Flying Over the Andes

28 Aug

Every manual for writers encourages us to write as much and as often as possible. The idea is to become familiar with your word flow, your inner thesaurus, and to become masters at describing the most mundane of elements in everyday life. When you can successfully describe the poetry in the mundane; when you can linguistically re-create scenarios everyone knows from daily life – then you are exercising your writing muscle. It’s an exercise I love doing, and that I don’t do enough.

This is what I wrote in my diary as we flew from Lima to Cusco. This is the view that inspired me.

These are quick thoughts from which more descriptions and metaphors can be born – completely work-in-progress!!!

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I can see the beginning of the Andes. The sirus clouds that cover the city of Lima reach only to their knees, like white wave lapping brown ruffles. They become minor, unimportant. It thrills me Such brown desolation, sharp cuts. No one lives here. On the horizon I see white peaks rise, white towers coming closer. How awed we all must feel when flying over Peru!

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Oh but the white is a crown for the brown mountains that made is so high. An act of distinction. A mutation of height.

And now the clouds that inhabit the space over these mountains begin to manifest. Thicker, they hang over the brown ruffles with a view to their lower cousins, the one who blanket Lima and lap at the knees of the brown ruffles. Solitary bodies, these thicker clouds cast large solitary shadows over the brown plateaus. How they must smile fondly at the Lima blankets, covering a world they neither see nor care about.

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The horizon becomes more jagged, interesting. The ruffles have now calmed into a plateau; the height has been conquered. These mountains now cover the world; their high plateau is no white base of the world, the point of origin from whence all life begins. And indeed, between the valleys, in every benign ridge, sparkles of rooftops appear. Brown tin, as though its inhabitants were camouflaging from fearsome sky predators.

Tired of plateaus, the mountains now rise again, resume their wild jagged nature. Their shapes are obviously restless, the existence as plateaus has obviously bored them. They rise to meet the clouds which now become tangled in them. They want another crown, another mark of distinction. Plateaus and valleys only served to become populated. No, they want to be wild again.

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And where they sink, they fall into the sirus clouds again, and it looks like that is where the world ends: the cliff over which mountains fall. They disappear into the grey-blue smog, over which thick solitary clouds hang as though patrolling, seeking the mountains that had fallen in.

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At the edge of the sunken world stand the mountains looking black. White tufts of clouds hang onto their sides like children afraid to venture. The horizon is empty again. There is a valley here where mountains do not belong, cannot exist. We leave it, turn to look at the rest of the world.

The mountains have matured. They are no longer light brown ruffles in the world but dark brown, almost black, serious creatures. They have reached new heights, have broken the hymen of clouds and are now peaked in white. Almost deadly, they stand adjoined in fraternity. They have survived the sunken world into which mountains fall, they have matured, and looking over the peaks of lower mountains, they see one another.

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I am so close to them, I can almost touch them. I don’t. Something must remain holy.

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The valleys widen now. What mountains the Incas crossed to found Cusco! How easily we fly over them today.

We are descending. I have written for almost an hour and a half. We are descending to the landing strip I know so well because I used to live close to it. I watched planes arrive and leave all the time and was happy I was only watching. Now I am landing myself and in a few days, I will take off again and return to descend into the blanket over Lima.

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that’s not wine; it’s chicha

About My Book:

For reasons I understand, Mark is now inspired to paint more for Qayqa. I think it’s the fact that the pressure is off his shoulders. Now that he’s illustrated what we agreed, he feels more relaxed and can start creating again. Ironic, no? He sent me a few illustrations today, like this one I didn’t understand myself at first – and I wrote the damn book! Mark knows my images better than I do.

DSCN7992

I’ve been struggling with the damn blurb for almost a week now. I decided to break all expectations and rules and go with what I like. I published my work-in-progress blurb on my Tumblr and asked for feedback. You can also give me feedback here! Tell me, does this sound like something you want to take home with you?

“You’re a fool if you think we work the fields. The fields work us!”

This foreboding riddle could have led Damian to be more careful with the earth, but not much makes sense when you have knots growing out of your head. As a young man on the road he finds work at a circus of flying people, learns about medicinal plants from the Obeah cook Ti, but continues not understanding his knots.

When Damian completely loses his balance and falls over the horizon, he lands in a desolate world where the Earth sees him as a seed that refuses to grow. Only by striking up a friendship with a charming but cheeky potato, battling the demons living within the Earth and digesting a storm of ghosts, can Damian hope to open his knots and return to his side of the horizon.

Rooted in Peruvian mythology, Qayqa is a novel about the living energy of the universe, a fairytale about finding yourself.

