Staying True to My Heart

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Greetings from Amsterdam on this fantastic sunny day. I’m in a fabulous mood. First I must apologise for being so quiet over the last week. I have been brewing something exciting for the past three months, and last week it reached its execution period, where I had to wait until this morning to find out if the plan is green-lighted. So without wasting any time, here it goes: I’m going to be living in the United States for three months from the 1st of August!! These are most fulfilling and exciting news to me and my work. It has been a trying time for me emotionally, so a quest into the unknown is the exact literal, literary and symbolic journey I need.

I can confidently and safely tell you now that my PhD research on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile has been approved by my department of literature at the University of Cape Town to take the form of a literary biography. For my own creative exploration and indulgence, I am also shooting a documentary that will accompany the final book project. He lived in New York for 15 years between 1960 and 1975, and I am going to live in New York for 2 months from the 1st August to chart his literary journey, interview his contemporaries—I’m looking for one particular Pharoah Sanders; universe please align—and talk to members of his family and friends in the 3rd month.

New York SubwayThis work is at the very centre of my heart, and anchors me day and night when all seems to be destabilised. Planning for this trip has been a most sacred journey as everything I have sought has been met with a resounding YES! everyone I have spoken to has been so open-minded as to see the value of this project, and even though I have never been to the U.S., I have seen New York, Chicago, San Francisco—places I will visit over the 3 months there—with my third eye. The kindness and generosity of my American interlocutors has left me feeling at ease about entering this new phase of my research and life journey.

I believe in more work and less talk, I believe in letting my work speak for itself, and I believe that plans for great work are like an intricate process of birth. I will only speak about the birth once the baby is strong, stealthy, and able to take their position in the world. So for now I’m content to share these plans with you. There are very exciting things and people I’m meeting with, but I would not want to talk about them before I have in fact met with them and engaged with their wonderful minds. Work first, then enjoyment of its fruits later. The power of the mind will now function to create something out of nothing, and this will find its time to be shared here.

As you might or might not know, whilst interviewing Kgositsile and his contemporaries—I’ve thus far interviewed Mongane Serote, Lefifi Tladi, Muxe Nkondo, Tsitsi Jaji, Stephane Roboolin—I have been shooting a documentary. This has been a true blessing in my life, and I’d like to thank my best friend Mafadi Mpuru who has been so generous as to donate a full professional television crew for these purposes. I will continue with the work of shooting a documentary in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, and once again this is made possible by the generous spirit of a friend who owns an Amsterdam production rental company.

So those are my news. New York here I come in 15 days. I received my visa this morning, for a whopping 10 years!! The Americans are generous for such a paranoid country. Well good for me because this will be my first time there, but certainly not my last. This is my life work, and I will continue to invest my time here in (re)writing our beautiful literary history. If I don’t thank my husband for his gentleness and generosity then I will be doing a great injustice unto self first. Reinier has been, and continues to be a rock. All his connections are making this come true, and without him I would be found wanting. My family’s support has let me know: a pride of lions without a leader can be defeated by a limping buffalo (directly translated from Sepedi proverb).

I will say, last but not least, when you do what you love a world of possibilities opens up and the essential things of your heart’s desire become attainable. If your dreams do not scare you it means you have not fully explored your true potential and thrust. Nothing of value can come out of comfort; we must leave, as we have left our parents’ house, that which makes our growth graph stagnant, and pursue that which makes our hearts race, guided by faith, courage, hope, and passion. There is no greater fulfilment than to create something from nothing, to live with a clear vision that propels you forward in your everyday life. Productivity equals growth, and vision equals purpose. Without productivity, vision, and purpose, our growth is stifled…

KK

Our very first meeting in 2012. I was not nervous. But I spoke a lot, which probably means I was nervous 🙂

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Ntate Lefifi Tladi has been most inspiring to engage with. He was part of Medu Arts Ensemble in the 1980s in Botswana, together with Keorapetse Kgositsile, Thami Mnyele, and Dumile Feni. His house is a living and breathing music, literary, and visual arts library. He is a writer, musician, visual artist (he made a Sistine chapel-like ceiling in his house), and performer.

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Prof. Muxe Nkondo lifted the veil off this whole research. He is a literary scholar par excellence, and helped me reveal the core intentions of this study. I am forever indebted to him.

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Ntate Mongane Serote is a living literary legend. He is also the CEO of both Jo’burg theatre and Freedom Park. He was Keorapetse Kgositsile’s student of Creative Writing in the U.S. in the early 1970s, and they lived together like gypsies, travelling to jazz concerts all over the country (U.S.)

