Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Blowing Bubbles

I first heard of South African writer Rahla Xenopoulos during last year's Bloody Book Week, and intrigued by what I read online about her novel Bubbles, plus A Memoir of Love and Madness: Living with Bipolar Disorder, I promptly went out and bought both.

I read the memoir first. Below is a copy of my review on Goodreadsposted back in September:

Funny how you expect to take away from a particular book something synopsis-specific, but end up being treated to something SO much more.

Although Rahla and my stories are incredibly similar, physical circumstance and anecdotal evidence make them equally distinct. While her spirit is innately free, galloping through life with gay abandon, mine is several shades darker, more tightly coiled. And I have come to the realisation that between BP sufferers, the way in which our angels and demons manifest during acute manic and depressive episodes is quite unique.

Over and above the sense of solidarity and kinship I found with a fellow 'crazy', the most poignant part of this book, for me, was her exquisitely eloquent explanation of a shared spiritually. Through her unborn daughter 'Tallulah', Rahla manages to express in words what Dr Michael Newton's 'Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives' never quite managed to do. And I cannot thank her enough for FINALLY verbalising the way I feel about the miracle of life, death, and everything in between.

Then I read Bubbles. An eponymous fictionalised memoir, based on the real-life unsolved murder of 18-year-old Jacoba "Bubbles" Schroeder in Johannesburg, 1949. Below is a copy of my review on Goodreads, posted about an hour ago:

Through amazing imaginative empathy and her lush, yet effortlessly readable writing style, Rahla transports us back in time. To a post-WW2, pre-Apartheid era South-Africa; the half-hidden world of a good-time girl, her bookie, and the dearth of men willing to pay for the pleasure of her company. Plus her association with a well-connected and dangerously close-knit circle of young Jewish guys, that ultimately led to her untimely demise.

With a colourful collection of anachronistic euphemisms, and our protagonist’s steady stream of delightful malaphors and idiosyncrasies, I defy you not to fall in love with this version of the story...

"He put his arms around me; they were heavy and wrapped me up like a small parcel. I felt myself falling like Mimsy the cat must've fallen when she was dropped to the bottom of the river. His coat smelled like Dr Snyman talking and the shade of the willow trees in Lichtenburg. It smelled like Mrs Walker's baking and the back of Winnie's knees in the middle of the night, like the inside of the lift in John Orrs and the filters of my Viceroys. It smelled like the sun and it smelled like my dreams. It was dark inside his coat and I could hear his voice like a song."

It is also deliciously funny in places...

"I handed him the hanky and saw his thing had coiled up small now like a defeated animal."

Warning: If you are a prude, then Bubbles is NOT for you. If, however, you want to learn how to give the world’s most sensational blowjob, then buckle up and enjoy the ride. Seriously, this little novel is more educational in parts than Jenna Jameson’s tome How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. Without a shadow of a lie.

The film rights to this novel have been bought by Lisa Bryer, co-producer of The Last King of Scotland, but I was told by Rahla at an author talk / book signing last week that the project is currently in development hell. The producers want to use the real names of the characters involved, but the fact that the main murder suspect, Hyman Balfour Liebman, is still alive (and on Facebook!), presents some serious legal issues. He and his co-accused, the late David Polliack, who also happened to be Liebman’s cousin, were both acquitted without the case ever going to trial.

Below is a montage I created, incorporating images from award-winning contemporary artist Kathryn Smith's Incident Room exhibition, a recent pic of the gorgeous Rahla, and of course, a couple of Bubbles.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Tattoos, trains, & a Teletubby tunnel

Below are some pics I snapped this arvie during a fabulous family day out at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, where we had gone for a mate's birthday picnic. The last time we visited was for my birthday picnic back in August 2009 - almost four years ago! I'm so pleased to see that the breeding pair of Black Eagles are still happily nesting on the cliff face alongside the beautiful Witpoortjie Waterfall, and that you can watch them live 24/7, on a new-and-improved Africam. Gotta love modern technology!

