Thursday, January 26, 2012

Six weeks in Australia and little time for writing but after arriving back in Lilongwe three days ago I am beginning to catch up.

A Spiritual Life has more thoughts -

and so does Blantyre Street, my blog on Malawi -

It is satisfying to get the words out and down although there is also an ephemeral quality to it all, a pushing out into the cosmic void of creativity. As I have said before, perhaps the creative act is enough and having another consciousness focus on the words is largely irrelevant, however appealing it may be.

I have also been keeping up with my 'small stones' and that blog grows longer by the week. Thought made manifest in word. Probably it is mediocre poetry but it is poetry all the same and it is a creative expression.

I've never known a yesterday

I've never known a yesterday,
it's something in my mind,
just as tomorrow never comes;
today is all I find.

It is interesting returning to writing poetry after so very many years away. In some respects it suits me more than prose - the creative liberty which comes with poetry is liberating. But perhaps I have too many blogs and really need to condense them into one which reflects me. If there is such a thing. And probably there is not and probably it does not really matter.

The painting is also mine and I plan to get back to painting next week having brought back some new oils. I have also brought back some knitting materials and a tapestry - spread the creative joy around I say.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Deep down

in the sullen socks of Self

I see my truth rubbed raw,

in holes of irritation,

in stretched unfeeling threads

which pull upon

my trodden dreams

in ancient, aching dread.
Excerpt: Thunder Above: Thunder Below

Two days later and we have gone back in time the ten hours necessary for our body clocks to adjust to African as opposed to Australian time. We are up at five to get to the airport for the nine-thirty flight, having been warned that long queues and slow check-ins make it necessary to allow two if not three hours grace. The terminal is a crush of people and bags and the Luanda check-in has the longest queue I have ever seen. It does not seem possible that so many people and bags could fit on one plane. But, as in India, there are some things it is best not to ponder for long. I can only hope the African equivalent of puja is at work and there will be enough prayers and marigolds to keep overloaded planes flying safely.
The flight takes some three hours and is longer than it should be because the war has made most of Angolan air space dangerous. We come in from the south, out of Namibia, tracking down the coast and well away from rebel-held areas and any threat of missiles. Even so most landings are done as a spiral descent in order to make it harder for missiles to find their mark.
In that first glimpse Angola whispers of home, with  its dry red earth and a scratch of trees spreading  lazily toward far horizons. It is not long before Luanda lifts her weary head from the waste of powdered sand, looking like some dusty spread of stone and wreckage, cast carelessly along an erratic coast.  Through the aircraft window it has the grainy look of an old and tattered photograph or a barely focused magazine image of yet another dirt-shrouded African city. 
It also reminds me of Bombay, with the same sprawl of thin-shouldered shanties huddling miserably around the swollen belly of the city. Poverty looks much the same anywhere but a closer look reveals that at least here the poor are able to  build in cement rather than cardboard.  
Luanda takes its name from an island that today forms part of the city area, Loanda, meaning ‘flat land.’ The island had no mountains and was originally comprised only of sand that shifted with the tides and the flow of the nearby Kwanza river.  It is this red sand , the musseques, that crumbles into unstable gullies when the rains come.  In that respect it is good that the rains do not come often, although when they do they are merciless, tearing through the talc-like soil with fierce, liquid teeth.     Not only homes but lives are sucked into that turbulent drench.
 The airport is noisy and crowded, a roiling mass of  exuberant greetings and raised voices. Again I am reminded of India, with the same damp-mould tang to the air and dishevelled appearance of the arrivals hall. But here there are less people. There are always less people than India, no matter how big the city and Luanda is not particularly big. A few million people, that is all, although numbers ebb and flow because of the refugees from  the war that still rages in the interior and the land-mine littered earth  which once they farmed,  but which now brings only a harvest of death.
Angola, one of Africa’s largest countries,  was once a ‘bread basket’ for this continent; a rich and productive land that was the envy of many.  But the war has put paid to that. Now most of the food is flown in, at two or three times the price, of course, for that is the way of war  and of supply and demand in desperate times.
We queue for slow, hot minutes that threaten to turn into slower, hotter, draining  hours. Water drips down from ancient air conditioners and the air is heavy with sweat and humidity.  The toilet door stands ajar and through it can be seen the grime of unwashed walls and pools of dusty water.   The voices are raised high, the queue through customs is long and the wait seems endless. Luckily, after only ten minutes,  someone comes to meet us and we are taken through almost immediately.
With bags collected we follow the creaking, overloaded trolleys through the door and then push our way through the clamour of the waiting crowd which crushes in noisy confusion against metal barriers. If I am struck by anything it is that at first sight the people look healthy. Once more I am making comparisons with India, where disease and malnutrition wreak ageless havoc. One thing I do notice though,  is that there are quite a few men, young and old, missing limbs; the legacy of  war. But I can see no beggars. Just looking at the faces I have a sense that these people are proud. There are many things that they would do before they would beg.
 Are they proud because they know how to survive? These are people who have only recently been able to believe in peace after enduring one of the world’s worst wars. They are also the same people who survived what was perhaps the worst war of all … slavery!  For it was from here that so very many of the slaves came, part of the human river that flowed  in that time of shame from Africa to the Americas.  This was the departure point of the Kwata! Kwata! … the wars waged to capture slaves. It was also the assembly and loading point for slave ships bound for the plantations of the New World.
But the Europeans did not invent slavery in Africa, they merely drew upon an ancient tradition which recognised a value in humans as a commodity. Whether captured in war, bartered for money or handed over as compensation, the slave was a resource for Africans long before the first Europeans arrived and no more so than in Angola. Sadly, in some parts of Africa, slavery still exists, but here it is only a memory, albeit one that is mixed with the still-raw wounds of colonisation and civil war.  
These are people who have been enslaved, conquered and devoured by civil war.  It has been this way beyond memory and now, for the first time since the Portugese arrived in 1575, and perhaps even before, there is a chance of peace. How much people believe in it I have no way of knowing. What I do know is that it is difficult to believe in anything that we have not experienced, let alone imagine that it may be possible.
There is little in the way of written history in Africa and Angola is no exception. Much of what does exist,  was written by the Portugese,  but then history has always been written by the victors. They came, those first pale people from the north, in a fleet of seven ships carrying a hundred families of colonists and four hundred soldiers. For those on the shore watching the rock and sigh of those alien ships, there could have been no way of knowing what would grow from such  a small, and seemingly insignificant  beginning. 
 Ego is the nemesis of writers. Whether it is through judgement of Self, or judgement by others or judgement of peers there is an endless churning of doubt and dictate which despoils the writer's landscape.

