Off the cuff: You know, sometimes I get the feeling that this whole hippy, neo-liberal “Let’s eschew wealth and materialism” thing is just an indirect way of glorifying poverty. I have known poor people in my life, many, many, many… And not once has a child who grew up in the shacks with mostly the prospect of bread and water ever had an inkling that someone, somewhere with a trustfund (and/or some other form of passive income) sees his sitaution as something to ‘aspire to’ (for lack of better phrasing). How can you then explain to him that materialism is wrong when he has never had the option to eschew it, since he’s been locked in a play in which he never chose to be an actor?
I’m not decrying the ways of the world, the rampant capitalism, advertising and selling of dreams… I’m just saying the way of the hippy is a hidden narrative, because few and far between are actually poor but they choose the lifestyle as a sort of ironic, time-based, thought-safari. All the while the trustfund appreciates and the (pretend) ‘poverty’ can later be abandoned when the individual is sick of it.
And it is in this way that the poor are unconsciously made fun of every day and their poverty is thrown back in their faces as some sort of mystical trip one can take and come back from. Where one can learn humility for the mansions and the trips abroad, having ‘roughed it’ for a while. Whereas in reality, for the majority it’s not a trip. It’s not a process of self-healing or growth. It’s not a thought experiment. It’s life. And they definitely wouldn’t want to hear that it’s wrong to chase materialism or create wealth for themselves…
When people speak about art they’re usually referring to creative cross-pollination. For, I’ve always been of the mindset that one person’s work, one person’s seeming mastery of his craft can lead others to creativity. Think of it like constantly being on a raft and although at times you may encounter the white-water rapids – that is to say, those organic bursts of creativity which just come out of nowhere to catalyse you into action – another person’s work is like the waterfall that drives you over the edge of the artistic horizon. Once that happens you also want to make something that flows from the genuine deep-down depths of your soul. And this is why I’m writing this.
I’ve literally had the same song on repeat for the past two hours. The funny thing is, I’ve never told anyone about my habit. It’s sort of like I know what gets me into ‘the zone’ but the right conditions seldom happen. Today however, I went onto my homie’s Soundcloud since I usually enjoy the jams he plays during his DJ sets and I went through his favourite tracks and then I found it. I found ‘it’! The track that will send me into my zone for a good two weeks or so, just by steadily putting it on repeat.
I’ve described such music to my friends and family before but I don’t think they hear me. I don’t think they really understand what I’m talking about. Although there will never be a bass synth or drum pattern which boom-baps like my own heart, sometimes there’s a song that just touches all the right spots, at all the right times. It’s like a vat of warm water is being poured into every single nook and crevice of your mind, filling the void like nothing else. I call them “songs you can think to.” I won’t lie and say that it’s just the song itself which has got me “wil’in” as they say. Other things are at play too.
Artwork by Kilian Eng
The darkness came with deep foreboding. It was not just the matter of her hair, which had twisted to the point where she could feel the kinks weighing her down like anvils; but also the matter of the random phosphorescence. The dust from her journey had washed off to be replaced by this seeming plague. Each time the sun set, she started to dig frantically, praying that she wouldn’t be the next to perish. She spread as much of the dungeon’s filth on her and Nadizek as she could. Not that it did her much good after a while. How could she, mere mortal, hope to denounce the workings of the gods?
Nadizek was always coughing. He huddled closer to her as they both watched it. It wouldn’t be too long before their cell was filled with it, just as others had been filled before.
“Nadizek, close your mouth when you cough,” Aleya said.
He looked at her with clear irritation, wanting to talk back but thinking otherwise. It was always Aleya’s word before his, always.
The camp had fallen silent and all that could be heard was the rustling of the trees and the bare brambles on the wall of their ward. If only she were a bramble. She didn’t even need to be the entire shrub –just a lowly twig would do. As long as she could live out her days bearing fruit and masking her presence with the shared scent of the forest, photosynthesising in oneness with her kin; she couldn’t ask for more. And of course, Nadizek would be with her. He would be one of the fruits, free to spread his seeds across the plains and see the world as it really is. The thoughts came to her daily. She had grown accustomed to them as much as Nadizek’s wheezy breathing or the raw ding-dong of the cattle bell which marked their march to supper.
