an inspiring visit and our exquisite corpses

Yesterday was the fourth meeting of Envisioning Other Futures. A good part of our group caught some form of the flu and so attendance was down. Perhaps it was by chance but those present were the workshop participants who were born/raised in The Netherlands and who therefore speak/write/perform mostly in Dutch.

Roziena Salihu was with us yesterday evening as visiting lecturer and it was a real treat to have this wonderful and multi-talented artist in our midst. Roziena shared a film with us which was made for the VPRO programme Dorst. Fufu met Appelmoes which is also available on the VPRO’s YouTube channel, gives the viewer an intimate peek into what it’s like being mixed-race in The Netherlands.  The film is in Dutch, but it’s one that I would recommend as a must watch film not just because it connects on a lot of personal points with regards to the search for identity and belonging, but also because of the social issues and questions that arise from watching the film.

Roziena’s approach to her work and to the challenges that she encounters and faces provided us with lots of food for thought.  I am certain that a lot of what was spoken about around the table yesterday will find a place in the future work of these young writers.

To close the evening, we had a fun little game called “the exquisite corpse”. The resulting work evoked laughter and that sense of wonder which I believe is essential to writing science fiction.

(photo of collective work produced by Marielle, Storm, Anna, Germaine, Jasper and Yannick)

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Workshop update

Yesterday was the third day of the Envisioning Other Futures Writer’s Workshop. After an intense first two meetings with lots of in-class exercises, we had our first critique circle. For their first writing assignment, we created a shared world setting and I asked the writers to create stories/work in that setting. For me, it was important to see how far these writers are in their writing journey and also I wanted to know what else I could share with them. Given that they had less than a week to complete the first writing assignment, I found myself happily surprised by how many of the class made the effort and succeeded in completing a first draft. I am encouraged and delighted by the work the class is producing. In between, we talked briefly about the Dutch mindset and how this can stand in the way of allowing the self to come out and play and be imaginative and have fun.

In the afternoon, our first guest lecturer, Müge Yilmaz spoke to us about her work and process. It was such a joy to listen and to be inspired by her approach and her vision. Müge’s work is thought-provoking and inspiring and her talk reminded me of how artists and visionaries tap into streams of awareness that resonate with each other.

There’s a lot to think about and mull over.

I’m sharing a link to Müge’s website in the hopes that those who read this post will also be inspired by her work.

I want to write more about the workshop, the process and things I am discovering not just about my students, but about myself as well. The great thing about the workshop process is that as we share knowledge, we also grow in understanding. It isn’t a one-way street, it’s a process. I believe that to be an artist is to be constantly challenging oneself and to be constantly open to learning and to be constantly growing.

Envisioning Other Futures 2020

Tomorrow marks the start of Envisioning Other Futures, the Other Futures science fiction workshop.

Out of the applicants, we’ve selected 12 participants to take part in this first edition. It feels like a beginning, like a promise of things to come. I look forward to the workshop, to working together with, and to seeing what our participants will bring into the world.

The announcement with the names of the participants is here.

In preparation for this workshop, I’ve been digging back through my notes. Rereading Octavia Butler’s works–Furor Scribendi, Earthseed, Speech Sounds, Bloodchild.

Reading Octavia’s Earthseed, I find myself going back to that refrain:

All that you touch

You change.

All that you change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.

God

Is Change.

 

I’m holding onto these words and I am remembering.

Preparations

In the lead-up to the second edition of the Other Futures Festival which will be held in Amsterdam from the 10th of April to the 12th of April, I will be leading Envisioning Other Futures, a creative writing workshop with the focus on science fiction. The application period has passed and the selection process has been completed. Names of accepted applicants will be released sometime in the coming week.

It’s been a while since I last led a workshop and with Envisioning Other Futures, I hope participating writers will feel free to write in either English or Dutch. I am looking forward to the stories that will come out of the workshop and to witnessing fresh voices emerge from the workshop.

I am happy that we made a choice for guest lecturers from different disciplines, who can offer participants insights that I hope will compel our writers to look deeper than the known tropes.

