’d tasted it. I am eternally grateful to her for that and have tried to put that philosophy in place with everything I do – from food, to visiting places to reading books to falling in love, and by falling in love I mean not only with lovers, but friends, places, things, all of it.

I live in fear of not doing things and gaining no experience. This has, of course, at times put me in line for looking like a fool, for heartbreak, for silliness, but I figure it’s all been for a good cause. Where would I be if I hadn’t thrown myself into the midst of a Spanish protest or into the arms of an unsuitable suitor? Somewhere else, that’s where. Somewhere with fewer stories, fewer scars on my heart that make it beat more breathily and with more urgency.

Because, yes, for sure, my heart still breaks at the thought of some of those loves – my first, the one that was never resolved, the one that I never actually met but had a deeper connection with than I have ever experienced who turned out to be married, the years-ago one that could never be – they all add up into the life force that runs through me and makes me believe, completely, that the heart break is worth it. And that kissing a wizard in a dark night club and going to places that make the heart swell and driving out into the open spaces is what makes the world go around and the stories sprout. Each experience a beautiful, magical thing.

So here’s to remembering this and keeping on falling in love with people, places, the world. Here’s to jumping in, arms flailing, heart in your hands… into the free-fall of life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Angry Shiny

Warning: This post is extraordinarily, self-indulgently, navel-gazily me-me-me.

I just realised something. I’m cross. Not just a little bit cross, but seethingly angry, as if my insides are snakes. On the outside I have my Shiny Suit on that makes me look just like Shiny – dark-haired, smiley, even-tempered and relatively good-natured. It’s just a shell, though, that looks like me. Inside the snakes are a-slithering.

I’m angry at everything, everybody, the world and its brother. There are a whole lot of different snakes, the work frustration, the other frustration, the admin pile, the unhappy pile, the other pile, etc… each a snake, slithering and sliding, snapping at each other’s tails, and me.

I know I need to get out, to get air, to breathe and at the same time I know I have to gain some kind of acceptance of where I am now but… I. Don’t. Want. To. That acceptance stuff all sounds like a bunch of self-help hoo-ey. And you know how I feel about self-help hoo-ey.

Instead, I’d like to lie on the floor and kick and scream and stop breathing until I’m blue in the face and then take a huge lungful of air, and scream some more. Which all sounds very adult and productive and, we all know, including me and my slithery snakes, that it probably wouldn’t make me feel any better anyway, so I shan’t subject the poor people around me to it.

Instead, I’ll keep hatching plans in my head, looking up into the sky and breathing, breathing, breathing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Desperate mecca

We drove in around the back, by mistake, past the big black bins oozing waste, past the back doors of the restaurants, past the chef with his greasy hair and nicotine-stained finger nails, puffing away sitting on the pavement. He didn't even look up, as we drove around the corner, into yet another non-descript parking lot filled with people hunting for bargains with fistsful of cash.

The thing that struck me first was the wierd silence, despite the people. Each little shop crammed full of shiny, plasticky stuff and "brand name" takkies, people inside quiet, the only sound some high-pitched Chinese pop music, as synthetic as the rows and rows of polyester panties and matching bras. Each shop with an owner sitting higher than the shop and one or two shop assistants, acting like they'd never seen each other, were strangers.

We stayed a while, until we both admitted to being overwhelmed by a sense of despair, this little shopping mecca had driven us down and we couldn't decide whether it was some kind of spiritual aura left in all that merchandise probably made in sweat shops behind closed doors, or if this was just the desperation of a displaced population seeping into us like damp, people living oh-so-far from home in a country with a strange language, trying so hard to make a living out of their sweat shop merchandise.

Chinatown. Not somewhere I'll be rushing back to. It did, however, make me want to pick fresh spring flowers and deliver bouquets to each of those sad, silent, people. To hand them over with a hug, and a kiss on the forehead.

Silence, here, is not golden

It’s not often I rear my head from its apathetic little resting place. No, that’s not true, I often rear my head but don’t often move my butt. On Saturday I did and it felt good to be shouting “Viva” with hundreds of other red,black and white-clad protesters marching against the new Secrecy Bill that is threatening to endanger our beautiful country’s freedom of speech.

There’s something about group action that turns the very air around a gaggle of protestors electric. It’s as if all the atoms are rubbing together from the heat of people’s anger and passion for something they truly believe in.

It was a beautiful, hot day and I’d overdressed, not having paid attention to The Weatherman’s forecast. Luckily there were people handing out little blue bags filled with water. I have to admit to us getting particularly juvenile with them, but what do you expect on a very hot day with passion in the air and tiny blue plastic bags of water you can bite and squirt like a water pistol?

Now we wait with bated breath to see if our protest not to be silenced fell on deaf ears.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Each year, without fail, I forget what a grumpy monster I turn into during the dark days of Winter. All I can say is thank the gods I don’t live in Europe with its way-too-long Winter, I might not have any friends at all if I did! Then, again without fail, Spring comes along and I feel the dark cloud lift and my personality starts wiggling around in the sun and I can feel the smile coming back.