All images Copyright © Paula Gruben

Friday, 26 April 2013

Last night I dreamed of suicide

Today was a good day, writing wise. I sat down and transcribed a ten-page handwritten letter from my biological father to my adoptive father, penned in the lead-up to their first face-to-face meeting in June 2011. It explained, in vivid detail, his version of the events preceding my conception and the circumstances surrounding a collective decision to give me up for adoption. The transcribing process managed to jolt some long-suppressed memories of my own, of my early years - what it actually felt like, being an adopted child, not knowing who my 'real' parents were, or why they had given me away - and I quickly banged out another few paragraphs on my keyboard - all of which will be expanded upon and incorporated into my adoption novoir.

This whole week has been a significant one for me, actually. On Tuesday night I tossed and turned with graphic dreams of trying to kill myself. When one method failed, I tried another, then another. Eventually I woke in a pool of sweat, still not 'successfully dead', put the dream to bed, and continued with my day. Something was clearly percolating in my sub-conscious, so yesterday, when I had a few moments to spare, I decided to look up the meaning of a 'suicide dream', and what I discovered was simply too good not to share. Below is an image I created to document this turning point in my life, to remind myself of exactly when it happened...

I believe a large part of this progress can be attributed to the help I am receiving from my life coach, Graham Le Sar. A life coach!? Yup, a life coach. But aren't they just quacks, out to make a quick buck off yuppie angst?! Well, from my experience, life coaching isn't all that different from psychotherapy. In fact, it was my psychiatrist who pointed me in this direction! During a routine check-up in the latter half of last year, whilst she was writing me a new script for a cocktail of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and mood-stabilisers, I broached the subject of talk therapy. Something to supplement the drug therapy, with the specific aim of helping me work through some personal issues I finally felt ready to address, and in the process hopefully get my writing mojo back. I'm not sure why, but I presumed she would refer me to a psychologist, one of her colleagues at the clinic. Instead she asked if I had ever considered seeing a life coach. I hadn't. The more we chatted about it, and the more I looked into it afterwards, however, the more I liked the idea. I then spent the next several months 'shopping around' for the right practitioner, and in late February, signed up with Graham.

His is an eight-month programme, comprising twelve one-hourly sessions, as and when I need them (generally on a fortnightly basis), and I am already making decent headway. Although I'll be the first to admit I still have a long way to go, I'm loving the fact that I am finally able to move forward, rather than being stuck in that mental quagmire I found myself in for so long.

Graham is both a great listener and clearly well read, and somehow manages to cut through all the crap and give some solid pragmatic advice. There is no spoonfeeding on this journey, though. Just him planting a few seeds and giving one a nudge in the right direction. My goal for this programme is to not only write / finish / secure a publishing deal for my memoir, but also to establish a rhythm and commit to a lifelong routine with my writing process; the ultimate aim being to realise my dream of becoming a career novelist. Big changes are afoot, and I'm now nicely motivated for the months to come.

Self-portrait, 24th April 2013

Monday, 15 April 2013

Tonic for the weary soul

Yesterday afternoon, en route back to Jozi from our fabulous mini-break in the Free State (see previous post), my partner-in-crime and I swung by the opening of a brand new exhibition at Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind.

When I tell you these pictures don't do the place justice, what I mean to say is: ohmygod, please do yourself a favour and go experience it for yourself! Nirox really is one of Gauteng's best kept secrets, and a family-friendly daytrip I simply cannot recommend highly enough - for locals and tourists alike. Best of all, it's FREE!

My advice for this particular exhibition: Give yourself at least two hours, and take along a small coolerbox of refreshments as it's pretty thirsty work walking the entire length and breadth of the sprawling grounds. Although picnicking per se is not allowed, those-in-the-know all seemed to come (discreetly) prepared. Round off your walkabout by drinking in exquisite vistas from the gentle slope of a grassy bank or the shade of a beautiful tree. Magic. Pure magic...

All images Copyright © Paula Gruben