7 minute free write based on a prompt

The following was a 7 minute free write based on a prompt from one of the guerilla writers. Very minimally tweaked, so it’s pretty much as it was when I shared it. It was fun and relaxed and the words just happened. While the prompt was something else entirely, I wanted to share an image to go along with this piece as we found mushrooms growing in our garden. Sprung up at the base of one of our baby hedge. It was an exciting discovery. They’re still there, by the way.

Falling down to the ground, the earth subsuming the body, taking the all that is me and I am taken down into the roots, into the deep, into the soft, mushy loam where the body, like compost becomes food and home for growing things, for mushroom and mold, for creeping and crawling things and all that earth needs in order to grow. 

Here, in the hollow of my chest, grow you, fungi. Spread through my veins, the springing out lines and roots of you, spreading and flowing from fingers where flesh melts away to soft mush, to become part and parcel of the network.

Burrowing in the hollows and the crevices of my skull, peek through the sockets where eye flesh once was. See and know the world as seen and known by you who creep and crawl about beneath the roots of trees and grasses and the world above.

I sink beneath to where there is no partition between you and I, where the border between my flesh and earth’s flesh is no more.

I become, mulch and fertilizer, part of the network, one with the spores floating and flying on the air, blown about to various places where there are other bodies too. Simply waiting to be found, to be called, to be summoned.

Come.

I join my voice to the voice of the spores, to the summoning of the moldy leaves and the comforting chill of earth.

Come, we say.

Be with us. Be down under the roots. Be food for earth, for trees, for plants for fungi, for mold, for all that creeps and crawls. In surrendering to decay, be life.

7 minutes

I had a conversation while at the hairdresser’s about the work that I do and how my work involves writing, the teaching and encouragement of writers, and how that sometimes also includes one on one coaching. My hairdresser told me about how they’d always enjoyed writing and how as a child they used to write essays and little stories and how they enjoyed the act of escaping away into a fictional setting.

Someday, I would like to write a book, my hairdresser said. But I keep thinking that writing means I need to carve out lots of time to write and I don’t know that I have the patience to sit down for long stretches of time just to write.

She then went on to tell me of how she’d made this resolve to take along a journal during her holiday with the intent of doing some sort of travel journal.

Except, she said. At the end of the day, I would find myself quite overwhelmed by everything that I needed to write down. I just didn’t know where to start or how to write it down anymore.

It was a story that I recognised from others who were just learning to embrace writing as a practice.

I recently gave a fresh notebook to a young and upcoming writer and her first response was to say that she would take time to write thoughtful things in it.

To which I said: write everything in it. Write even your mundane grocery list in it. Write a to-do list or any random scribbling.

She said: Oh, then I’ll look for the perfect pen.

And then, she looked at me because I was shaking my head and she said with a laugh. I know what you’re going to say. Don’t wait to find the perfect pen. Any pen will do.

And we laughed together because she already knew what my next words would be: Just write.

In embracing the practice of writing, I think of the 7 minute rule. I don’t know if it’s a rule, really. It’s something that just came to mind and something that feels handy. 5 minutes feels too short and 10 minutes feels too long. But 7 minutes feels somehow just right. So, I gave the same advice to my hairdresser as I give to new writers who feel daunted by the idea of finding time to write. I said: find 7 minutes. Just 7 minutes. It can be shorter, it can be longer, but set your phone for 7 minutes if you’re sitting somewhere in between moments. Say to yourself: Okay. It’s 7 minutes. Just write.

It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It doesn’t have to be poetic. It can be mundane. It can be anything. But just take 7 minutes to write. You just might be surprised.

one for the road

I can feel momentum in the wind. Like energy, rising and gathering as the universe opens doors to different knowings and learnings.

I’ve just arrived home from Amsterdam where I attended the Storytelling session and the reflection session for Amsterdam Assembly: Letting Go of Having to Speak All the Time at Framer Framed. Four stories told by people who shared not just their stories but also the process behind coming to storytelling and the process of finding voice and what that meant to them.

