Monday, 31 December 2012

You've gotta have faith...

It's been that time of the year when I find myself reflecting on Christmas and what it all means. I wrote something some time ago sort of connected with this and I like to read it once a year to see if anything's changed. Enjoy...

You've gotta have faith...Or so the popular lines of a song would have us believe. But do you have to have faith? And what is faith? As I grow older I find myself reflecting on faith and what it means to other people. The dictionary defines faith as a strong or unshakeable belief in something esp. without proof. 

I don’t have faith. My parents and the Loved One’s mother have faith. It's a wonderful faith that compels them to worship every Sunday, not permitting them to linger over breakfast or to dig in their heels. Faith that moves them to say I’ll pray for you when one or other family member is in strife. Meanwhile, I chew my cuticles and wonder what I can do to help, envious of what appears to be perfect and humble knowledge that prayer is the answer.
I try to lead the kind of life people with faith define as being Christian. I help elderly people in supermarkets, I bundle up my family’s worn-out clothing and put it in the brotherhood bin, but neither of these gives me any sense of faith. Nor is it out of any sense of faith that I encourage our children to give thanks for the food on our table. Quite simply, I was brought up in Africa. I don’t pray if my family is in turmoil. I might have a few quiet tears. I might mutter Oh help! Or, Somebody, please help me. There is never a response to this of course, but putting the words out there seems to calm me. 

I admire people with faith, people who are sustained by a strength and well-being gained from somewhere in the face of negativity and wrong-doing, people who have forgiveness in their hearts. I wish I had that. Various people – complete strangers arriving uninvited on my doorstep – will tell me that I will find faith if I pray to the Lord and go to church. I don’t tell them that as a child and teenager I was forced to church with my siblings, with the result that I now very seldom enter a church and if I do it’s not for religious reasons. I don’t believe I am likely to find what they understand by faith, and, if by some miracle – I don’t use the word loosely  - I do, I am certain it won’t be in the places they suggest I look for it.

On Saturday, close to sunset, I walked our blue-heeler on the nearby golf course. A storm had recently passed through and the sky remained heavy with bruised and threatening clouds. The vast expanse of shorn wet grass was a dark luminous green in the queer half-light. Pale ethereal trunks of solitary gum trees loomed from the sidelines. Ahead of me in the distance occasional jagged remnants of lightning flared. What I experienced then – tightness in my chest, tears behind my eyes – cannot by the dictionary’s definition be faith. Some might say I was simply moved by a sudden and overwhelming love of nature; others will prefer to analyse differently. They may both be right. What’s important is that it seems to be enough to sustain me.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The creative process...

I recently revisited an essay I wrote nearly two years ago for a uni assignment. It was an analysis of my creative process. At the time my creative process was something I hadn’t thought about. I wrote, badly mostly, and that was enough. I didn't need to know how or why I wrote.  And there was a part of me that didn’t want to know. I thought that by delving into how I write I might uncover something unnerving or, worse still, jinx the whole business.

The essay wasn't good. I talked around the subject. Waffled. Made claims regarding my style. Foolishly and embarrassingly compared myself to other (great!) writers. In my defence I don’t think I knew how to analyse the process of my writing. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered before. A part of me thought it was self-indulgent, an obsession with self, the “look at me” phase we seem to be in. 

But since then I’ve become more aware of my creative process. It’s drifted in the back of my mind, never quite going away. I've been watching and paying attention. And that today, far from pronouncing it as self-indulgence, I think it’s a good thing. It’s good because I see now that all the little things I do before I actually sit down and start typing a story – the little things I’m often impatient with, the things I saw before as procrastination – are actually part of a bigger cycle. 

I've been working through these things I do, and the one that comes first is allowing myself time to think.

Photo courtesy Peter George

When I say ‘think” I don’t mean thinking through a potential story. Or even a chapter of the story. I mean starting with the very basics. The first character. I put that character into my head, in this case he’s a he and of a certain age, and I let him sit there. And he does sit because, as I said, he’s of a certain age. I see the room he’s in, I notice the details of the weather outside, and what kind of landscape he lives in. But that’s all for now. I'm not sure yet what he's going to do. At the moment he’s sitting there not doing anything. He simply is. 

And you might say, What?

But this is what I’ve learned. This is how it works and I’ve got to trust myself. 

And him... 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Lost in Translation

Yesterday a friend asked me if I was going to see The Life of Pi, which is due on the big screen soon.  No, I said, and went on to tell her why I have an aversion to seeing movies based on books I’ve read and loved. 

·      The characters in movies are mostly never as I’ve imagined them. Take Robbie Turner in Atonement. I saw him clearly in my head from the first day in the garden with Cecilia. He was tall and fair-headed. He had presence, but he was sensitive and confused. In the movie version Robbie is played by James McAvoy. James McAvoy is short and dark. Playing against Keira Knightley he seemed small and weak.  It just didn't work for me.


·      Once I’ve seen a movie I can’t get the movie characters out of my head, and my problem is I forget how my imagined characters looked and spoke.  I can’t seem to reclaim them. It's disturbing, no longer having access to my own idea of a character. I don’t like it. Is it some form of brain washing?  

Sometimes I’ve seen movies based on books for the simple fact that I don’t think I’m likely to read the book.  This often makes me read the book, which is a great outcome. See The Elegance of the Hedgehog. A wonderful movie. And an even more wonderful book.  Interestingly, I did not keep the movie characters in my head when I read the book. I’m not sure I know why.  

For years I’ve persisted in seeing movies based on books.  But I’m learning. Lately I’ve been making exceptions.  The Road, The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Kite Runner? I didn’t go.  I haven’t seen them.


Now I’m making a stand on The Life of Pi.  

Is this just me, or do others feel this way, too?