Sunday, 28 November 2010

Eyes Wide Open and Letters to a Young Poet

“Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke

By turns inspiring and challenging, this collection of letters from the lyrical poet Rilke to an aspiring poet offers wise insights on more than just a career as a writer. Solitude, life, love, faith, sorrow, pain, healing and work are all explored with a sincerity that rings through the words, leaving echoes in the soul that offer comfort and encouragement.

Not everyone will enjoy the philosophical meanderings as Rilke gently attempts to guide a young stranger into a deeper, more meaningful experience of life.

I did enjoy them; at times, his words affirmed life experiences I’ve had for myself. I’ve learnt to accept my strong desire for solitude: Rilke speaks of solitude as an essential part of the human condition. He says, “The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude.”

At other times, Rilke’s words illuminated interesting perceptions, as when he touched on feminism in Letter Seven. Written in 1904, modern feminism was in its birth throes. Rilke concludes his observations with the belief that feminism will reshape the love-experience “into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer man to woman…the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

His poetic genius lies in that, with his tender and compassionate answer to the fears and lonely doubts that haunt so many, he pre-empted many of the “new age” authors of today by nearly a hundred years. His struggle and his sincerity are obvious; this adds piquancy to what was then a different way of looking at life. Even today, one can find in this book much to linger over. Click HERE to buy.

Einaym Pkutot (EYES WIDE OPEN) (DVD Review)

In a far more subtle and heartrending way than “Brokeback Mountain” (because the stakes were higher), this DVD follows the love story of two men from a Jewish orthodox community in Jerusalem.

When student Ezri (the delicious Ran Danker) runs away from his yeshiva (religious college), happily married father-of-four and rabbi, Aaron, gives him a job and a home. The power in this movie lies in Aaron seeing his struggle to overcome his forbidden desire for Ezri as a spiritual challenge to bring him closer to his God.

The superb acting from all cast members and the sensitive direction by Haim Tabakman raised thought-provoking questions around sexuality and religion, hypocrisy and fanaticism. Without relying on the melancholic self-indulgence of “Brokeback Mountain”, “Eye Wide Open” delicately highlights the struggle of forbidden love without sitting in judgement. The intensity of their growing feelings, juxtaposed with their deep faith and their place in a society strictly controlled by highly defined ideas of good and evil, ratchets up the tension.

However, one area where I felt the film didn’t quite live up to its own beauty was in the rather abrupt change in Reb Aaron’s feelings at the end. This didn’t detract from the poignancy of the ending, and makes one realise that death is not only physical, but also spiritual. Click HERE to buy.

If you enjoy "Eyes Wide Open", another BRILLIANT Israeli movie is THE BUBBLE, but only watch it if you're comfortable with fairly explicit same-sex love scenes (which, in both movies, are done with taste and exquisite sensitivity). "The Bubble" is about Ashraf, a Palestinian illegal immigrant to Tel Aviv, and Noam, a Jewish  anti-war protestor, falling in love. I cried my eyes out. The movie explores the young friends and lovers struggle to bring peace to a region, which has been at war for thousands of years, and was told with humour, insight and objectivity.

Where "Eyes Wide Open" is spiritually complex, "The Bubble" is politically complex. Both are outstanding.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Short story published on-line

One of my short stories was recently chosen for publication in the e.07 edition of an on-line magazine called "ITCH". 

Click on Born Beneath a Balsamic Moon to read about loss and grief and new beginnings.

In evolutionary astrology (I did evolutionary astrology charts for about 15 years, before stopping it last year to concentrate on my writing), the balsamic moon phase is when the moon is darkest, just before the sliver of the new moon begins to ripen in the night sky. Any person who is born beneath a balsamic moon phase is in a releasing cycle of evolution.

In its monthly cycle, the waxing balsamic phase suggests a time to rest, heal and release the lessons of the past. In the waning blasamic phase the time has come to look forward to a new future.

I hope the astro-speak above gives some added meaning to the text. If you're interested, the Irish poet WB Yeats was a gifted astrologer. Click here for an interesting discussion on some of his poetry linked to the phases of the moon.
I took this quick snap of the crescent moon on 13th August 2010.
If you look very closely you can see Venus to the bottom right.
The real view was much brighter than this.
Enjoy the story!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

An Open Door

Last year in June  my "furbaby" Josephina passed away. From the tiny kitten I cuddled in the palm of my hand, she grew into a rather large love machine. She became my shadow.  If I was working, I was ignoring her, so she'd jump up on my desk and casually spread herself across the keyboard. When she died at fourteen, I was devastated. After so many years with her, I couldn't imagine how I was going to cope without my furry attachment to comfort me, cuddle me and rule me with a paw of iron.

Little did I know that her big sister Theodora was waiting for her turn! Since Josephina has gone, Theodorable has blossomed. While she doesn't have her late sister's boisterous, extrovert personality - in keeping with her highly pedigreed ancestral line that contains many champions and grand champions - Theodora is fairly reserved, highly strung and, at times, disdainful. As an only furkid, she has come out of her shell, and I've discovered her delightfully gentle, playful and loving side.


I still have company when I work (see above) and I'm still ruled by a (regal) paw of iron. I love it and hope that, having just celebrated Theodorable's 15th birthday, I still get to share many a working day with her.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When one door closes, another always opens.

Theodorable (also known as H.R.H.) in a regal pose. 


Theodorable (15) thinking she's a kitten with her new teddy toy!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Report back on Basic Editing Course

This past week I went on a three-day Basic Copy Editing and Proofreading Course run by the Cape Town based company McGillivray Linnegar Associates. Looking at the other side of writing was a fascinating experience and, although the course focused mainly on training the participants to become freelance editors of non-fiction, as a fiction writer I did learn some interesting tips and hints that I hope will tighten up my own writing.