I think about the creation of community, about building bridges and connections and how by sharing something that’s personal or close to us, while being an act of vulnerability is also a very powerful thing. It requires trust on the part of the person telling the story as well as courage and I think that kind of trust should also be met with openness and trust and a willingness to accept and be vulnerable as well. In today’s social media society where everyone is busy talking over or alongside each other, to be present in a space and to be able to offer listening and being in the moment is a way of remembering that these circles of conversation are how we connect to each other and that requires making time to sit, offer your full attention and listen.

Later, during the break I had the opportunity to walk and converse a bit with Nneka Mora who is a storyteller from Nigeria. We talked about what storytelling meant to her and also about how story can be as simple as conversing with your mother and telling her what you did today. The conversation we had made me feel so joyful and I am thankful for Nneka’s words and insight.

If you’re reading this blog and are interested in watching the recorded sessions Framer Framed has the sessions published on YouTube.

There’s still one more day of listening and I’ve signed up for the webinar for tomorrow’s session. I think it’s a privilege to be able to sit and listen. To hear what’s being said and to take them to heart.

Signal boosting: Other Futures

One of the projects that’s near and dear to my heart is the Other Futures Festival. We weren’t able to push through with the previous festival due to covid, but this year, the festival is pushing through and will take place on the 5th and the 6th of November, although I believe there is an art exhibition which has a longer run date. Do check out the Other Futures site for details. (Click on the link and it will take you there.)

Brigitte van der Sande, who is the founder, artistic director and mover behind Other Futures is an inspiring force and her energy and passion for the work is contagious. I wanted to write a bit about Brigitte because her presence and her encouragement are important to my own practice. She doesn’t know this, but at a time when I was uncertain about how to move forward, her invitation and her belief in what I could do helped me to remember how much I love my practice and how much I love the work that I do. There are people in this world who inspire us and who have this gift of propelling us forward. For me, Brigitte is one of those important people.

Recently, Brigitte introduced me to Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail and we are working on a workshop for Other Futures. Ellen and Rafeif’s work resonates with me. To meet kindred spirits from the other side of the world is a privilege and I believe that this work of encouraging a multiplicity of voices is important and essential to the breaking down of walls and borders–indeed to the creation of new kinds of being and making.

The workshop we’re giving is scheduled for the 6th of November. Ellen and Rafeif will be present via internet connection and I will be present in the space where the workshop will be held.

To you who are on the journey, I hope you will embrace those other futures. 😉 (see what I did there?) And yes, do check out the site.

to be unconstrained

I’m thinking of borders and permeability in relation to art and writing, in relation to making and to being in the world and I also find myself looking at nature, looking at what the various sciences also tell us about how nature and the universe works.

Related to this, I have to think about various conversations I’ve had with friends and journey mates. One thing I wanted to share was this thought that the borders between practices are permeable and as beings whose strength lies in our ability to imagine, there are or should be no borders.

Glissant, writing about borders advocates for permeability–for moving past seeing borders as a means of defending or preventing, but rather as a way to mark that one is crossing from one country to another.

Translating that into the practice of making, it makes me think of how I am not bound to only one form or genre of practice. It also means that the doors to various genres and forms of making need to be permeable and to my mind, we also need to make the threshold less imposing and more inviting. (Open the door, break down the barriers or walls and say welcome.)

I’ve often had people tell me that they’re not really writers because they’ve never been published or because they’re just starting to express themselves in writing. I’ve also spoken with people who practice art but don’t dare call themselves artists because ‘well, there’s a study you have to do for that’ and also ‘my work isn’t as good as’ or my work isn’t worth it because I don’t have the right background’. (Did the first cave painter have the right background, I wonder.)

As humans, we tend to be fond of creating labels. We say: you are a writer, you are a visual artist, you are a painter, you are this, you are that. Even when it comes to being in the world, we like to employ these definitive and concrete labels and breaking away from those definitive and concrete labels is often viewed as strange or weird. (Actually, it’s often brushed aside or denied because it doesn’t fit into how people like to see things.)

But we can’t put limits or borders around the creative mind and we can’t put borders or limits around being in the world.

I articulated some of my thoughts in this message to the guerilla writers. I wrote: I feel that as beings we are fluid by nature–maybe born with certain body parts, but that doesn’t mean we are limited to those parts. Those parts don’t define us or speak of who we really are and to my mind remembering that fluidity, remembering that freedom to just be–while it can be scary at first, it is most certainly a source of joy and hopefulness.

