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The Writing Mill The Writing Mill
by Abigail George
2011-06-09 07:36:16
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By using my powers of observation as a child; that’s how the English language, verse, the rhythm and internal rhyme of words came to me, came at me from the symmetry of my gut. Growing up the eldest of three children, my father drilled ‘responsibility is key when it comes to your younger siblings’ into the fabric of my mind. I always wrote. I had diaries in which I would bare the darkest secrets of my soul when I was a girl. I keep journals even now. I love the stream of consciousness writing that comes from journalling. I love putting staccato-like pencil to paper, watching the vast wilderness of your consciousness unfold within the demonstrative blossoming sight of your imagination. I do write full time and I’m a workaholic. Everything is a process. Writers and poets by nature are sensitive and intuitive. I don’t know if this happens with all writers from other countries but I do know this. African writers write in blood. It’s in the ladders of their genes. If I said, ‘I don’t like to talk about my new work. It means I’m getting ahead of myself.’ What would that mean; that I’m arrogant, think highly of myself, that I’m above other writers and poets? Humility continually cuts a writer’s ego down to size. I’m constantly thinking aloud about whatever I’m working on and I have to make notes. I think if I told you what I was working on, I don’t think you’d completely believe me. My memoirs, another prose poetry book is in the works, I am constantly writing or working on ideas for short fiction. The medium of being published online has certainly afforded me a lot of opportunities (that I wouldn’t have had otherwise) and for that I will eternally be grateful for generous, hardworking editors who work behind-the-scenes who have given me ‘lucky’ breakthroughs and for those who have published my work in print.

That is a very difficult question for me to answer. I am most comfortable with the genre of memoir when I am in that frame of mind. It’s when I feel I have the most freedom to speak my mind, to write as I please with no one telling me what to do, wanting to change this or that. When it comes to writing poetry, haiku, prose poetry I am like a caged bird when I’m in that frame of mind. When I am most inspired, I am also most lost. There am I, changing the structure of a sentence, taking a phrase out, self-editing, editing, editing. It’s never going to perfect but to me it has to be as close as I can get. And if it isn’t perfect then I feel that I’ve failed somehow in a way.

I would like to try my hand at writing science fiction. ‘Mr. Goop’ inspired me. Ivor W. Hartmann’s story that won the Baobab Prize a few years ago.

Above all read African writers, read everything you can lay your hands on but most of all be you. In the end, the only thing that matters is between you and your God, truth and beauty, love and mourning, nothing and everything, faith and light. The continent that has inspired so many generations before you; will inspire other poets and writers and will continue to inspire you and I’ve been there. I’ve had pieces of work that have been rejected, ripped apart by a ‘glassy-eyed’ editor, so will you. It will not be, is not the end of the world.

Corruption doesn’t discriminate. No one is immune to it. Every one is fair game whether you’re connected to high ranking politician or a powerful family or working in local government. Miners’ working under deplorable conditions is nothing new. Alan Paton wrote about that in, ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ and this engrossing book has now been around for decades. It is now part of school curriculums.

The mines in South Africa have been part of the fabric of the consciousness, the landscape of this country since the inner workings of apartheid were put into motion. Nothing has changed and yet it seems on the surface that everything has. You hear about these stories everyday and you become so desensitised to it and at the end of the day you realise that there is nothing really that you can do constructively, except keep the faith that things will gradually move off by itself in the direction from the worst of conditions to the better.

Of course, my heart bleeds for them, those miners. They’re only human. They have families, wives and children. But that’s not the first things people see when they open up a newspaper in the morning with their coffee. To them, the miners, employment is employment is employment (they see it as nothing else) and that is why education is so important. It shouldn’t be addressed or implemented as a ‘just cause’.

The sensitive and emotionally mature amongst us will not shy away from issues of the day that has to be addressed, not just for the sake of addressing them. To change anything today is a revolutionary mission but it is one that begins with clarity of vision, equality, respect and recognition of communities at the grass roots level slipping into being. (I hope I have answered your question to the best of my ability. Please feel free to continue with this line of discussion. You’re opening up the void of a black hole.)

No and I must say this with huge emphasis. Service delivery in the rural areas, the townships where unemployment is high, skills development is low is non-existent and so far nothing is forthcoming from the government of the day except it seems empty promises when local government elections roll around. There is crime, criminal syndicates operating in the major cities. Clean, running tap water, sanitation, waste removal and electricity should be high on the priority list because it concerns the poorest of the poor; the majority of the population is living in squalor, slums, raising their children, families literally on bread and water. What kind of society treats its most vulnerable citizens in such an unjust way? Children are raising children. Sisters and brothers are playing the role of the absent parent in their younger siblings' lives and that is the travesty, the legacy of HIV/AIDS has left behind in its wake.

Xenophobia is a large scale diabolical injustice in South Africa. It is pure evil what the human race is capable of doing physically, emotionally and mentally to one another. It is unnatural and disturbing to see this level of poverty, crime and death in the aftermath of the 'Rainbow Nation' and ‘African Renaissance'. People are selfish, self-absorbed and self-indulgent but what they don't realise is that the world doesn't owe them anything. We are so consumed by money, cars, employment, visions of glory and wealth and personal success. You have to make your own way in this world even though mountains like punishment and stage fright are staring you down, at every turn, every corner with snake eyes.

The world we are living in today is a world filled with madness, wide-open despair and it is like a fire tugging at your heartstrings, the pathways of nerves that connect to your consciousness; the effects, the black head of depression and mental illness are everywhere to see. Its existence can no longer be furiously hidden away from view and denied. On the outside everything glitters but inside there is still urgency for bittersweet freedom and a living, breathing self-awareness, I feel, for this nation.

I didn’t deliberately set out to leave apartheid out or not write about it. In the end, it just happened that way. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Only when I began this conversation with you, did I realise just how much of a role I played as a ‘witness’ to this/these heinous crime/s committed, in the name of the law of the land of this country, at the time when apartheid was what people were thinking was triumphing over the weak, the infirm, the destitute at its peak.

Apartheid deserves a book all on its own. One subject under the sun that I feel I will take on as I mature more and more as a writer. It will be challenging. There is so much rage, sorrow, a visceral disconnect between people who were the ‘priviledged minority’ during apartheid and then there were the ‘shamed minority’ living stuck in the trenches of poverty and death. There are a lot of things, themes of the South Africa that I knew as a child that I left out of it (the poetry book), when I look back on the book in retrospect. Yes, you’re right. So much more could have been said, perhaps I should have spoken about it, the life experience of a majority living in a case of perpetual state of feeling anxious, humiliated to the core, self-conscious and apartheid closed in on me, every facet, aspect and abstract of my childhood, adolescence and youth. Not just me but an entire country. On the one hand it was flourishing and on the other it was a complete paradigm shift; in other words, infinite good on the one side versus resident evil. I did not want to state the negative, the negative, the negative over and over again because it was omnipresent in every sphere, realm, empire, castle wall, ivory tower that apartheid was built on. If I had a book of hellish negatives (as a writer you can’t work in that oppressive and claustrophobic realm, I mean, I can’t deliver what I feel to be my very best work) how would people be drawn to it, was what I asked myself over and over again?

Thinking about it I am glad I did not pay any sort of ‘homage’ to apartheid in my first book. The market here (South Africa) is saturated with books on that subject. No one talks about Africa, the continent, the people, the inhabitants in a way that I feel I do in my first book. I’m happy with the book but can any writer or poet really say that they’re completely happy or that they feel it’s finished-ish? You always want to go back and change something and there is always something you’re not happy with in the end, but in a way it is also liberating to feel that way.

The end


   
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