This was the second writing exercise. In this one, we were given randomly generated words in the sequence: place, subject, feeling, action. The words were “gardens”, “mechanic”, “hopeful” and “erupt”. Nobody is forced to use all of the words but it would be ideal. The time limit on this one is 10 minutes. This one was harder to write because of the time limit. As a result there’s a little too much telling instead of showing for my liking. Otherwise, this is why writing anything worth reading is not something you just do in “sprint-time”.
The dereliction of the once-pristine gardens made Montgomery hopeful that they wouldn’t find the stolen car. Not only was the only entrance into the place boarded up with wood that was rotting itself to the core, but the threat of all kinds of vermin and snakes would keep away the strays and the nosey, Sometimes he fancied he had dreamt about owning this particular muscle-car ever since he had seen it on an obscure commercial for “the manliest of shaving cream” when he was a teenager. It didn’t help that his father was a mechanic who constantly extolled the virtues of ‘driving American’.
"Son, no other cars in the world will make you feel like a winner as much as cars from the good ol’ U-S-of-A."
"Who else do you know that can fit this number of pistons inside a body that could very well be the Mona Lisa?"
That’s another thing his father had always done – equate car manufacturing to fine art. Perhaps it was a way of overcompensating for the shame he felt at being the only mechanic with a son who not only didn’t have an intense passion for cars, but who made it known quite frequently.
As I said in my blog post yesterday, I recently joined a writers group (well, they call it a ‘circle’) right here in Cape Town. In a way, joining some sort of like-minded group of people has been a long time in the making. The Monday workshops are held at a ‘food boutique’ in Greenpoint that serves as both a comfortable and cosy venue for all of us writers to do a little weekly practice, in an environment where the burden of ‘the isolated writer’ is dealt a swift hand. Today, we had two exercises. I don’t know if that’s the norm or not but we’ll see as time progresses. In this case, for the first exercise, a picture served as inspiration and we were told to write “How or why the situation came about.” We had to do this in twenty minutes. The second was a collection of randomly generated words but I’m going to post that separately. That took ten minutes. Here’s what I came up with today based on this painting: “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.
Perhaps the night had drawn all of the fighting spirit from him but as he put the glass down, Henry couldn’t help but notice how he was struggling to polish it off. In his all white garb, the bartender could have passed for a milkman, were it not for the way the myriad bottles, coruscating with brown and amber behind him cast unfamiliar shadows on his uniform. He had almost told Henry his name, before he offered him the glass, had hesitated just as the glass made contact with the overly dusted maple-wood counter.
Across the street, a brawl had brought in a couple, both of them surprisingly put-together, standing in contrast to the clamour they had wrought at Sam’s. It wasn’t every day that Sam chose to make use of his “Right of admission reserved” sign but no two-bit conman from whatever backwater town was going to make a fool of him. No matter how much his old lady pulled on the garter of her finely-detailed stockings or caressed the night air with a feigned kiss. A troublemaker was still a troublemaker, red dress and all.
There are weeks in a writer’s life where productivity is seemingly absent. When each keystroke for a new piece exists solely in your mind. When such a week rears its head, it’s best not to aggravate the rascal. Don’t fight it. Don’t complain because for those seven days experience should take precedence; the experience of reading, talking, gathering information from every hair follicle and sound of laughter around you, the rustle of the leaves, and the silence of dreams as they walk past you. Because ultimately most people do become a dream. Those formless gazes and musings on a page, distilled from even the most mundane memory.
For me it was such a week. I don’t know if I was tired or if my mind saw fit to force me to rest or detoxify myself of certain ideas but no keystrokes were made from Sunday to Saturday. I willed them out into the world but the more I did so, the easier they got sucked into the aether. But as I said before, that’s no reason to cry because other things were able to occupy my mind.