Until we meet again, I hope you enjoyed the thought-jumbles from the plane.

always on a plane

always on a plane

Love, Ritti

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Now Someone Has To Write the Blurb (and I Don’t Want That Someone To Be Me)

19 Aug

As I type this, I am listening to a fantastic soundtrack recently shared by a friend. She told me she is listening to this while she translates Qayqa into Spanish. I’ve added it so you can listen to it while you read!

 

Dear ayllu,

As you might have seen in my excited tweets, the basic formatting of Mark’s illustrations into my novel Qayqa is DONE. Is all the page numbering… the dedication… the “other books by the author”… as well as a very proud page that says THIS BOOK IS A CROWDFUNDING PROJECT. TO THE FOLLOWING I GIVE MY ENDLESS THANKS… And then your names.

I didn’t have all the names in my head so I went back to my StartNext page and went through every single supporter, re-read your comments and re-saw how much you supported my book project. Oh you guys… It was an incredible feeling writing all your names into the opening pages of Qayqa, seeing how much you BELIEVED in my baby. Thank you, again and again and again.

I spent the rest of the evening remembering the crowdfunding time. That was one of the most exhausting periods of my life. I don’t know how much I let it on at the time, but I felt like I was running from one exhausting, disheartening event to the next. I had no energy, no self-belief, and no more fucking desire to go through with it. I just wanted it all to end – and I felt so horribly ungrateful for thinking that because I had so many people writing me, believing in me and giving me such good advice – which only served to exhaust me more.

If I didn’t let it on that the time, it was because I thought I would seem ungrateful. So I’m admitting it now.

Photo 19-08-2014 15 09 39

my face today feels so clear and happy in comparison to the exhausting time I’m describing

I had a lot of help at the time. A pixie showed up to support me endlessly and regardless that we’ve since gone our separate ways, I will always be grateful to her for this. I also hired a Power Ranger to kick my ass into working. (Essentially she is my PR lady but we needed a nickname for her because power rangers like to hide their identities.) She did a great ass-kicking when I most wanted to give up. For this above all things, I recommend artists build a PR team when they’re about to publish.

At the time, I thought I would never want to do a crowdfunding project again. I can’t express how utterly exhausted I was. Every day was a battle and I couldn’t even blog a proper THANK YOU.

Now – I would do it again. I’ve learnt a lot and one of the things I most learnt was to keep at it with my GUT. People will have a lot of well-meaning advice, and mostly they’ll be right – but it has to be done according to what *I* feel is right. So now, if I do a crowdfunding project again, I will prepare myself for it as though I were going into battle.

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Since Qayqa is now formatted, I turned her into a PDF and sent her to Mark. He is the visual artist, so he’ll give Qayqa an eye-over and we’ll get on Skype in a few days and discuss what he thinks of my layout.

Formatting his illustrations into my book were all about adding narrative dimensions. Sometimes other ways of looking at the world I’m describing… Or times added emotions. They’re not illustrations; they are dimensions Mark adds to my world.

I don’t know if you know what I mean?

small part 2Ochoa isn’t really running in that part of the book. In fact, this bit takes place under the earth and he is represented by one of his potato roots. This image, to me, just represents Ochoa’s playful, joyful nature. When Damian touches him and says: “There you are, my brother”, this image represents how Damian’s words must have made Ochoa feel.

At least that’s how I see it. I’m very curious to hear what you’ll say when you’re holding the book in your hands.

Which, by the way, is looking like this at the moment…! (It might still change.)

my book's skin

my book’s skin

What do you think?

As you can see, I’m hiding from the blurb! I’m reading all the do-it-yourself websites like this one, which make me feel like I’m doing self-therapy!!

The blurb and the author’s biography are scaring me the most. I don’t know what the hell to say! I might just write some nonsense that feels right to me, because it won’t be nonsense, it’ll be the thing I can most represent instead of the conventional author nonsense. A bit like Neil Gaiman’s: “One day I’ll get a real job. Until then, I’ll keep making up stories.” That feels more real and right than “Ritti Soncco was born in…” I think that’s the thing that gets me the most about blurbs or biographies: writing in 3rd person. Like we all don’t know exactly who is writing this!!

writers blockIn the meantime, I’ve reactivated a lot of tweeting and posting about Qayqa and I must confess I’m amazed at all the responses and interest I’m getting! Having time in Lima is really helping, as I thought / hoped it would. Lima is, after all, the place I wrote The Backpacker Poem and started its around-the world-project. Some places are best for extroverting (like Cusco); others are best for introverting (Lima). Know your geography!

I feel filled with energy now: to prepare Qayqa properly, slowly… to make Facebook pages… to tweet… all that jazz. Thinking about the crowdfunding time, I remember thinking I wasn’t cut out for the artist life because I couldn’t deal with it then. I sincerely thought I would never have energy again.

It took time – but it’s filling me up again.

