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Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Writing habits and lifestyle

At about 4.30 am, Monday, July 5, storyboard woke up to surprise himself with the thought that he had loitered around long enough to turn 60 years old. Half an hour later, as the new day dawned and after a brief utterance of thanksgiving, he felt slightly at ease because he had, the previous night, completed reading the manuscript of Steven Winduo’s forthcoming publication, The Unpainted Mask, courtesy of Manui Publishers and UPNG Press & Bookshop.

But there was the preface yet to be written, he realized at that hour.

So, at his writing table some 25 minutes later and in the concluding paragraphs of the preface to that book, storyboard wrote: “...the central theme of the book, as noted earlier, lies in the mask and who wears it. Sometimes there is laughter noted in these masks; other times some suggestions of sombre moments in creativity, desolation, abandonment and much, much questioning as well as wonder and amazement.

This is an excellent collection of short imaginative prose. As I write this preface this morning at 5.30am, feeling somewhat surprised at myself for loitering long enough to turn 60, I come to realize that the long journey of literary creativity undertaken by my country during all those years has been worth it; and then, and then, I uplift myself with the thought that I could ask for no better way of celebrating this special day than to join in the dance of the masks by contributing just one sentence to The Unpainted Mask.”

After he had written that in long hand, storyboard reflected on his younger colleagues, particularly writers and artists, who could not make it to 60. However, he could console himself with the thought that even at 60 Shearston published Dead Birds, certainly not his last, and that Albert Wendt at 71 years old was still winning major international book prizes such as the Commonwealth best book award for 2009.

Albert Wendt continues to write, and as Paul Sharrad reports, “often in bed of an evening with family all around him.” One can imagine the lively atmosphere an old man finds himself to write in, what with all the bubus fighting over biros and exercise books, etc. Other writers such as the storyboard or Steven’s Window usually find themselves scribbling or typing away vigorously at 4.30 am to 5.30 am, just to avoid the nagging toddlers, before washing up for breakfast and then rushing off to school to drop off children or themselves to deliver lectures.

But it really does not matter what job one does. Make it a lifestyle to wake up at 4.30 each morning and do some scribbling on a writing pad. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you are flexing the muscles, moving the limbs and that sort of thing. But above all, you are thinking in the process, and that is the sort of preoccupation that pays good dividends in the end.

We may not be absolutely aware of this, but great poems of the world are usually written between the hours of 4.30 and 6.45 in the morning. T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, for example, or Rainer Maria Rilke’s Eight Elegies.

After all, what kind of a lifestyle is it that gets you working late well into the twilight of the next evening, if you know that you are bound to end up in a pub, probably stay longer than you should, then drive home to some rich food waiting – and then, instead of reading the labels of what you are about to consume, even at home, gobble everything down. Then retire, and then forget to wake up at 4.30 am the next day to observe the ritual of random scribbling before rushing off to the office without even saying goodbye to the little ones still asleep. And by the time you reach the office, lo and behold it’s 9.55 am.

All that time-tabling exercise of writing habits works perfectly – but only in principle.

Here’s the melodramatic part. Waking up at 4.30 am to do your writing simply means that by 6.45 am you are bound to feel a little exhausted again. We all are bio-physical entities, don’t forget. We cannot behave and perform like those carefully programmed mechanical instruments that are subjected to certain given commands.

So if by 6.45 am you are beginning to feel lethargic again, for goodness’ sake dive back into bed for a 30 minute nap before taking off for the office. Don’t worry. You won’t be more than 15 minutes late for work.

Most writers known to the storyboard use the remaining free morning hours at home to go out of the house for a stroll, and, on the pretext of buying breakfast at the local shop, greet the brightness of the new day and God’s glory through the smiling faces of neighbours. That gives them the energy to stay awake the whole day, as the following poetry suggests:

The kwamra’s dreams are waking                                    
And leaves that were written dead
Are waking deeper than the roots
Thant penned them. Each cotyledon
Each tentative bud saves the day.
The earth stands still, mauve-
Coloured and olive, a chalice
Before the morning sun

The earth is the ultimate
In our song of the womb:
The final grace that is mother.
Tall. Graceful. Elegant.
She embraces and shields us
Shows us the wounds at the side
At the feet and hands, where
The world has died. We sing praises
For her great strength, for the bread
She breaks; and the living spring
We drink from the cup of her hands.
From Kwamra: a season of harvest. 

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