One of the writers asked me if I could share my experience of this and so I talked about how I slowly came to recognise and embrace this fluidity for myself as well as my thinking on it. It was for me, the first time I was able to say to someone that I was born in a body that I’ve often felt awkward in, but which I embrace as being part of me. To put to words that feeling that the self that lives inside the body, that pure self is one that’s not bound to societal parameters or social constructs, it was scary but also freeing. Having done that, I found myself better able to say that I am simply as I am–a being in the world. Unbound, undefined, but very much joyful for having embraced this knowledge.

To you who are on the journey, I wish you love and the joyful embrace of self and work that isn’t constrained by borders.

the writer’s notebook

I’ve returned to making use of my physical notebooks–to writing down notes and thoughts longhand, and to thinking through projects, as well as taking notes from lectures or books that I’ve been attending or reading. My favourites are unlined notebooks with thick paper and while a lot of it is note-taking and recording of thoughts and possible scenarios, I also unabashedly include mundane lists for daily tasks or groceries or things to remember. I also like to draw diagrams because visuals help me a lot and that act of capturing something in a drawing even if I’m not great at it, helps me as I process through to what I want to say or write about.

I shared this process with the nibling during our once-a-week scheduled convo and as the nibling is a budding artist, I decided to send them a couple of journals like mine as I totally get how attention can drift when you’re listening to a lecture online and sometimes diagramming the lectures or drawing a weird head speaking the lecturer’s words will help make things more interesting.

I also showed them some of my awkward attempts at visualising stuff from inside my head which was funny and fun to do. As I said to them, I have all these images in my head, but I’m not good at drawing, so I write because I want to get them out of my head onto the page.

Anyway, the notebook is a hodgepodge. It’s not neat or academic. It’s more of a collection of all the things that catch my attention–things I obsess about–subjects I hunt down as I try to figure out what it is my brain is obsessing about.

I’m thinking again about Jeremy Kamal talking about how we may think we’re obsessed with the apple until we find ourselves obsessed by a fire hydrant or a firetruck and then as we track these obsessions we realise that what we’re really obsessed with is the color red.

It’s a thought I’ve taken with me in my process and the truth in those words is reflected in the search and the resulting pieces. For instance, in a recently completed piece, I thought I was obsessed with black holes, when in fact, what I was obsessed with was grief and saying goodbye. This is something that had me sitting back a bit as it’s something I still struggle with although it is true that time takes the sharp edges away.

What is personal to us or what comes from that place where our emotions reside can be scary, but as Kiini Ibura Salam in her book, Finding Your Voice, says it can also be the place where some of our strongest work comes from (I am saying it as I understood it). I am thinking of this as I work on various pieces and the notebooks help a lot as I find that creating diagrams of my thoughts or simply just wrestling with ideas using actual pen and paper does help me find some resolution or some direction when it comes to what I am working on.

I find myself thinking too about the instrument to body connection and what it represents or what it means for makers–writers, visual artists–all of us who make things. Perhaps, it’s this connection–the slowing down of process, the taking time to reflect and think and be in the moment with the work in progress that has made me feel less anxious and more capable of believing in what it is that I want to bring into the world.

During one of the lectures I recently attended, the speaker spoke of how what’s important isn’t having or finding all the answers, but rather finding the questions that we want to ask. This speaks too to what Jeremy Kamal has said about finding what it is you’re obsessed with.

As we enter the fall season, I’ve started working together with various makers. Writers and artists. Thinkers and creators whose work excites me and makes me see how the boundaries between the worlds of making are more porous than we imagine them to be. There is a lot waiting to be discovered and a lot of questions waiting to be asked. For the time I have been given and the opportunities that arise, I am truly grateful.

To you who are on the journey, don’t be afraid to ask questions. As has been said: curiosity is the mother of invention.

Some of my most recent notebooks. The smallest one fits easily in any purse, the purple one is already full, the open one is the current notebook but I am close to the end of it, so I have a new one waiting for when the current one is full.

mindset and some messy thoughts

A number of initiatives I’ve been involved with have led me to reflect on the communal and collaborative nature of creative work.