When I attend a course, I always think that if I've come away with just one benefit or new skill, I've had my money's worth. I came away from this course with so much new knowledge my mind is reeling. I still have to sift through it at a leisurely pace to fully appreciate all the benefits.

In the immediate aftermath of the course, I know that there are two skills I've fallen in love with: the house style sheet and proofreading marks. These two editing skills will prove invaluable, particularly when revising the first draft of my next novel (which I'm gearing up to begin writing in early January 2011).

The house style sheet is a document drawn up at the beginning of a book project and helps keep track of decisions about style and grammar. For example, is this book going to be edited according to Oxford or Chicago style manuals? Is 'old fashioned' going to be treated as 'old-fashioned' or 'old fashioned'? Are ages going to be written as fifty or 50? As you make these decisions, you record them on the house style sheet and when, later in the manuscript, you came across the same dilemma you can refer back the sheet. This helps ensure consistency throughout the manuscript.

To get some idea of proofreading marks, search google images for ‘proofreading marks’ and see how cute (and handy!) they are.  And it's well worth your while to invest in a good style manual, such as the Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors.

Everyone has different tastes and needs, so no course can hope to be perfect. The main advantages of this course were the valuable course content and the lecturer, who was professional, friendly, highly knowledgeable and easy to approach (no-one felt silly asking basic questions; in fact, I got so carried away asking questions on the second day that, on the final morning, one of the other course attendees took me aside before we started for the day and politely asked me to shut up! *blush*). The disadvantage of the course (for my particular needs) was that it was geared mainly for non-fiction editing.

If you want to strengthen your writing skills and you can find an editing course near your home, I’d highly recommend you attend. For those of you lucky enough to live in South Africa, along with all its other advantages, you’ll be able to attend the same course I did.

To find out more about the editing and training courses run by McGillivray Linnegar Associates contact Ken or John on info@editandtrain.com for up-to-date information. You won’t regret it!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Ouma's Bobotie

My Ouma (my Dad's Mom) was Afrikaans; a proper boerevrou. I remember her working in the farm dairy, churning the butter, or outside making her soap in the giant sized potjie (which is now a flower container at my sister Iona's house in England). No-one could roll apricot smeer, make koeksusters or cook bobotie like Ouma could! My husband loves bobotie so I often cook him some using the recipe from my favourite (and first) cook book, Cook and Enjoy It. I've had this particular book since 1978: it was given to me by my brother-in-law Ian, as my bridesmaid present! The book is falling apart; the pages are stained and torn, but the recipes are as easy and as delicious as they ever were. Last night, before Husband could tuck in to his supper, I took a photo (above left). Even though I'm vegetarian these days, the smell and sight made my mouth water.

Bobotie is a South African dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Made popular by the Cape Malay community - probably in the 17th century - it uses curry powder to give it a slight bite.  The dish can be made with a mixture of mutton and pork, but more usually it's made of beef or lamb or cholestrol-free ostrich, although, as a vegetarian, I also use lentils or butternut or mushrooms for my bobotie.  Bobotie isn't bobotie unless it's served with chutney, especially Mrs Balls Original Chutney, which South African ex-pats the world over will sell their soul for! Oven-baked, bobotie is a complex mix of flavours: curry, onions, dried fruit and spices all make it unique and delicious. It's best served with yellow rice (mixed with sultanas), a cucumber-tomato salad, and red wine (South African reds, of course!).

When Trevor Immelman won the US Open in 2008,  he selected bobotie as the featured menu item for Augusta National's annual "Champions Dinner" in April 2009. I wonder which recipe the Augusta chefs used? Below is the recipe I use from the fantastic "Cook and Enjoy It"; you'll need to adjust it to your personal tastes (e.g. I double the topping to make a thicker crust).

BOBOTIE

1kg (2lbs) minced mutton or beef (or lentils)
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 slice of white bread
1 cup milk
1 T curry powder (mild or hot, to your taste)
2 eggs
1 T sugar
2t salt and 1/2 t pepper
1/2 T turmeric
Juice of 1 lemon
3 T chutney
6 almonds, quartered
1/2 cup seedless raisins
4 lemon or bay leaves, or grated rind of 1 lemon

Simmer onions in very little boiling water untl swollen and glassy. Then chop them finely and brown slightly in hot fat.
Soak bread in milk and then squeeze out the milk again (keep the milk). Crumb the bread.
Combine all ingredients except 1 egg and the bay leaves.
Place mixture in a greased fireproof baking dish. Roll up bay leaves and insert them into meat mix in an upright position.
Bake in a moderate oven at 180C (or 350F) for 1 and 1/2 hours if uncooked meat is used, or for 45 minutes if cooked meat is used.
Beat remaining egg with a little extra milk (you can use the bread milk) and pour this over the meat half an hour before taking it out of the oven.
Remove upright bay leaves before serving with yellow rice and chutney.

YELLOW RICE

Any kind of rice can be used, but long grain rice that needs cooking for more than 10 minutes works better than instant rice or rice cooked in a microwave.

Cook rice as usual with water and salt but for every cup of uncooked rice, add:

1 teaspoon (5 ml) turmeric (you can add 2 teaspoons if you want a darker yellow)
1 cinnamon stick

For the last 10 minutes of cooking, add 4 oz (100 ml) seedless raisins or sultanas. Remove cinnamon stick, fluff rice and serve.

Eet lekker! Enjoy your dinner!