Perhaps the truth is that writers suffer because they must. Perhaps published writers and successful writers suffer far more than the likes of the unpublished because they have so much farther to fall and the judgements are so much more powerful and destructive.

At the end of the day none of it matters in the scheme of life. There are far more important things than words on a page. Perhaps this is something we refuse to believe in our 'youth' and come to see as a truth as the years pass. Then again, I don't think I ever cared enough about 'success' or being published to really try hard. I have thought more than once that the realities of such a state would not suit me.

I look at young writers, well, optimum age writers, the magical thirties when publishers and agents salivate at the sight because they see profits writ large for what, yet another thirty or even forty years, working so hard to sell themselves - in fact, doing all the work which agents and publishers once did. There is an irony to it. Now it is harder to be published, and harder to be successful in any literary or marketing sense simply because there are so many people now writing, so many more people now writing, and so many more being published online. A wealth of 'riches' or a bounty of mediocrity? Perhaps a bit of both.

I suppose if one enjoys the process of desperately trying to prove one's self as a writer then all is well and good but it looks exhausting and so time-consuming and far, far less glamorous than beavering away in dusty poverty as writers once did, hoping eventually to be discovered.

Perhaps I am a cynic. After decades in journalism and the media I look at how excited people get about having something 'published' in a blog and think - 'it really does not mean that much.' Or rather, it means no more than having someone read what you have written on a site like this. Many of the literary blogs are 'friendfests' as is much of what passes for 'reviews' of one's work - it is in essence meaningless. But then no less or more meaningless than the blurbs which appear on the backs of books, raked up from co-operative acquaintances, colleagues or peers and posing as substantial positive when it is no more than propaganda.

Does any of it matter? Not really. A writer's life is largely solitary so however one finds support, communication, contact does not really matter. It is all a part of the modern way of writing and 'publishing' for those who are not considered marketable enough by the publishers who really count.

However, having said all that, modern technology has given us the opportunity to be read by at least one other person in a way which was rarely possible when writing ended up in drawers, cupboards and boxes under the bed.

But I would still practise caution for those who play the game; and it is a game! Blogs, whether personal or literary create the illusion that we are being seen, that our writing matters, that we are somehow published and there is some truth in that. But deep down, in the sullen socks of Self, we know it is not true.....