Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Writing Memoir

I have signed up for a course on writing memoirs. This is something I would not have done if Jane had not recommended it. She has been on one of Dawn's courses and was impressed with the beneficial effect on her writing. Certainly Dawn Garisch is a fine writer. I would say especially of autographical works. Much of her poetry, also is superb. I found the only novel of her's that I have tried to read, too depressing and abandoned it half-way. But then I have become fussier in my reading as I have got older. I am prepared to wade through heavy unpalatable prose if I am in search of information, but when I read for entertainment, I expect to be entertained. I don't want to be harrowed, and I don't want to be bored. That is why I avoid "confessional" poetry or for that matter "confessional" prose. If the blurb talks about "brave battles against addiction" or "coming to terms with childhood abuse," I put the book back on the shelf. Not that I think that such stories should not be written, It is just that I have just heard too many of them. I am not into the baring of one's soul. I do not like to do so myself and although I can listen sympathetically to another's troubles, reading the unpleasant details of fractured lives makes me uncomfortable. With this in mind I find myself a little apprehensive about the forthcoming course. A while ago I wrote down some childhood memories for my children and grandchildren. Silke, who edited it, wanted me to be much more "personal". She didn't think my family would be interested in my father's career as a teacher, or where my mother did her shopping or what we used to grow in the garden. She wanted more drama and more emotion. These I was unable to supply. Now, although my childhood was calm and bland, I have had plenty of drama not to mention trauma in my life. I just don't particularly like writing about it. I hope not too much of the "confessional" will be expected of me.

Friday, December 26, 2014

American Writing

I have just finished a very good book. 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout. The blurb on the cover describes it as a novel, but it is really a series of short pieces all set in the same small American town and all featuring the character Olive Kitteridge, sometimes as the protagonist and sometimes as a minor character in the story. The writing is very accomplished, understated, but crisp and clear. The characters, especially Olive herself, come alive. Without ever descending into sentimentality, the author lays skillfully before us the intimate details of their lives, so that we can feel their joys, their sorrows and their pain. Although, having lived in a small town most of my life, much of what the writer tells us is familiar, I was also struck by the differences. Americans may speak the same language, but their surroundings and experiences are not the same. The central characters all appeared to me to be very self-centered and introspective, but perhaps that was only because their particular attitudes and the concerns that were most important in their lives were not the same as mine would have been. The little town in Maine in which the stories are set, is not at all like a town in this country, however well the author makes us think we know it. If I were to go to a town like that in America I know I would find it strange and exotic. I would be a foreigner, not knowing what I ought to do or what would be expected of me. . In the same way, when I took an on-line course in American Modern poetry, I came up against these differences. I was often made aware of my foreignness. There was so much taken granted in the way of background knowledge and common experience. Things that would have been familiar to any American student were new and strange to me. This added immensely to the interest of the course,but also caused difficulties sometimes. I was not surprised to find after looking up the marks I had been assigned, that I had failed'Mod-Po' (as the course was called). I thoroughly enjoyed studying the poems and doing the assignments and did contemplate trying again, but on the whole decided against repeating the course. But having been given a taste of American poetry I shall now definitely be reading more of it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Time speeds up you get older. I have been in this place for five years now. I can hardly believe it. It seems just the other day that I moved in. When I was young, five years was a long time. The four years I spent at university seemed very much longer than the five years I have been living at Evergreen. There are various theories why this should be. I have seen more than one theory featured in "Brain-pickings"(that delightful collection of writings I receive weekly by e-mail) I like theories, especially ones that it is impossible to prove. The latest one I have thought up is this.: As you get older you slow down, Everything takes you up to twice as long, from getting dressed in the morning to the weekly shopping. This means that in each day fewer tasks are completed. Looking back on the day, it is emptier and naturally seems shorter. Your memory also is not as good. So as well as having fewer incidents to remember, more of these incidents will have been forgotten. Then there is also a lot of repetition in your memories. You may have spent several holidays at the same resort and done the same things each time, you may have worked at the same job for several years, and of course, when you have retired, one day is very like another, so although day by day time may even seem to drag by, in retrospect days pass quickly because remembering them takes so little time. But I see I meant to write about Christmas. I wasn't looking forward to it, because it seemed it would be an anticlimax after such an eventful year. Most of my family are now far away and only Luke and Danielle were to have Christmas dinner with me. I was very unenthusiastic about Christmas preparations, but once I started with the cooking of ham and turkey and the wrapping of presents, I began to enjoy myself and in the end had a lovely time with my two delightful grandchildren. We were going to go to Midnight Mass, but decided in the end that we were too tired and Luke and I went to the 8.30 service instead. I am so glad we did. A number of Malawians from the off-shoot Malawian church in Vrygrond had hired a bus to bring them to All Saints and the church was quite full in spite of there having been two other Christmas services. The Christmas service was joyful, as always and it was a bonus to have the Malawian Youth choir to sing two carols for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The end of the year

This has been a wonderful year for me. During this year, I celebrated my eightieth birthday, published my second book of poems, traveled with my daughter Eleanor to Namibia, and also to the Eastern Cape and had all three daughters together with me for the first time in years. How many years? It could be at least twenty.
Other highlights Being invited to read poems at the McGregor Poetry Festival. Having two poems chosen for the Carapace 100 (the bumper issue) Having poems published in the Sol Plaatje anthology. My little Jack Russell(actually Luke's dog) winning the trophy for the best Toy dog at the Boland Regional trials. Being the featured Poet at Off the Wall at Observatory and at Scarborough (reading to a lovely audience of friends) Christmas and New Year will be different this year. Only Granddaughter Danielle and Grandson Luke will be in Cape Town However much satisfaction there has been in looking back on 2014, there is still a sense of anticlimax. But who knows what 2015 may hold.