Think about it. Art doesn’t truly come alive or serve its purpose without the interaction with the viewer. The written word, fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t gain power until readers interact with it. The worlds that we imagine and bring into being don’t come alive until readers or viewers respond or react to those worlds.

How much of the work that we do is individual and how much of what we create is the product of collaboration–whether conscious or unconscious. We talk about stories with our peers, we discuss our works in progress, we brainstorm, we go away to write it down, we come back with our drafts to brainstorm some more before we finally go and put our name under it and send it away. One name may appear under that story, but before that the work goes through a process that is communal and collaborative.

For us who engage with story, we may think that stories are born inside our heads, but what comes to us also emerges from our histories which are interwoven with the histories of others. They come from all the connections and experiences we’ve had in life and the stories that we tell speak to that longing for connectedness.

I’m thinking of decolonial practice and I want to say here that decoloniality is different from decolonisation just as coloniality and the colonisation project are two different things. Walter Mignolo in this interview gives a clearer explanation of the difference which is far better than anything I could come up with, so if you’re reading this, I suggest that you go check out the interview. But in particular, I find myself struck by this point where he talks about decoloniality as a delinking from the overall structure of knowledge in order to engage in an epistemic reconstitution.

Mignolo elaborates further by talking about how we need to reconstitute our ways of thinking, languages, ways of life and being in the world. It’s a really great interview and one that pushes the reader to thought.

So, going back to story making and the workshop practice, I found myself thinking about polarisations and I wondered how much of that is born from a feeling of no longer being connected. How much of that comes from feeling alien in the communities we live in? How much of polarisation takes place because we feel unheard, unwanted, excluded and pushed away?

It makes me think of the tendency of hurt beings to crawl into their selves, to lick at the wounds and because of that hurt we lash out–whether it is as an act of anger or self-protectiveness, a determination that comes from: I am not heard anyway, so what should I care what you think about me…whatever space it comes from, it feels to me that this thought is something to reflect on.

What would happen if instead of focusing on individual story, we decided to gather as our ancestors did. What would happen if we decided to create spaces where we would give each other time to speak and tell each other what the world looks like to us. Would we meet? Would we find those spaces where we can breathe and recognise that we are still connected and the neighbour who lives next-door to you isn’t an alien, but is someone who (as Shylock says) bleeds when you cut them.

I remember thinking about this when I was still new to The Netherlands, how distances in a neighbourhood felt sharper because of the seasons. How in the winter months we hardly ever knew about what was going on with our next door neighbours because we were cloistered indoors (Granted I always felt the need to flee indoors to where it was warm and cozy, but it might have been different for those born in this country, I don’t know.) It felt startling to me because even if we didn’t hang out in the streets, there was never a day when we didn’t see our neighbours in the Philippines. We talked to each other over the fences, or when we encountered one another in the street…a big difference from here where the impulse is to dive into the warmth of your car or your home once cold weather strikes.

But, is it this kind of distance that creates polarisations? It feels to me like a cop-out to use the seasons as an excuse. Although, I find myself thinking that the extremes in weather and the urgency of climate change reflect the extremes in how people interact these days and that to me emphasises the urgent need for change.

Today, I live on the edge of a city and the neighbourhood we are in is one where messages are exchanged through WhatsApp. Where initiatives are made for neighbours to work together. I’ve had neighbours knock on my door asking where I got my blinds, for instance.

This post is quite messy–pretty much like my handwritten journal is messy. But messy thoughts are essential to process. Without that messiness, we can’t work towards solutions and messiness is necessary for us who are involved with making. Conversations, particularly when struggling with complex matters, become inevitably messy. It’s why listening and paying attention and thinking through are important.

In this age of social media, the trigger response has become our go to. We are quick with the retort, swift to condemn, immediate and hard in our judgement when perhaps thoughtfulness and listening would serve us better.

If we also understand that community includes not just humans, but also the leaves of grass, the algae in the sea, whales and porpoises, dung beetles, all those other creatures great and small. If instead of viewing the world as being there for us to occupy or to exploit, if we saw the world as this place we’re meant to nurture and protect, if we saw each other as fellow inhabitants and if we treated each other and the world as we wish to be treated, how would things change?

And so, the journey continues. Think messy thoughts. Embrace them. Be well.

