The writing sessions

I have been trying to keep a log of my daily activities and progress as I now have to allot separate times for different projects. A couple of months ago, I accidentally launched the munabol writing sessions with BIPOC youngsters (ages 14-25). The first group, which I called the ground zero group is made up of two youngsters based in NL and two based in the Philippines. We’ve recently expanded to add on three new members and soon we’ll be launching a kids group (ages 10-13).

Ground zero had a ten week trajectory and I’m putting together a small booklet which reports on their progress and includes work produced by the first four in those weeks. For the expanded sessions, we’ll be working on new stories and working from a programme I’m developing. I’ve been gathering together some of the pieces that I want to use as part of the first exercise session and am feeling quite excited about it.

I think about how seeing can start from such a simple thing as looking out onto the street outside your window and simply documenting what you see to something more complex like looking at a photograph of a scene in a museum and asking participants to write down what they see.

The idea behind this practice was born from another project I’m working on where the ask was to incorporate museum objects into the practice. I thought about the museum itself which is a colonial space and I thought about the objects in it. My thinking was that if we are able to see beyond the object and beyond the space, we might be able to find the space where we can move forward in conversations around certain museum pieces. This is something I’m still thinking on, but for the munabol sessions, I want to encourage young practitioners to open the inner eye which is so essential to creative artists. To see, to look, and to recognize that there is often something more to what you see than what appears on the surface.

When I was a child, someone once told me that to be an artist means that you see beyond the leaf. It took me a while to realise it, but I think that was the point where I decided I would embrace writing and become that kind of artist with the use of my pen.

In any case, it’s this kind of seeing that I want to share with the youngsters and as I said to the ground zero group, we may all be looking out at the same scene or on the same view, but we won’t all notice or see the same things because each of us looks at the world differently. I am eager to discover those different angles in the different works offered tomorrow.

Working with youngsters and kids is inspiring and the writing sessions give me energy to keep on writing, to keep on creating, to keep on pushing for projects that will encourage people to dream, to imagine, to make their playful and creative selves visible in the world.

a fun update

I’m in the throes of writing again. I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped. I might have taken pauses in between, but as one great writer said to me: even when you’re not at your desk, you’re never not writing. I think this is true, because sometimes my work follows me into the dream world and I wake up trying to grab hold of words and images before they get chased away by the busy round that comes with being the mom of a high school kid and one college aged young man.

I am feeling joyful about my boys these days. I mean, there was a time when I wondered if we would ever be all right again and here we are–it’s 2021. We went through a pandemic and my boys are noisy and cheerful and active when we get together. I suppose it’s to be expected. I have one ADHD child and one ADD child on the spectrum, but together they can get pretty rambunctious. Add one ADHD mom into the mix, and well…you can imagine what dinnertime can be like. Anyway, both of my sons are inveterate gamers (when not studying) and I find myself turning into the pestering parent who tells her sons to: ‘please read this book I lent you, it’s really good.’

One of my conversation staples is: ‘did you read the book I lent you?’

If they tell me they’ve read a few chapters, that makes me happy.

Recently, I started leading a writing workshop for youngsters 14-21 years old. It was one of those accidental moments where you propose a thing, one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re on discord doing voice chat workshops. I sort of dragged my boys into participating and it’s turning out to be a really fun ride. I’ve been given permission to share eldest son’s piece from one of the exercises we did which was set in a shared world setting where humans and nonhumans are experiencing the effects of being exposed to toxic waste.

The Assignment: Write a short piece from the perspective of an animal in this world that’s been affected by toxic waste

Boss! Boss nice! Nice boss. I like boss.

“Go on, fetch boy.”

Toy fly! Wow wow wow! Catch toy. Catch toy!

“Git it boy! Git it!”

Toy land. Get toy get toy.

Smell. Smell? Weird smell. Must get smell.

Weird thing. Taste thing? Weird taste. Not nice.

“Where you at, boy?”

Not nice. Angry. Hungry.

“What’s wrong, boy?”

Not angry. Wait. Angry. Very angry. Not happy. Must eat food.

“Where you goin’, boy?”

Need eat, must eat. Where food?

Field has food. Eat food.

“Stop boy! Farmer Johnson’ll put you down if you dig up his crops!”

Stop drag. Boss. Need food. Boss stop. Bite boss.

“Augh! What the hell, boy!”

Boss angry, not happy. Boss not nice. Bite boss more.

“HEY! HEY! Stop that BOY!”

Hungry. Must bite. Crop food? Food? Crop. . . Boss?