One of those came by utter surprise really, since I had been mulling over it for a while. As a writer there’s a tendency to bear the brunt of all the writerly work by yourself. Your friends don’t understand you. Neither do your non-writing yet still creative peers. “Why aren’t you writing anything?” they seem to ask. “Why aren’t you producing?”
If production is an economy, then those are the people worried that somewhere behind all your visible possessions you are poor, not realising that art is analagous to passive income. You invest a lot of time in it and reap the rewards. Obviously, you don’t just sit back and reap the rewards but that’s beside the point. The point is, just like bonds and stocks there is an initial investment (the idea) which is then privy to the market (the brainstorming/mind-brewing/mulling process) and only then can the dividends (the first draft or product) be earned. To try and get dividends without the initial investment is counterintuitive. Perhaps such people have been grain-fed for too long on Beethoven and Mozart-esque notions of constant genius, those eureka moments where a novel basically writes itself. To those people all I have to say is that it’s a process. Sometimes long, sometimes short depending on the desired outcome but always a process.
I met up with members of The Cape Town Writers Circle for the very first time yesterday. They were quite a cool bunch of people. They seem to be the sort of writers who understand that you don’t have to bear the brunt of writing on your own because they understand the process, they are all within the same conceptual system. I found that comforting. To know that there are others just like me who write to their heart’s content but are sometimes prone to that same heart’s meandering makes me feel a lot better.
So as my digital clock figuratively chimes 12 this Sunday night, I see an opportunity for my now well-rested heart to let forth a torrent of words. I already have enough to go by, having been an observer and researcher in the course of the past week. So in the course of this new one, let me write. And if any of it is good enough to make someone smile then I’ll be chuffed. One small goal in mind for the week then, besides the episodic script I’m working on (we always need to do something a little serious, don’t we?) is to write something that makes you smile, yes, you, reading this. If it makes you smile, you’ll make me happy. Just be sure to let me know somehow, I mean, I really am on everything so it shouldn’t be too hard to find me. Facebook a smile, Whatsapp it, whatever. But just let me know if at least one of my planned pieces this week results in some tooth-bearing. Otherwise, the keystrokes are in vain but we both know that’s a lie, don’t we?
So in the words of Truman from The Truman Show: “In case I don’t see you: ‘Good morning. Good afternoon and good night.”
— The Unencylopedia.
And I say, “Redundancy, that’s the shit I don’t like, or dislike, or not really favour much, because it’s the opposite of liking, which is very close to detesting, or loathing, or some such other term very closely linked to, but not exactly, meaning it is an approximation, which is better than a guess since it comes so close to the expression of my dislike for redundancy.”
Let’s simplify things, without harping on about what exactly constitutes an artist or the multiple definitions accorded to the term, let’s just keep it simple and say an artist is anyone who creates. There are nuances to this especially when it comes to particulars such as technology, but it’s very rare for us to consider a technological innovation as art because we already know the group dynamic which went into creating it. No doubt there is a whole lot of artistry involved in the conceptual stages and implementation, but most of the time the complete product is acknowledged as a team effort. What characterises a millennial as an artist and not merely a person who wishes to be an artist?
Let’s begin with a simple cross-section of the current landscape: Transformers actor, Shia LaBeouf was caught with an almost completely plagiarised screenplay, which he shot and produced.
An artist by the name of Daniel Clowes created the comic book Justin M. Damiano which LaBeouf repurposed under the moniker HowardCantour.com. LaBeouf took his creation to Cannes. Clowes got wind of it. LaBeouf apologised, while apparently plagiarising the apology from the likes of Ask.com. Arguments are now ranging from personal attacks on LaBeouf by comic book artists, actors and writers; to simply questioning the nature of artistry in the 21st century as augmented by internet and pop culture. I have read posts where people question if LaBeouf is trolling us all, a heady, real-world mix of satire and dickishness outside the boundaries of the internet.