In a time of pandemic

Last year, I was on a panel where we talked about the pandemic. We were in lockdown, but there was still this feeling that vaccines would be developed and the virus would be defeated. The reality is we’re still in the midst of a raging pandemic and while there are vaccines, the virus has undergone a number of mutations and there’s no way of predicting the path of a virus. It’s a natural phenomenon–like a storm that must rage until it’s done raging. There’s no reasoning with it, there’s no negotiating with it, there’s just understanding that we are living in a time when we must rethink the way we live our lives and do things.

This Sunday, I’ll be on a BonFiyah panel titled: Frail But Hard to Kill:Hope in a Time of Pandemic. The panel will be hosted by the most excellent Cristina Jurado and I’ll be on it alongside Alyssa Cole, Bogi Takács and Eve Shi. It’s probably the first proper SF related event that I’ll be appearing on since I don’t remember when, but the subject matter of the panel speaks to the need of the time we are in, so I hope I can offer something helpful.

The pandemic broke at a time when I was getting back on my feet and feeling strong enough again to pursue new ventures. For a short while, it was like coming to a full stop and feeling quite stymied about what happens next. But what helped me most was being in the rhythm of conducting a workshop that had to be moved online. Having to adapt the method and the practice to one that was more personal and having to take more time to think about the needs of the students. At the close of that period, I felt as if I had learned a lot and it helped me go back to the drawing board, to rethink how such workshops are conducted and to think about ways that are more nurturing and communal.

It also had me reflecting on the radicalised nature of various discussions and on what could be done to shift the direction of conversations so that instead of shouting from opposite ends of the table, we could move towards finding common ground, building bridges, and having productive discussions.

How can we as beings who are writers, practitioners of craft, artists and thinkers help create or shape the environment for these kinds of discussions?

I don’t think a blogpost offers enough room to think aloud on that matter, but I am taking it with me as I continue on my journey.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an image taken during one of my afternoon walks. I’ve included the caption I invented for it as I shared it with my friends. May we also recognise that there are other dwellers and travellers on this earth.

Upon observing a third species attempting to capture their meeting, the two species say to each other: ignore the third species. We’re still going to have our afternoon hangout, right?

May we travel with love and with wisdom.

History and myth-making

I’ve been thinking a lot about history and myth-making as I work on another piece. Edouard Glissant’s work inspires me a lot and it feels like the universe is working to bring various readings across my path that are in conversation with the work of Glissant.

Rolando Vazquez’s Vistas of Modernity enriches my engagement with Glissant’s work and vice versa and I can’t recommend Vistas of Modernity enough. While I was reading Vistas of Modernity, I found myself moving back to some passages from Glissant and then returning again to Vistas. In my head, it felt like there was this rich conversation going on between these two thinkers. There’s a lot to process and a lot to think about and I feel like rushing to make a post on it would not do any justice to the work. But definitely, anyone who’s interested or who is engaged in decolonial work would benefit a lot from looking up Glissant’s work and Vazquez’s Vistas of Modernity.

While reflecting on these two works, and while working on the new short piece, I found myself thinking about the relation between music and mathematics: about algorithms and improvisations: about waveforms and spacetime. A lot of times, I feel like a chicken scratching at the surface of concepts where comprehension lies just beyond my reach–like that word that you know is waiting to be uttered at the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t vocalise it yet.

The new piece is me working on concepts that intrigue me. It’s also influenced by the idea of history, re-membering (as Rolando writes it) and myth-making.

All these thoughts tumble together to inform the practice I am developing when it comes to the workshop practice. The idea of employing various mediums and ways of creating or re-membering or un-remembering history….these are things that I feel are key to the work and are necessary to what we want to achieve with the Invitation to Dreaming.

The hungry mind led me to Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination by Brent Hayes Edwards. I’ve only cracked the book open, but in the introduction there’s a passage that captured my imagination. Here, the author writes that: “Oral history’s importance lies not in adherence to fact, but in its departure from it, as imagination, symbolism and desire emerge.”

I think on how we can sometimes get stranded or blocked by the idea of story not aligning with empirical data and I’ve been thinking too about how a lot of history is told from the viewpoint of the conqueror or the coloniser.

