Sunday, September 30, 2012

I think I've fallen in love

With the wild indiscipline of it all. With the city of New Orleans (with gumbo and baby alligators and the Mississippi at midnight, despite my best efforts I'm such a tourist) and travel (not so much airports as the places they lead to) and with freedom. That last word is sometimes a metaphor for solitude. On this trip, this work-acation, I am learning how to make peace with the voices in my head. The Timekeeper, The People Pleaser, The Dreamer, The Naysayer especially The Timekeeper with her white-dress-and-diaper-song-and-dance. They've all taken a back seat to TJ - whenever anyone I know starts talking about themselves in the third person I usually encourage them to invest in a medical-aid plan with a robust mental health cover and here I am, twice removed from myself, in text no less. Today is a special day, Botswana's 46th (like the International Writing Program's current contingent) independence Day. I am off harvesting stories across the ocean but I find I am thinking of what home means to me.

I'm based out of Iowa City for the next couple of weeks but thanks to the pluralistic approach taken by the IWP, to what a residency might need to mean to different writers I have traveled for various reasons over the last couple of weeks - to perform, to facilitate a workshop and to see an America beyond the Midwest.

I wasn't writing at all initially and it was a thing of worry (I have a voice especially assigned to this important task of self chastising) but I have learnt over the years that these seemingly blank spaces are more often than not part of the creative process for me. A something that comes before the penning, editing and printing/performing of poetry. I secretly think of it as a kind of percolating of ideas - I can smell the coffee, sometimes even taste and see it I just don't know what to call it yet. It may seem as though I spend lots of time just looking out or in, or walking around or that I'm never still, always touching this or talking about that but this too is work for me. Work I enjoy but work nonetheless. To take in the world and feel incessantly compelled to remember the name and feel and place of every thing is not always the most calming feeling. I am not complaining, after all I write out of a sense of tension. I come from a country that allows this tension to not be an overtly political one. There are few dictates on what my preoccupations in writing should be, so a little restlessness, some disquiet can be useful.

When I asked to borrow his pen, a much more experienced poet asked me why I didn't always carry pen and paper with me all the time. I had no answer. The carrying had been an instinctive childhood habit I had unwittingly uncultivated along the way. Perhaps because I have nurtured my memory over the years to help with readings, and can remember most word related things I saw no need to make notes.  I have to say a year down the line from that advice, writing everything down quickly - not a great idea to do it while crossing Dubuque or any road for that matter - leaves me with room to say 'kamoso' - now that the root of the idea is safely inked down I can empty my head a little, begin to think around syntax and structure slowly and choose to deal with the work of realizing the poem holistically tomorrow.

 A few weeks into the residency I find myself scribbling furiously throughout a performance by Sao Paulo Underground, an experimental band with lots of techno-percussion and no lyrics. Its always like this, not the writing to music in particular but the words coming at unscheduled times; during a slight, soon interrupted, delay at the airport or halfway through a presentation. Most of my literary acquaintances are short story writers and they seem to be able to 'schedule' their writing, this can make one feel exceptionally undisciplined but unless your poems are to a singular theme and are some sort of sequential narrative I'm not sure how one summons a consecutive days or months worth of writing poetry. In other words if there isn't a continuum of ideas or structure, a plot for want of a better word, how can you continously craft on queue? Please email me if you know how - between us we need not point out that we are talking here of course of tips beyond stream of consciousness /writers block exercises. Although there was a girl with a typewriter on Frenchman street, I think it was, in New Orleans who wrote poems to order while people hovered over her, plastic cups and cigarettes in hand (you can drink and smoke on the street in the French quarter).

Of course there are equally important things to do with the time 'inbetween', ways to pass the waiting besides visiting The Foxhead and eating frozen yogurt; editing, working with translation, reading, interviewing other writers, running workshops, meeting submission deadlines for projects, class visits and because much as we want it to our life back home does not stop while we build worlds in Iowa one alphabet at a time, there is the personal management. I've been busy at all that jazz, including overseeing the hosting of the upcoming 16th Poetry Africa tour, back in Botswana - hallellujah Internet.

By circumstance I'm denied my natural diazepam - washing dishes - as 30 of the 31 writers are staying at a hotel, but I still have my sometimes-walks. Routine is not as good a friend as she maybe should be to me :) but perhaps in my case that is the case for a reason; the little girl in me is failing dismally at sharing space disproportionately with the newer older version of herself. It has taken me this many harvest moons to know boundaries for what they truly are - a sign screaming 'Do not stop here. Whatever you do walk past this point', a neon sign reminding you what you can choose to leave behind and therefore no longer walk towards. This residency for me, to be a success, must serve two gods - preservation and translation, every action or seeming inaction, must ideally culminate in a body/ies of work ready for publication in 2013. There is our friend The Timekeeper rearing her head again and on that note, I hope you too are free to fall in love with some one thing today.

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