-published with permission, J.J. Loenen, 2021-

a very delayed update on Envisioning Other Futures

When I updated this blog in June 2020, I was fairly sure I would have lots of time to come back and update more regularly. But here I am, one day short of June, one year later. It’s odd to look back at that last entry and wonder if time stood still.

We held a culminating activity for the Envisioning Other Futures workshop sometime in March of this year. For many of us who were part of the workshop, it was the first time we were meeting anyone in person since the lockdown kicked in. It was a rather curious and surreal feeling. Festive, true. But also surreal.

It was lovely to see the workshop participants again and to be able to see a physical compilation of the work they’d done through the workshop. For the interested, an online copy of the book is available through this The Other Futures link.

The collection is bilingual with work written in English and work written in Dutch. Considering how some of these writers had not written any fiction (let alone science fiction) before, I’m quite pleased with the work we included in this collection. I want to mention the tireless efforts of Brigitte van der Sande who made the workshop possible through Stichting Mouflon and The Other Futures Festival. Brigitte is a powerhouse, an inspiring person and someone who’s encouraged me to move forward in the work that I do. I can’t begin to thank her for her untiring effort as well as the way in which she kept nudging me gently forward.

Here’s the cover for the print and online version. You can also find the book by clicking on the image.

Personal post: my son’s investment

After Jan’s passing, eldest son gifted me with a set of weights and an exercise mat. I’d been contemplating a gym subscription but I just couldn’t seem to take that first step. So, when eldest son asked me what was on my birthday wishlist, I thought I’d ask for stuff for exercising at home. I thought: a mat would do or a pair of dumbbells. I remember expressly pointing out some things that I thought were student-level price. (He was also saving up for his own computer, so I didn’t want him to spend a lot.)

I was rather flabbergasted when the packages arrived. Apparently, he’d done some research and opted for his own (more expensive) choices instead of what I had pointed out to him.

In the first year, I shed a couple of pounds and started to feel stronger. When I flexed my arm, I could feel something that felt like muscle. So I took the plunge and signed up at our local gym. My goal: more muscle definition please and make me stronger.

In times when I’ve wrestled with anxiety, I’ve found that a good workout tends to keep the worst of it bay. I’m able to clear my mind for a while as I focus on just making it through a set number of reps and sets.

Today, I thought back to that time after he got his first job at a local supermarket. I think of the late nights and long hours that he pulled and how that was the year he told me that he didn’t need pocket money anymore. I remember how flabbergasted I was when I realised just how much he’d spent on my birthday present and I remember him saying that I should think of it as him investing in me.

The returns on Joel’s investment have come in as we now use that set each time we workout during the week. It’s fun, it gives some sort of structure to days where hours seem to blend into each other, and I guess I’m vain enough to be pleased that the muscle I’ve gained won’t fade during the lockdown.

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( The 3 kilo dumbbells are a recent addition, and these shoes have been with me since I started working out 5 years ago. I have a 5 kilo disk on my birthday wishlist. I’ve read that weight training is important for women as we grow older as it helps maintain bone density and keeps our joints supple. What I can say is this: five years ago, I couldn’t run up and down the stairs, these days I can.)

what it’s like to be working like this again

I thought I would write an entry about what it’s like to be working in this way again. To be engaged in science fiction work and to be leading an intensive 7 day science fiction writing workshop spread out during the course of one month and one week.

This blog feels like a natural place to dream out loud about the future I would like to see happen. ( It helps that I know this blog isn’t widely read. Also sometime ago I switched off comments due to anxiety issues).

I do want to maintain some sort of public record of my thoughts and process and also because there are so many people who have inspired me (and who continue to inspire me) and who have so generously shared their light with me on the journey.

I am grateful to Other Futures organizer, Brigitte van der Sande who triggered this reawakening and made me move out of the safety of hibernation into embracing a dream that I let fall from my hands when keeping things together took up all the strength I had.

I think back to things I’ve heard said and things I’ve learned in the past. How there is nothing to fear but fear itself and how sometimes we get paralysed because we don’t know how to go from where we are to where we want to go next because we get afraid.

I will admit that going through loss and heartache made me feel as if there was no way forward because each time I took a step forward something would happen to pull me backward; and then, I would find myself drowning again and walking through what felt like an endless tunnel.

There have been points of light that helped remind me to keep going.  There was the surprise of the Milford writer’s workshop bursary (someday I would love to go again), the first Other Futures Festival (where I was still somewhat in a daze). Small meetings with dear friends like Dean Alfar and Victor Ocampo. Emails from friends and fellow writers–the memory of a rainbow while going out on a walk with Liz and Kari when I was in Wales. Time spent with Nisi. Nalo’s hug. Surprise packages from friends and loved ones–all the small reminders that made me remember that time would come when I would have space, time and energy to dream of things other than the day to day.

