It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky. And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.
If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.
If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike.
Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.
These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.
Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.
I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.
Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.
What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.
Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being.
Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.
On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.
Several weeks ago, John at Book of Bokeh invited me to participate in the Five Day Monochrome Photos Challenge, posting one photo each day and inviting someone else to participate. Not to risk further procrastination, or posting only one image and then fluttering to something else, I decided to squeeze the five days into one. Five different images, each with their own little story.
A Bird.You might have noticed that I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my discretionary time lately to bird photography. So there has to be a bird shot among the five. My feathered friends can be aptly represented by this fellow, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. One early morning at the salt marsh, he almost scared me to death. I thought I was alone when he croaked really loud in a tree just above my head. When I spotted him again later, he projected an air of innocence and pragmatism. A bird has to sleep, and when woken up by an intruder, a loud croak in protest is called for. I forgave him.
Back to my roots.This old barn in Finland brings me back to my roots. It’s been there as long as I can remember. I think of my paternal grandparents when I stand in front of the now padlocked doors. They used to store all sorts of farming equipment and hay there when I was a child. And it was always an adventure to go see them working there, milking cows or feeding the horse. As a protector of quality time with my grandmother, this barn served as a cradle of wisdom and valuable insights for me.
A flower.I love roses. They always light up my day. This love story started with the white wild roses I admired in my grandparents’ garden as a child. Their fragrance and delicate beauty embodied romantic mystique to me ~ and still do.
A black and white photo. That brings me to an old photo. It’s the only genuinely black and white analog image of these five. And obviously not a selfie. I’m about four years old, in my Sunday best attending my aunt’s wedding. I still look pretty much the same, only my shoes are bigger now and my hair is a few inches longer.
A Beauty.And my final image is of a young giraffe. I was privileged to meet many of them, from babies to grandparents, in my years living in Africa. This one though is Floridian and lives in Bush Gardens. He looked at me with his big eyes and made his way right into my heart. I guess we were both dreaming of Africa.
I invite any blogging friend who is inspired by monochrome photography to participate in this challenge ~ five images in five days, or a compressed version like mine. I’m thinking of Joanne, Nancy x 3, Frank, Amy x 3, Kathy, Rob, H.J. and others. That’s a hint 😉
The little girl waiting for school bus in the 25 below, snowy dawn of Finnish countryside in 1960s wouldn’t have believed that almost 50 years later she’d be blogging about her writing process from a sunny beach in distant “America”. In a language she had not yet heard of.
Had she been told how she’d land in that situation, she would’ve smiled in disbelief at the woman holding the crystal ball. But had the woman told her that writing would be an integral part of her life, she would probably have accepted that as a possibility. The bag she was clutching held a treasure, her very first essay. It was in Finnish, of course, and detailed her first adventure in Helsinki, the capital of the world.
It’s funny how life can turn out. Lots of twists and turns. So here I am a million miles later, on the beach, blogging away. I felt honored when Michelle, a gifted writer at The Green Study, invited me to participate in this blog tour. True to my Myers ENFP, I accepted without hesitation. I value interactions with other writers and have already met a few new ones through this tour.
I’ve been writing all my life. It all started with that first school essay, followed by college papers, newsletter writing/editing and articles in journals and newspapers. And numerous white papers about intricacies in management and organizations. A few poems here and there. This was all in Finnish and/or Swedish, before my life in English began in my early 30s. That’s when I was thrown out into the big wild world. And I’ve been roaming ever since. Writing many more white papers, board papers, research publications and a couple of professional books too. We can call those “non-fiction”, although that might be a bit generous.
Anyway, three years ago I became my own boss. Now I can write papers of whatever color I like or none at all. Consultants have that flexibility. To make money or not to make money.
So having that freedom, I allocated some time for bird watching, photography, walking on the beach… and started blogging in the summer of 2012.
After a year of interacting with many writers and reading their books, I caught the bug. Writing is contagious. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote my first novel at the end of last year. In close collaboration with my little poodle, I might add, and cheered on by many blogging friends. Thanks friends for your support, you know who you are!
Each writer participating in this blog tour is invited to answer four specific questions. Here are my answers:
1) What am I working on right now? After my first novel came out earlier this year, I started working on two writing projects simultaneously: a poetry collection and an Africa-themed novel. I have a suspicion that my decision will turn out to be a mistake. None of the books might get finished any time soon. There is always something that needs to get done first to ensure bread on the table. Or something else that feels much more fun to write, such as reporting from the nature reserve. Writing books is hard work, and I know I’ll need to put much greater effort into my second novel than what I did previously. The bar is somehow much higher now.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a difficult question to which I don’t have an answer. My first novel is a light-hearted tale of a rescue dog, told by a dog to dog lovers. And a little bit of advocacy and fund-raising for animal rescue too. It doesn’t fall neatly in any one genre. The second one will be very different. Literary fiction strongly influenced by personal experiences of the writer. But not a memoir. Unless I rewrite it from scratch. That might still happen, of course, I never know with myself. Settling into writing in one specific genre is an unlikely proposition for me.
