Stories are only stories because something happens in them and because whatever happens is either for good or for bad. Seemingly neutral events may serve only to prop up the story or keep it going in the right direction, like the railroad track for a train. But then even that is either positive or negative, depending on the direction.
To use electricity as an analogy – an electrical stream can only flow between points of differing electrical charges, e.g. from negative to positive. Similarly, a story line flows from problem to solution to new problem, etcetera. No story can exist without a problem. No worries means no stories.
Crime novels need crime, otherwise what would be the sense? Solving the crime is what makes a great story. Murder She Wrote has no raison d’etre without murder.
In the same way, romance novels owe their existence to the most basic of mathematical problems: one plus one. Does it make two? Is there another one? What if you add one and subtract another one? It is a simple mathematical proposition that can be expanded and expounded, philosophised, tied in algebraic knots, embroidered and unravelled to the heart’s content. The essence of a story.
Tragedies and travels, adventures and adversities, they are all the building blocks of storytellers. Whether it is the world that needs saving or merely a damsel in distress, no hero has a right to existence if nothing ever goes wrong. It may not be altogether true that artists need pain and suffering to drive their creative machines, but it does contain a drop of wisdom.
So cheer up, dear hearts! You may just have found another answer to the questions that have kept philosophers, theologians and existentialists occupied for aeons.
Why is there suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? To give storytellers something to do, of course! Because if there were no worries, neither would there be any stories.
Since I am now also a gardener, you will have to excuse the occasional, and occasionally frequent, references to all things green and growing. Or green and not growing. Or growing and not so green. It is amazing where the mind can wander while the body is pushing a lawnmower or pulling out weeds. It is a kind of meditation.
Gardening is a bit like writing. Take weeding, for example. No matter the precautions you take in laying down weed mat or spraying with herbicide or piling up the mulch, weeds will be. No matter your resolution to write cleanly and clearly and in your own unique voice, nasties will surely creep in. Those weedy things like adjectives and passive voice and clichés, self-conscious sentences and look-how-clever-I-am phrases and embarrassing dialogue. Turn your back for one moment and they come up like, well, like weeds.
Never think you’re too clever to edit. Those tiny sprouts greening your garden bed? The lawn looking so lush in places? Look closely, they may just be weeds. Don’t show off your new garden before you’ve done some weeding; it could lead to serious embarrassment.
On the other hand, just to be contrary, don’t take any editing advice without a pinch of salt. Genius is knowing when to break the rules creatively. A weed is after all just the right plant growing in the wrong place. People have made fortunes from noxious weeds.
It is now nearly six years since I published my third collection of poetry. For many reasons, I decided to self-publish. It was a humble (VERY humble) publication. With the help of my friend and cousin Elize we printed and bound twelve exclusive copies and distributed them with love amongst selected family and friends.
One of the copies was supposed to have been for my artist mother, my mentor and greatest source of inspiration. It was not to be. Two weeks after I had finished the manuscript, while I had not yet shown it to anyone, while I was still contemplating how to publish it, my mother unexpectedly passed away. When I reread the poems, it was as if they had been written after her death, eerily predictive.
With the advance of technology and my gradual education in the field of ebooks (thanks to a wonderful course by the Queensland Writers Centre), I am currently converting the original manuscript to ebook format. I hope to have this available on Kobo and Amazon within the next few weeks.
The following poem from the collection was inspired by one of a series of three paintings by my mother called Death is a lovely blue flower. I used it in the cover design of the book. It has since been translated and included in the anthology of translated Afrikaans poems published by Protea, in a burning sea (2014).
mooi blou blom
vanoggend bibberende gebede:
somers oninhaalbaar verby
ononderbroke blou soos donderweer
verhef bo daknokke, bo bome van eenderse vere
geen ontkenning van die vlug nie
die dood is ’n hoë C
houtkapper wat sketter
se onverskrokke aria deur die leë lug
’n sonkol gesplits deur spieëls
die dood is ’n mooi blou blom
van onverwylde woordloosheid
die tong sterf dadelik af
en stilte land soos vlinders
op blou kelkblare
die dood is ’n afdwaalwoord
wat koggel in ’n kelk van kleure
in spieëls onspelbaar verwring
en jy vermoed
verlossing is verloorbaar ver
’n blom lê buite
by die buitedeur verwilderde voëls
uit bome verdwaal
lovely blue flower
this morning trembling prayers:
summers irretrievably past
uninterrupted blue like thundery weather
above roof ridges, trees of similar feather
no denial of flight
death is a high C
fearless aria in the empty air
a spot of sun splintered by mirrors
death is a lovely blue flower
of immediate wordlessness
the tongue dies instantly
and silence settles like a butterfly
on blue calyxes
death is a word gone astray
that mocks in a calyx of colours
in mirrors indefinably distorted
and you suspect
release is as far as loss can be
outside a flower lies
near the door birds frightened from trees
have lost their way.
(translated by Charl J.F. Cilliers)
As you would be able to see from my green feet, I have been mowing the lawn today.
I do not need to get green feet when I mow the lawn. It is a question of cleanliness or godliness. I can opt for staying clean and wear shoes. And sometimes I do. But often I go bare. If walking barefoot on a carpet of green lawn is not somewhat godly, then I am mistaken in my God.
Godly feet don't have to be green either. Here are some more ways of getting that tingly feeling in your toes.