After what feels like a long period of being out of it, I find myself returning to one of the things I love the most. Writing. Sharing what I know and nurturing others. 2020 is shaping up to be a great year.  🙂

Work in progress

I look back and realise it’s been about a year since I last wrote an entry here. It’s been a tumultuous couple of years and there are places in my memory that feel like black holes. I know I read books in the past couple of years, I just have a very vague recollection of them. I know I wrote some things, but I also don’t remember what. What I do know is that it’s taken time for us to reach stable ground as a family and it’s taken me time to reach a place where I can sit down  and find joy in the act of writing. It’s also taken me this long to be able to focus properly.

I know many people sent me emails and I know many emails went unanswered. It’s not because I didn’t read the emails, but more because I would start to answer and would run out of gas halfway. A lot of things happened like that not just to emails but to stories or essays I started work on.

Sometime last year, I got a message from the Milford writing workshop saying that I was being offered a bursary. After struggling with a number of things, I decided to accept the bursary and go to Milford. I wrote about the value of Milford and what receiving the bursary meant for me in a blogpost that’s now up at the Milford site. You can read the post here.

It’s pretty amazing to be writing everyday again. To be in the flow of a story that started with me pouring out my longing for my sister onto the page. I miss my sister every day. I miss the conversations and the arguments that we had. I even miss getting irritated and complaining about her being so set in her ways. Most of all, I miss knowing that no matter what, there was this one person in the world who knew me in and out and who would unrelentingly be always on my side.

The trigger scene for the opening of the current work in progress is one where my main character is crossing a bridge as part of a test. Her sister has vanished into a waypoint, but my main character refuses to believe her sister is no longer in this life. She believes she can still reach her sister. I’m sharing this snippet here.

Funny to think that I’m standing on this bridge when I was never the brave one. 

But I won’t give up. Not when I’d worked so hard. In my dreams, I speak to my sister. Spirit to spirit, heart to heart, just as we used to do when we were children lying next to each other in our room. I made her a promise and she made me one. 

When you’re ready, Apuyo, the commander says. 

Hold my hand, I whisper. 

Command has said that even though the pod emits a signal there is no proof of life.  Everyone’s given her up for dead; but I have seen no body, and no matter what command says, her spirit leads me on.  Strong and sure as when we were children in the mountains of Bughaw. 

I take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other, my arms stretched out wide. My sister’s voice is in my ear telling me to take one step at a time. I keep my eyes fixed on the end goal and I walk forward believing she will catch me if I fall.

Process: approaching the work

Am I still a writer?

In the time that has passed, I’ve asked this question on and off. I’ve wondered why I can’t just sit down and make myself write.

Sometimes, just the thought of writing is enough to make me anxious. I sit down and look at the page and wonder if what I write will be good enough. Will I be able to say what I want to say? How did I write before the world changed? And why must the world start up and go at full speed while I am still dragging my heels and waiting?

The work summons me. It calls to me. My gut churns. I want to throw up.

I know the work is waiting and even if I try to cover it up, inside my head, the work is already taking shape. It is simply waiting for me to sit down and write.

But when I sit down, my attention is led away by other things.

My eldest son must be reminded of projects he must finish if he is to graduate this year. Youngest son must focus and finish his homework. Paperwork beckons. We must make a decision on our house. We must speak to the insurance people. We must speak with the builders about the damage the last storm inflicted on our roof. We must. . . .

There is no end to the list of tasks.

But the work beckons and cannot be ignored and so, I sit and look at what I have written and think of how I will go on from here.

I think of loneliness, of displacement, of the world becoming empty and bare and of how the landscape changes and how we change.

When does the stranger’s touch become the touch of a friend? When does a lover’s embrace become a shelter? When does the foreigner become part of the landscape? When does the stranger start to call the foreign country, home?

How do we get there?

How?

I think of the world in its sad state and of how easy it would be to give in to despair.

I think of life and of being in a state of change. I think of the gaps between the spaces.

I think of what it means to go out on a journey, of what it means to leave everything behind.

I sit down.

The writing isn’t perfect. As always, it is flawed.

When the world opens up

A remarkable thing happened to me this past weekend.