As to my poetry, it’s only different in the sense that I try to keep it short, simple, inspirational and positive. I just can’t write dark or tragic verse. And I’m not gifted enough to write complex forms of poetry.
3) Why do I write what I do? I had four potential ideas when I thought about NaNoWriMo last year. To be honest, “Confessions of a Rescue Dog” was by far the easiest story to write. I thought I might actually manage to complete that project. Getting this first book out and interacting with readers has been a great learning experience. It has also given me a little more confidence. So now I’m working on a much more demanding story, but it’s the one I have the most passion for. Wish me luck.
My poetry and my general blog writing are products of my mood and the thoughts occupying my mind any given day. I think it’s obvious. Total lack of focus. I have accepted that I don’t fit neatly in any one pigeon-hole. I post when I have something to say and spend more time reading other blogs than writing on my own.
4) How does my writing process work?
I am a “marathon writer”. I get my best results when I write in long focused stretches under a tight deadline, even a self-imposed one. I’m able to write almost 24/7 if need be. That goes for any type of writing I’m working on, I’ve always been like that.
I don’t produce much when I have “all the time in the world” to get it done. You see, I can always do it later, mañana. My writing shoes tend to get lost in that kind of environment. My challenge is to get motivated enough to put on my writing shoes, get running and believe there’s a deadline to be met. When all that works, the writing marathon is on.
Editing is something I need to force myself to do. I do some light editing when I write, but always have to do several rounds after the main body of writing is done. I recall one particularly challenging “white paper” that had 26 versions. That’s probably my record. I did five rounds of editing on my book before it went to the editor, and a couple more after it came back to me.
Next Tour Stop. It is my pleasure to pass on the “hashtag” to two writers, one firmly established and published in several countries, and another one whose books we’ll soon be able to enjoy. They have kindly agreed to post for this tour in the week of May 19.
Tish Farrell writes fiction and non-fiction for young adults. In her first life she studied Prehistory, did a Masters degree in Social Anthropology and then worked in museum education, most notably at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in Shropshire, UK, the place where the world’s industrial revolution began. In her second life, during the 1990s, she lived in Africa, mostly in Kenya but also briefly in Zambia. It was during this time that she began to write story books for the African children’s literature market, spurred on by a small, persistent fury that were too few books that reflected young Africans’ lives in their increasingly urbanised world. In Kenya at that time there was no free schooling. Parents had to pay all primary school expenses including books. Textbooks were deemed essential. Story books were not. Most African publishing houses, then and now, survive by producing textbooks not fiction. In Nairobi during the ‘90s the book shops stocked mainly dated European children’s fiction (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew stories, Enid Blyton) together with school texts of oral traditions. There were no contemporary young African heroes to be seen here. Tish’s first children’s book, Jessicah the Mountain Slayer, and a picture book Flame Tree Market were first published by Zimbabwe Publishing House in 1995, and later also by Phoenix Publishing in Kenya. Both books won prizes at the 1996 International Zimbabwe Book Fair, and have remained in print ever since.
Next came Sea Running and Joe Sabuni P I for Macmillan Pacesetters and Heinemann Junior African Writers respectively. Joe Sabuni, a spoof detective story, has also been translated into 6 Zambian languages as part of a (belatedly realised) project that allows Zambians to learn to read in their mother tongue rather than in their second language English. Now in her third life, Tish lives in the ancient market of Much Wenlock in the English Midlands. Recent works, Mantrap and Stone Robbers for Ransom Publishing, are novelised short stories aimed at encouraging reluctant teens to read. The stories are of adult interest, but are fast-paced and brief. She has also recently self-published a Kindle book Losing Kui. This is a new edition of a novella originally published in Cicada Magazine in the U.S.
Jackie Phillips lives in Alberta, Canada. She’s originally from the states, Wisconsin to be exact, although she has not lived there for many years. She lived in Texas for more than 20 years – and then moved to Canada’s land of cowboys and cattle! Jackie doesn’t have cattle, but she has a dog named Sam, her buddy, and two crazy cats. Jackie loves animals of all kinds and has been known to rescue some if they need it!
Jackie is a well known coffee addict, she loves it and needs it to function, especially in the mornings. She’s on a health kick right now, walking on her treadmill that she named Trudy, every day, eating healthier and exercising!
Jackie has been writing almost her whole life, first in journals, then short stories, poems, and now novels. Some of her short stories have been published at Etherbooks.com under the name JLPhillips. She has plans for the future (which she hasn’t revealed yet, but I’m sure they are awesome) and is getting ready for that at the moment.
Jackie started blogging 2 years ago and hasn’t looked back. She says she’s met some wonderful people on WordPress. Next week she’ll tell you what she’s working on right now!