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This man is full of humility and brilliance. Dynamites do indeed come in small packages…

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Bury Me at The Marketplace

Sharing narratives

I am inspired by travelling narratives, by moving stories, and by forms that take root from a place of communal sharing than individual enjoyment. I am a student in the literatures, and have found that novels and other books constantly require retraction from community—in that you would have to go sit lonesome on a bench or in your room quietly to read—perhaps making this a core reason why most people, in my country (?), don’t read. In most of our cultures, the art of storytelling is communal, inclusive, and accessible.

I am inspired by narratives that boast their own dialects, that burst with local intonations, and by stories that move with the rhythms of their music. The English literature departments in postcolonial Africa are a point of contention—the term ‘English’ points not only to a language, but to a culture and geographical space. Most of my people would not take easily to a novel that opens with a scene on the banks of the Thames River… This is why my academic research thus far has solely focused on literatures that speak of our own landscapes, cultures, languages, and traditions.

I am moved by the idea of travelling narratives, of newly packaged forms and styles that are accessible to all that traverse its landscapes. Literature has mostly been an elitist art form, perhaps the most inclusive and aristocratic, mostly enjoyed in closed halls of high brow entertainment. I am excited by the notion of breaking down those barriers and setting stories free; liberating narratives to reach spaces previously unthought-of. I find worth in depleting the traditional literary form; tradition is a dying hallmark of culture. Culture is fluid and malleable in the 21st century.

I am happy to reveal that I am officially shooting a documentary on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile’s lifework. I am not satisfied with investing energy and time with researching his work and sealing it in libraries of the ivory tower. His story is one that must be released from the exact traditions which he sought to be liberated from. His story must be packaged to move in unsuspected places. It must be, like his very life, a travelling narrative. It must move to the rhythms of his Setswana, his jazz, his mbaqanga, and dance freely to the baseline of Johnny Dyani the maestro (they collaborated in 1977 at FESTAC, Nigeria).

Narratives of our own people should be liberated from the high pillars of air-conditioned libraries; stories must be accessible and inclusive, as opposed to Exclusive (Books) to all whose character and cultures it speaks of; literary forms must find their ways into taxis, street corners, chisa nyamas, parties, and general meeting points. Storytelling is dependent on an audience, and on a communal appreciation from various positioned listeners. Let us fervently take up the challenge to evolve our various art forms for the benefit of those whom they are intended to speak, mostly of, but also to.

Sharing stories

Resuming (Ab)Normal Programming

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I’ve been away from this page for over a week, not by choice but by some kind of intervention. Last week I went through valleys of my thoughts, exploring these minor but often overlooked crack and nooks of my mind. My life work is travelling and writing, and they usually lend to each other, but recently I have had to stop writing and start listening, seeing, smelling, and touching various disciplines of art; not only just hearing but listening intently and purposeful.

I organized a short film screening at my house with great women filmmakers, who happen to be close friends, and they presented way more than a visual feast. Of course the film had to be paired with dinner, and a lots of wine, and other disciplines of art—we had a fantastic friend read a short story in the most enthralling manner; and a great photographer mount her award-winning work on the wall of our lounge—and in the end I was filled to the brim with creativity. But the writing was just not coming.

I can blame the writer’s block, a concept I actually find trouble grappling with, on the impending meeting I had with my supervisor the next day. I was anxious. Extremely. I am in a very deep and far from top and bottom kind of body of water. I haven’t even identified it to call it by name, but it is most unsettling. The kind of writing I have to deliver should adhere to particular structures, templates, form, and rules: basically, it should function within the very box I spent 30 years of my life down right refusing and repudiating.

I have managed thus far to carve a niche in that world of academia, but that body of water can be suffocating and threatens to drown me. But desire is essential to longevity and persistence, and I want that PhD so I have to face and survive the current. As I always tell my husband, who is also a writer, sometimes you have to distance yourself from the writing task only to come back to it with fresh, renewed eyes and resolve, no matter how pressing the deadlines. In recently immersing myself within works of art I have felt wholly inspired. After all the PhD chapter I’m grappling with writing is on jazz.