Anyway, this is because I find myself rather obsessed with the question of the use of speculative fiction in the work of decolonisation.

A beloved friend of mine spoke of this kind of writing as a form of exorcism and the more I think on it, the more I love how this resonates with the idea of myth-making and how important it is for us to recognise that the myths we create are not subordinate or less important but are rather of equal value and equal importance. Do we even need to explain why it is important to us? Do we even need to make everything comprehensible or transparent?

Glissant in Poetics of Relation writes this: “For more than two centuries whole populations have had to assert their identity in opposition to the processes of identification or annihilation triggered by these invaders. Whereas the Western nation is first of all an “opposite” for colonised peoples, identity will be primarily “opposed to” — that is a limitation from the very beginning. Decoloniality will have done its real work when it goes beyond this limit.”

I think then to myself that the capacity to think beyond data and to think outside the box, to imagine beyond what is presented as “these are the facts” are tools which help in the work of decoloniality. Myth-making, the de-linking of the personal and the empirical, the creation of tangents and speculations, the ability to think outside of time.

My mind works away and picks at process and about how to bring these ideas into the workshop practice. How to encourage new and aspiring artists to bring this kinds of concepts with them into their core work.

Again, I find myself thinking of points of origin and how starting from the self, meeting the artists at where they are in that moment is an essential part of the work. Histories, stories, songs and other creations which are personal to us are also linked to the wider world. Family stories are where myth-making starts. Family histories are part of our personal myth-makings too. Beyond the personal portraits, beyond the familial, we see the world as a backdrop. How is that family myth set within the world around it? How do we create myths that originate from our selves? What’s important is that these myths come from us. From creators whose voices have often been elided–the sound you miss or skip over–like jazz creators, we must improvise. We create and bounce off each other’s words and worlds, we mix and play to create myths that sound like and belong to the self. They don’t have to adhere to an existing narrative, they belong to their selves, just as we belong to our selves.

There is a lot to think and reflect on as I think of this and as I consider on how to bring that into my practice.

To you who are on the journey, sing your songs, write your myths, dance your dances.

She’d always known space had shape and form of its own. It wasn’t always visible, but it was there. Now, its patterns and undulations were visible to her. She could see it curving around to accommodate her sire; could see it flowing and moving to accommodate static instruments, to accommodate her/self/; and now, she could see too how it lent itself to shadows that took on a form of their own as they came to stand beside her sire. 

-From To the Tune of the Wild Ones-

Summer break is over and we are getting back into the daily rhythm of things. During the break, we went hiking in Austria and regardless of my fear of heights, I managed to make the hike up to the peak of the mountain we were staying at. The hike goes up to 1900 meters above sea level and while there is a gravel road that winds around, we opted to take the paths that climb up through bush and forest growth. They might be a bit steeper when it comes to incline, but I’ve found that hiking through forest and bush is less energy consuming than taking the gravel roads. 1900 meters is a milestone for me as I only made it to 1200 meters when we attempted the climb last year. To be able to reach the top felt like such an accomplishment. I will admit that I had moments where looking down made me feel like I was about to leave my body.

It’s so weird to be having this fear when I grew up in the mountains. To be clear, climbing up mountains has never been the problem–it’s the getting down that has always been. I remember my elder sister getting quite exasperated because I would just sit at the top of the mountain trail leading down to school and crying until she came back up to hold my hand on the way down. Eventually, of course, one sort of decides to bury that fear and just make the journey downwards, but the fear never goes away. It lurks right there.

There was a brief moment during the downward climb when I did have a panic attack and just had to stop and breathe and allow the wave to wash over me. But it was okay. The world didn’t end. I could get up again after that and continue on the journey.

I think about the hike as I write this post and I think about art-making and storytelling and how when we are called to create, it sometimes feels like this giant mountain that we have to climb. Sometimes, the vision or the dream can feel huge and overwhelming if we think of word counts or scope or project descriptions.

There was this moment in the hike upward when the top felt unreachable–we were at that point where the top is just beyond your sight, but you’re almost there. I remember thinking: Okay, let’s just do this. Count ten steps. Just keep counting ten steps until you get there.

To you who are on the journey, don’t give up. Just keep counting steps until you get there.

The cross at the top of Schatzberg.

Schatzberg