Thursday, 3 November 2016

For the Mercy of Water

Well, after the last post, I did finally find something to read. And it still hasn't let me go. Perhaps it’s the reality of recent water restrictions, of taps running dry in the middle of the day in some places that I still feel faintly haunted by For the Mercy of Water by Karen Jayes.

Set in a believable drought-ridden future, water has been privatised and is controlled by “the company” and its violent militias. Society is polarised into cities that are serviced by the company and the parched rural areas that have been largely abandoned. This novel occupies a strange position between the real and the allegorical. Although the country (and most of the characters) remain unnamed, I recognised in the scarred landscape a shadow of the current South Africa. As a critic stated, "A society that has lived through the Marikana massacre and the slaughter of Anene Booysen should recognise something in both Jayes's projection of rural districts subordinated to corporate imperatives, and in the repeated depictions of gender violence and rape, never lurid but clear eyed, or be ashamed."

The bleak yet startling quality of the writing reminded me of Andre Brink. It's the kind of writing that can flip from words that are spiky and cruel to starkly beautiful in a sentence.The right to water, gender and sexual violence, are themes that play out on the body and the landscape described through Jayes's visceral prose. The language of the body and the landscape are devastatingly, beautifully intertwined. Another critic points out, "For the Mercy of Water draws on enmeshed metaphorical relationships between the categories of female, the body and nature on the one hand, and the categories of male, the mind and culture on the other. In this sense, the war waged over water (nature) is also a war waged over the female body."

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Finding something to read

Between the haze of end of term madness, a second birthday party to plan, an old dog put to sleep forever, relentless rain and unexpected cold finally breaking the dry season and months of storing bathwater in buckets, student protests and futures hanging tenuous and hesitant.  I feel adrift. Just randomly moving. No real sense of purpose.  No roots to my days. Too fragmented to pick up anything and read it.

Rebecca Solnit on books (found via brainpickings):
"The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give others. So she read, taking in words in huge quantities, a children’s and then an adult’s novel a day for many years, seven books a week or so, gorging on books, fasting on speech, carrying piles of books home from the library."

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Just one more word

The nightly bedtime story ritual at the moment goes something like this:

Me: "Okay, that's the end of the chapter. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happens."
The kid: "Ohhhh, don't, don't, no, no!"
Me: "No really, it's the end. You agreed just one chapter, remember?"
The kid: "Noooo! PLEASE just one more story. PLEASE!" (Looks hurt, as if I'm an abusive parent.)
Me: "No, we agreed we would finish at the end of the chapter." (Feels like an abusive parent)
The kid (distraught, on the verge of tears): "PLEASE Mama, just one more WORD!"
Me: "A word is very short. It won't help."
The kid: "Please!"
Me: "Okay." (reads one more word)
The kid (wailing): "Noooo!"
Me: "That was one word."
The kid (looks greatly hurt and disappointed): "Fine! I just won't give you any more goodnight kisses then!"

Sunday, 21 August 2016


It's so scarce. It slips away too easily. Before I know it, it has disappeared. I feel drained of it when all the chores are done, the needs met. I watch the day's dust settle, wondering what impressions remain that I can hold on to. Wondering if the only measurement is in well-worn routines that dig their trenches into our days. What routes has time left on me?

I wonder where it goes. What's happened to it. How we got to now, from then. How the little one suddenly turned into a running-about toddler, how the kid slipped into this wispy, wise girl with laughs and such earnest eyes. How I became a mother to them. And always, always how it is that I deserve their laughter, their outstretched arms and squeezes, their love. 

I know that years from now that taut rope of time will slacken again. I'll feel it ease up. I'll catch my breath. And I'll look back at this time of chaos, of exhaustion, of work, of never-ending demands and I'll smile because there, etched into me, will be the sounds of two giggling half-undressed girls running around the house avoiding bath-time, their joy and exuberance infectious despite my desperation to make bed-time happen. I'll still feel chubby little arms and legs wrapped tightly around me when there are tears and sobs or feel the kid's hand slipping quietly into mine as we go about errands. I'll see them when they're sleeping as I go and check on them before bed, all soft cheeks and gentle breath, their smallness and vulnerability so present in the glow of bedside lamps.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Scenes of everyday ordinariness

Weather that can't quite make up its mind. A chilly wind. Patches of sunlight. One kid crafting colourful paper garlands with buttons. A dusting of paper snippets and glitter under the table where she works. One basket of freshly-brought in laundry. One old dog lying on the mat, paws twitching. Some forgotten bits of stolen fruit left scattered on the back lawn after a visit from a troupe of vervet monkeys. A pot of soup prepared early, cooking on the stove. One little one asleep in her cot. Some half-forgotten games left scattered around the house. One laptop accusingly open and unattended. 

This is how the hours of the day are tallied up. 

How one more day slips by.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Devouring books

It's holiday time.

Days loosen up a bit. There's suddenly more space. There's time to read, not just in the usual bite-sized chunks of busy work days, but time to really devour books. That's how I've always viewed the holidays: a decadent, perhaps greedy, opportunity to consume as many books as I can.

In a very interesting article on the relationship between food metaphors and reading, Louise Adams explores the question of whether devouring books is a sign of superficiality in the reader. She states:
"This metaphor, however, hasn't always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as 'devouring' a book would have been an act of moral censure. The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of 'devouring' idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished."
History has shown how different types of texts and different ways of reading were not all seen as equal. From Renaissance scholars like Francis Bacon, who stated that "some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed" to 18th century writers who distinguished between appetite (connecting reading with the physicality of the body) and taste (which connected reading to the mind). Coming out of this background then, devouring a book would appear to be crude and vulgar. The speed associated with devouring a book would also have been seen to lessen the nourishment gained from the text.

These ideas have not been completely sustained in the modern world, where speed is an essential quality of survival. 'Devouring' has come to denote enjoyment and fast-paced, popular consumption. However, many of these ideas are relevant today, particularly because our need to 'devour' literature quickly means we often sacrifice time for slower reflection. (As I've argued here).

When I think of the word 'devouring' in relation to books, my associations are overwhelmingly positive. I see it as good, as it shows that books are being read and this is a point that Adams also makes in assessing where 'devouring books' leaves us today:
"This defensiveness about popular reading now coincides with another phenomenon: the fear that reading might lose its cultural potency completely. This is why the language of reading-as-devouring is rehabilitated, with its unprecedented positive spin. 'Devouring' is reclaimed because, at its base, it signifies interest. And in a world where Facebook, WhatsApp and Netflix compete for our attention, any interest in good old-fashioned reading is encouraged at all costs."
I guess the point being made is that reading cannot be seen as one homogeneous activity, but rather as something that takes on diverse forms and functions depending on context and on the different times in our lives. As with food, I suppose, we sometimes snack or binge or savour.

What Adams suggests is this:
"The language of digestion encourages slowed-down reading habits (along Slow Food lines). It reminds us to be more attentive to the subtle ways in which texts have been put together by their creators - to think before just bingeing upon pages."

Monday, 13 June 2016

Another Monday morning

I climb out of bed, senses blunted by the winter darkness. There's just a hint of day in the pale cut-outs of the windows but it still feels like night. I pick the little one up out of her cot and we stumble through to the kitchen. Automatically I switch on the kettle for tea, still trying to regain my senses. I give her her milk while I sit down for a moment with my warm mug. Just a brief pause before another day fully claims us.

I can't believe we're in the middle of June already. When did that happen?


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