We spent the weekend with a group of Dutchy friends in an area close to where we had had our last family vacation together with Jan.

There is a process to grief and grieving and I suppose that I had become quite an adept in avoiding certain places or things that would remind me of the past and of loss. It may sound strange, but I think a lot of my coping process lay in avoiding the painful parts and focusing on the present.

So there we were, out on a walk in the countryside, and my eldest son suddenly says: Mom, isn’t this the place where we spent our last holiday?

That last holiday was memorable, not only because it was the last one, but also because we were staying at a really nice place with a lovely view of mountains and with a road going down to the river where the kids spent a number of afternoons wading or trying to make pebbles skip on the surface of the water.

That’s not possible, I said to my eldest son.

But even as I said the words, we rounded the bend and there was a familiar sight. The same road, we had argued over taking, the same road going up to the apartments where we had rented a room.

And just like that, I was in tears.

The great thing about Dutch people is how discrete they can be and how they will let you be alone with whatever it is you need to be alone with unless you ask for company to share that moment with you.

Later that day, in a conversation with another mother, the subject of my writing came up. It is very strange to talk about your work as a writer when you feel like you aren’t one anymore. But we talked about it and about her seven year old daughter who writes small interesting stories. She asked me how long I had been writing and I told her that I had dictated my first story to my mother when I was three or four years old. She told me about her daughter doing the same thing with her. And as we talked, I realised how good it felt to be able to encourage someone–to be able to encourage a possible young writer in the art of storytelling. (It was also very lovely to meet a Mom who was keen on encouraging their child’s creativity in this way.)

In that moment, I felt a shift in myself. I don’t know how to describe it, but on the trip back, I kept thinking of the word Alive.

I also thought of the conversation I had with one of Jan’s closest friends and of how he told me about the world narrowing down when his father died and how at a certain point, the world opened up again. Different, changed, but no longer a tunnel.

I am still quite astounded by it and so I had to write it here. To mark it in some way.

Pain and loss have marked us, but we are alive and the world has opened up. We are no longer in the tunnel. I am finally allowing myself to look forward with something more than just the will to survive and to make a life.

I started writing again over the weekend. It is still raw and unfinished, but it is honest and truthful and it is science fiction.

Where I am at and dear God, but living is painful

Liz Williams sent me a note asking me how I was doing. It came at a time when I was in the absolute pits, thinking there was really no point anymore and I just can’t do anything right, can I? That short note was like a jolt of lightning.

How can I think of giving up on life when I have been constantly lifted up these past two years?

There is a point—I don’t know what it is. Is it grief? Is it mourning? Is it guilt? I don’t know what it is, but there is a point when giving up seems like the only thing left to do.

Just let me lie down and wallow in my grief. Just go away and leave me to be miserable and lost and chaotic and forgotten. Don’t look at me because what has overcome me feels so terrible that it might touch you too.

I was like that.

For a while, I decided I wasn’t good for anyone…even for my children. I thought, if I can just make sure that my kids are in a stable and safe place, then it will be all right.

This moment of despair came in part because no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t write properly anymore. (Still can’t, btw.)

When I write, it seems my words keep turning back to sorrow. I cry. My body aches. I read the words and the words turn into tears.

That is what writing has been like for a good long while.

There is this thing about grief and loss. It’s okay to talk about it for a while, but as time passes, we start to tell ourselves this story—

“You’re grown up. You’re an adult. You’re a strong person. You can do this.”

I also started to tell myself this story:

“Your grief is so heavy and burdensome. You shouldn’t be a burden to others. You mustn’t burden those around you with your grief.“

And so, it goes like that. That story I kept telling myself.

I guess, we all need just that one person to make us face the truth of how much bullshit that story is.

Grief strikes anywhere at anytime. Sorrow has no respect for passing time.

So what if a year has passed or two years or five or even ten?

It doesn’t make loss insignificant.

Just because I still feel the pain of loss doesn’t mean I am no longer intent on living and just because I am intent on living doesn’t mean I no longer feel the pain.

*with apologies to Liz for mentioning her note without permission and for my failure to reply in any way at all.

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