I am still in the process of discovering what I want to do next  but I am glad for the pushing and the prompting that has shaken me out of hibernation. And extremely grateful for Brigitte’s counsel because she made me realise that I can do more than sell clothing in a clothing shop. (I will note here that while I mostly enjoy that, in the back of my mind I am aware that it is me running away from trying something more challenging.)

In conversation with a friend I love, I talked about a dream that I thought I had to let go of. Back then, I had been wanting to do more than just a one day workshop but couldn’t quite figure out how that would work.

As I said to my friend, what I would love to find out is if such a workshop can grow writers who represent the multi-cultural nature of current Dutch society and if such a workshop could raise up writers who are willing to tackle social issues and raise questions that lead to social change.

I am hoping that Envisioning Other Futures will lead to other such workshops because I believe it’s important to create spaces where writers and artists feel safe when talking about the issues they want to write about. I think it is in creating such spaces that we will see work being born that challenges existing systems; work that will lead to the kinds of change that we want to see. And to make this happen, we need to build relationships of trust and we need to work together. Stay in conversation. Listen. Think. Talk things through.

(Came across this while on a long walkabout with friends. And then I had to think of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s “The Mushroom at the End of the World”. A fascinating read.)

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Slow small step

It has been quite a while since I wrote on this blog. My last entry was full of hope and looking forward and since then, life happened as it always does.

There have been moments when I wanted to erase myself from the world. When I wanted to give up, to just vanish, to just be no more.

My kids lost their father, their aunt and their grandfather. All within a short span of time. I lost a husband, a beloved sister and a father.

How do you write about such things? How do you help your children cope with loss when some days feel like a never-ending dream with empty spaces?

I am writing in this space because I need to remind myself that the journey has also had its beautiful moments. I need to commemorate the fact that we are here now and that my children are in a much better space than we were a year ago. I am in a much better space than I was in the preceding months of this year. I am able to sit down and write and I am able to raise my head and look to the future again.

Sometimes, I will encounter a friend or an acquaintance who hasn’t heard about our past 21 months.

How do you answer the question “How are you doing?”

I am doing as well as I can and coping as best as I can. In these past months it has meant not being on social media. It has meant limiting everything that requires energy. It has meant letting go of so many things.

I have sometimes wondered if I will be able to write again. Words seem meaningless sometimes. But here I am, writing words. I guess, this is how it is. Because I live so much in words, it won’t be real if I don’t write it.

One Sunday evening before going to bed, my youngest son told me how much he missed his father.

“I know,” I said to him. “I know exactly how you feel.”

I also know what it’s like to have to miss a father.

Moving forward means acknowledging loss and the pain of loss.

The Dutch have a great way of expressing the moment of acknowledgment: stilstaan.

A minute of silence. A moment of pondering. A time when everything falls still.

Our time has started up again. Slow small steps. We are moving forward.

Process: How we change

“. . .time stretches out. Sixty, seventy or eighty years—they pass swiftly for us, but learn to breathe as humans do and time wraps itself around you, steps to the rhythm of your being, to the pulse of the space you choose to occupy.”  -excerpt from the work in progress-

I am revising a long work that I was working on before my husband died. I don’t know yet if it will be a novella or a novel, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of writing again. Those who supported the kickstarter campaign that saw us through that most difficult time have probably read the En piece. It is from that piece that this longer work grew.

Today, I am thinking of change. I think of life and loss and of how we change in our approach to art and life. A good friend said to me once that when you have faced death, there is nothing left to be afraid of. It’s a thought that echoes over and over again in my mind.

I think of fear–and of the drive to publish and once published to be noticed, to be mentioned, to be read.

But when your focus is completely shot (loss can do that to you), you can’t music, art or write. There’s just you struggling to make sense of this thing that has overcome you. For a while, I wondered if the writing died when my husband died. The possibility of being happy again, of writing again–these were things that seemed right beyond my reach. Continue reading

Updatery and such

It still continues to be busy. In some ways, it’s busier than it was. In other ways, it’s a bit more quiet. I like that I get to have alone time when I can do whatever I like but the house has its demands and there are things that need to be done.

This past month, I finished working on an essay I’d promised Maurice Broaddus. I think of the encouragement that comes to me in emails, in publications (Magnifica Angelica Superable was published on Lightspeed this month), and in conversations had with beloved ones. It may sound strange but I feel like I am coming back from a long way away.