This year is no exception. Our trip into the beautiful Karoo was the perfect celebration for the beginning of Spring – breathing fresh air, meeting new people, clearing the cobwebs from my head, opening me up to the newness of another Spring, all fresh and light-green-leaf-budded. Is there anything more beautiful than a tree in its new Spring dress?

And so, I’m welcoming it all, opening myself up to all that life can offer me, crawling out from the Winter darkness and blinking in the sunlight, its warmth on my face to the sky. I have had one of those weeks that have restored my faith in humankind. Despite having a momentary wobble (again) about privacy on this here blog, I reminded myself that it’s my stream of consciousness, be it egotistical, fantastical, or real, and I love it. I still claim my anonymity, even though it's not quite as anonymous as it used to be.

I’ve got back into watching movies, seen friends, met people, remembered my personality and (here I’m going to sound egotistical but I’m referring to the world, not my personality as such) it is good.

Happy Spring.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Handwritten letters

My mother and grandmother wrote to each other weekly, from the time my mother went to boarding school aged ten, until my grandmother died, aged 70-something. Those letters chronicled their lives and mine and… they threw them all out. What a pity. I would’ve loved to read them, a personal history from the 1950’s onwards, from two different perspectives. Now there would be a fabulous book. But they’re gone, those pages and pages of life, lovingly recorded.

I, too, have done my share of letter-writing and, unfortunately, letter-throwing out. I found a box of old letters the other day, though, and was reminded of the beauty of letters, specifically written, carefully folded, addressed and stuck with a licked stamp.

They were all handwritten, some posted with stamps on them and handwritten addresses (various, according to which stage of my life they were from), some notes that were just letters, hand-delivered, envelopeless – under doors, across desks, under windscreen wipers. They all filled me with nostalgic emotion, from ecstacy to melancholy and back. I miss handwritten letters.

And how I wish that I’d kept them all. I realise that kind of hoarding may result in me living in a house with tiny passageways made between boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’, but I’m not wishing to be logical here. What a beautiful record they are, of lives lived, loves loved, hearts broken and hearts mended.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Case of the Missing Of

I don't get it. What happened to the lovely little word OF? Somebody seems to have murdered it or, perhaps, just kidnapped it. Is there a ransom we could pay, to get it back? I am pretty sure we could gather together enough people here in Blogland and maybe even in the Real World, who would happily donate a couple of cents/pence/pesetos to the cause and get the poor tyke back. I really miss him, even though he's small, he has a big, um, presence.

Are you with me, people, or have I lost you with this one? I have been told that I can, on occassion, be a bit obscure. I don't mean to, it just happens that way. I am perfectly up-to-date with what I'm talking about, I'm on the same page as me, so I'd expect everybody else to be. Perhaps I'm expecting too much. Reading that back I'm thinking I should be really glad that I'm the same page as me. Imagine if I wasn't? Shudder. Sometimes, I'm not. But I digress. Back to the lovely OF.

To explain, can I just give you an example of a sentence I read this morning:

House big enough, with plenty bathrooms and rooms to make a group visit comfortable.

The poor OF so blatantly left out. I thought perhaps it was just an omission (these things happen) but then... I stumbled across TWO more sentences that had left it out. Chilling, isn't it? Has some wierdo made off with OF?

Hatching a plan

So, there I was thinking. Not an unusual thing for me, perhaps even “too usual.” I was thinking of the surrealism of it, the difference between this world I live in, here in the city, and the one I long for, there under the wide sky. Trying to rid myself of the feeling of suffocation that it is (has always) instilled in me.

The thing is that it is so hard to quantify. I do love it here, too, of course. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t (or would I?)… It is beautiful, I am blessed with mountains and sea and vineyards and wonderful friends, what more could I ask for? To be rid of the claustrophobia, that’s what. I am trying hard not to be whingy and ungrateful, because I have so much to be grateful for. I’m just struggling with it.

I keep looking out of my window, like those sad penguins at the aquarium staring out of their glass cage to the sea beyond, and wishing for that big sky, that fresh air, that magic. The magnetism of that place seems to pull more each time I go there, until, at some point, it will become impossible to ignore. At some stage, I get the feeling that I will be pulled back there, even if I try to stay.

G felt it too. We’ve decided it’s time to hatch a plan, to get it right, to make it work. We're aiming for next Autumn, and I'm putting this in writing because, well, then it'll be more tangible.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An aside

Did you see what happened there? I went into the Karoo and the stories just tumbled out of me, are tumbling out of me. And I'm loving the writing, not having to force myself like I have been for the past few months, they're just there, pouring out, unstoppable.

I'm sitting in my lounge, in the House in the Middle of the Street, watching the sun set over the mountain and hearing so much city noise and missing the stillness of that place out there, under the huge sky, where the biggest noise is the hadedas coming home to roost in the evenings.

Across the road, through the gate, I have just watched a woman park her car on the pavement, get out, and place five tiny vases, each with a different, also tiny, bouquet of flowers in it, on a tray. The magic continues. The question is just how to keep it going...