So after a week of watching my friends’ and fellow sisters’ short films, having an intense conversation on the role of music and jazz in the black world, and being forced to be a last minute MC at my sister’s 21st birthday party yesterday (see pics in the next post hereunder), the mountain was brought to Moses. As if that was not sufficient, the universe decided that all of today we will be without electricity, which found me reading an exciting and relevant book on Tupac and his sensitivities. Now it’s 19:20 and I finished the 200 page book, more determined than ever to pick myself up, swim from under that body of water and survive the current. I will write soon about the book on Tupac. It has propelled me to new understanding of the world of black music.

What I am essentially saying is two things. I am travelling. I am writing. That is my life, and that is not going away anytime soon. Most of the time it will be to the benefit of creativity (on this blog and otherwise), and other times not. Secondly, creativity, as I have mentioned elsewhere, is an inter-sexing of all senses; it is the persistence of memory through sensual perception: hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting—memory is persistent as desire; desire is essential to longevity. So as long as the essence of good art, in all its broadness, lingers in memory and senses, the breeding ground for creativity is fertile and unceasing. I welcome myself back.

Writing + Gardening = Fulfilment

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Good morning! It is an absolutely fabulous and warm morning in Cape Town, and I woke up with a strong desire to write. The thing about desire is that when it is untamed it haunts you like future memory. You cannot desire that which you have not encountered, but some desires are trapped in the entangled time and may appear to you before you’ve appeared to them. A relevant example is how I could just wake up with a blog post already written in my head, and would have to oblige the strong desire to be used as a vessel onto the laptop and WordPress site. But that was actually a HUGE digression (only because the words ‘desire’ and ‘memory’ are constantly recurring in my thesis). Ok, back to the desire to write.

The desire to write is almost always coupled with the desire to garden. We are still waiting for Telkom to reconnect our internet (not connect it! reconnect it!) and until then my desire is not strongly fulfilled. When I think about how I will write intensely then be unable to couple my writing with images from the net I lose all desire to write in the first place. An anti-climax. Desires need to be met, in their wild passionate intensity. And not just anything will do. The right kind of responses makes the desire fulfilled. You cannot have half-fulfilled desires either. They linger on and haunt you. Perpetually.

So having been awakened to this realisation, two weeks ago I went to a nursery. Not the kiddies type (although I would love to play uninhibitedly with children), but the plants and flora warehouse if you may. My favourite nursery in Cape Town is on Liesbeek road and it is bigger than most public parks and recreation centres. It is open air and they have all sorts of amazing plants; a particular area that magnetises my soul is of course the edible herbs and seedlings corner. It is huge. Also, right next to the herb gardens is a lovely restaurant that has … wait for it … internet! So that has been my ultimate favourite spot.

When we arrived in Cape Town from Johannesburg, from Amsterdam, we found that most of our vegetables didn’t survive the winter. I couldn’t even write about that. It refused to psychologically register. So I immediately went to the nursery, with my laptop and a box tray for my exciting shopping, and bought seedlings: fennel, rocket, sage, coriander, rosa tomatoes, and flat leaf parsley; and also wrote a blog post. I was fulfilled. My desires were met with intense release. I felt whole again, and properly ‘landed’ in South Africa.

In our garden only thyme, lemongrass, and chillies had survived the winter. I enjoyed planting my new babies and am finally, after three weeks, ready for the big reveal (don’t post pictures of new borns lest you jinx their growth). And I must say, the desire to wake up and water my plants rouses the desire to write, and vis-a-vis. The greatest joy of gardening vegetables is the relationship between giving and receiving; watering, weeding, and eventually being rewarded with fruit. Yesterday we already harvested and enjoyed sage and thyme in our Sunday lunch… The future seems somewhat exciting!

Here is the big reveal:

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Not having ‘enough’ gardening space is never an excuse. At least not a good one. You can plant edible goodies in pots and hanging devices, like my tomatoes above

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This pot looks quite small but it packs some life I tell you. The thyme in there is 2 years old and very happy. The spinach is not enough to feed the needy, but great for those omelettes mornings…

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Our mint coming out of a miserable winter. She looked like she was living her last days, but with a bit of trimming she’s back to life again

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The lemon grass in our garden is most satisfying. I planted it from another lemon grass root, and it’s been doing extremely well. Behind there are some chillies, also showing off their flowers of the new season…

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Coriander and flat leaf parsley grown from seed, against the backdrop of Table Mountain

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That sage is soooo delicious and packed with flavour. In the corner next to the spinach is rocket. Rocket is best to have in the garden because we eat salad with dinner every night, and sometimes we haven’t been to the shops to get fresh lettuce/greens

Now I’m off to the nursery to do some writing; and maybe even do my favorite kind of shopping… Happy Monday