I think of Laura telling me how deaths of those close to us change us. I think of one of our friends telling me that when his father died, the world narrowed down and became somehow sharper. Different.

I think of what it’s like to fall in-between cracks and how there is that moment between losing someone and being alive when it feels like the left behind are hovering somewhere in a place like indefinite limbo while the world goes on.

It feels just right that I am reading a Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Intelligent Rodents with my youngest son. Youngest son can read the book all by himself, but we borrowed this book expressly to read together. A bedtime ritual where he listens and imagines while I try to make the story feel as real as possible with the reading of it.

There is death in this book. In the past two nights, two of the intelligent rodents have died. Pratchett doesn’t turn away from those deaths. Rather he lays it on the page, factual and clear. It happened. A rat died. We stand still for a moment, thinking on that death and then Pratchett moves us onward–the story continues. It’s not that the death doesn’t matter. It does, but life goes on and characters move forward and think about what happens next.

On some days, it’s a dilemma. How to make it so that a child doesn’t sink into the quagmire of sorrow and despair.

Tearing a book out of Pratchett’s page, I acknowledge my child’s sorrow. It’s sad and it’s a terrible thing, but tomorrow is a promise. Let’s think about what we want to do tomorrow. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What about next week? What about next month? What about next year?

I understand very well that grief doesn’t ever go away. That grief is not a neat and orderly process but it comes in waves and flags and sometimes at the most inconvenient and untidy of moments. It is as it is. There is no changing the reality. But we go on. We hang together. And then, I find myself thankful and glad that I can still be here for my children.

Today

altar

Some years ago, I lost a very dear friend. In memory of her, I wrote a remembrance of gains and losses. I think of gains and losses today because I am remembering.

I think of how life after loss is similar to a losing one’s way in the dark. Familiar things become unfamiliar, one becomes disoriented, and for a while, it is like traveling or walking inside a dream.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Inside the cocoon I built for myself, the world went on and I couldn’t care less. I remember my sister scolding me when she got here and how I felt like I had reverted to my teenage years. After my sister went home, the world felt very strange. At times, it was as if my kids and I were siblings.

When word of my sister’s passing came to me, I felt as if the world caved in.

I think that if it were not for the steady and constant presence of one of our family friends, our family boat would have capsized and sunk. I was that lost.

But, we had counselling and regular visits from municipality assigned coaches. Slowly and surely, we got back–we are still getting back to our feet.

Yesterday, my coach told me that I seemed like a much different woman from the woman she met for the first time six months ago.

You are stronger now, she said. You are more present.

I can feel it too. I still don’t like going to the graveyard. Maybe in time, it will be easier. For now, I have a regular rite of remembering.  I refresh the flowers in the little vase, I put new trinkets in their corner. I tell them the little bird dropped by to say hello. The vase is from one of my lovely students, the flowers I picked up on impulse at the garden centre.  The shells are in remembrance of beach walks and beach visits.

I am thankful for the time I spent with both of you. I am thankful that I loved you. I am thankful I knew you. I am thankful for the lessons I learned while walking with you. I am thankful I have the memory of you to enrich me.

Light a candle. I remember.

What it’s like

Today, someone asked me what it feels like.

“I mean, you lost your husband and then now you’ve lost your sister.”

How do you put into words what it feels like to lose the other half of your heart?  She was always there–my sister. In the darkest periods of my life, I hang onto the thought that my sister was always there. She was witness to my wildest dreams and imaginings and she was the person I confided in the most in times of deep despair. She loved me steadfastly even when she didn’t agree with the choices I made and even when it grieved her to see me walk away from the path that was familiar to us both.

I have a memory of my elder sister from when we were in grade school. Back then, going to school meant climbing down the mountain path to the gravelled road and then a 10-15 minute hike to the central school. I was always slow back then and a little bit of a spoiled child.

(My sister, being much quicker on her feet always was at least a few feet in front of me. )
In this memory, my sister has reached the bend in the mountain path–a couple of meters down from home. I am still at the top of the path. It had rained in the night and the path was a bit slippery and being the scaredy-cat that I was, I wanted my sister to come back and help me down the slippery slope. She, on the other hand, was already impatient to go to school because the first bell had already rung.

I remember my sister telling me to hurry up and I remember crouching there and crying for her to come get me.

Finally, she came marching back up the mountain slope. I still remember the look on her face.

Regardless of how aggravated she was, she helped me down from the top of the slope. She held my hand until we got to a place where the earth was less slippery.

My heart aches.

I have so many memories. Of stories shared in the dark of night after the lights went out–of listening for the crunch of gravel outside our bedroom window–of running up and down the mountainside.

There are not enough words to say what it’s like.