I want to leave you with two brilliant videos I think you simply have to see. Two weeks ago, my pole fitness friends from Studio 202 (where I teach aerials and learn pole) participated in the Mister & Miss Pole Scotland 2014 competition – and they took 1st and 2nd place!!!

I simply need to share these stunning & touching videos with you. These are kind, sweethearted and generous people I train with often, who always took the time to teach me, to chat, to hang out. They taught me to do this:

handsprings // pole fitness

handsprings // pole fitness

I am proud to call them my friends, and so endlessly proud of their success!!!

Taking 2nd place for Mister Pole Scotland 2014: James Denholm!!!

 

And winning 1st Place for Mister Pole Scotland 2014:  Theo Robertson!!!

 

Now… To tackle that blurb…

Love,

Ritti

The Making Of Of Qayqa

11 Aug

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Work at the institute is going well. I finished a rough cut of the final material and ran into the weekend feeling I had accomplished something. But the city of Lima is driving me nuts and with Peru being so large, it’s hard to get very far with only a weekend to escape. So I complain to friends who raise their eyebrows and snigger: “Ritti, that’s the life we’ve been having for years. It’s what life is like if you’ve got a normal job.”

I did not know that.

The most normal job I’ve had is working at regional television with spontaneous working hours… And cafes / bars. I’ve never done a 9-5. Currently I’m doing a 7:30-4:30 job. In Peru’s winter. What the hell was I thinking.

 

The Making Of… Of… Qayqa

Last week I requested on Twitter for people to send me questions about Qayqa and my life / work as a writer. The reason for this is that I’m currently preparing a Qayqa Making Of book: a side-project which is designed to keep me sane (and motivated) while I walk Qayqa through the last steps of her birth. I got some excellent questions from a friend and stayed up way past my working-hours-bedtime having fun answering them. I found them to be so insightful and delicious. Here are 3 that made me snigger with delight:

We know that your life at the circus inspired elements of Qayqa, such as the Flying People, but how did your work on Qayqa have an influence on your work as an aerial artist?

Are there elements of Qayqa that you wrote knowing they would give away a lot of yourself, and if so, how did you manage to trust your readers and your audience enough to open up to them like this?

Many people are looking forward to learn more about The Flying People, do you feel like the great interest of people on THEIR story is somehow betraying Damian’s journey and HIS story?

Insightful, ey?

Some people will be receiving the Making Of book as their reward for supporting the crowd funding project. I’m going to print a limited edition and sell the rest during my book tour. So grab ’em while they’re out!

Chatting with a friend in Lima, I mentioned that I couldn’t think of a good title for the book. “I can’t really call it: the making of of Qayqa, can I?” He stared at me and immediately gave me the best idea. It’s brilliant because it’s to short, explanatory… and references X Men. I love X Men. This is how much I love X Men:

at Universal Studios in 2008

at Universal Studios in 2008

at the "Days of Future Past" premiere in Aberdeen

at the “Days of Future Past” premiere in 2013

I’ll be calling the making of book QAYQA: ORIGINS.

Get it?

xmenorigins

My friend was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it myself.

I’ve sent Mark some questions for the book as well. I’m hoping it will give you an insight into the thought processes, the stories, the coincidences that all came together to make my first novel. And perhaps a sneak-peak into Munay, the sequel.

I spent the weekend finding my ideal café where I could write and go over Mark’s illustrations.

by Mark Klawikowski

by Mark Klawikowski

I also wrote for Munay. I realised (again) that she is much more done than I had thought. I’m connecting her dots and it’s so much fun to re-read all the old sections I wrote, knowing where I was in my life at that time, and where I was traveling too.

While I was seeping through, I discovered a passage that I’m not so sure will stay in Munay any more. I wrote it in Cusco two years ago, after a lovers quarrel, and now I realise it’s out of place in Munay. I may change my mind, but until then, what to do with it?

Put it in the blog, I thought.

Enjoy.

 

“How Women Argue” by Ritti Soncco 

Allow me to generalise without apology: the trouble is that women are not as accustomed to sidestepping, not as accustomed to waiting with the patience of cavaliers. We do not harbour as little judgment as men who seem born with the knowledge that we must accept what is given and never demand more because “woman are fundamentally different, my son”. Instead, we are creatures of passion whose cries of strength and cries of insecurity sound identical. Who want “everything is fine” to mean “stay here and talk to me because nothing is alright”.

And so we fall into the dilemma of being a woman. A dilemma we ourselves do not approve of. We do not want to stand in a corner overcrowded with clichés. We despise the confrontation of man versus woman; the one which ends with the evolutionary argument that we are fundamentally different. What rubbish. We prefer the school of thought “everything is only as complicated as you make it”. We insist that we are not complicated.

And so we find ourselves increasingly demanding a sphere of our own. Why should the ionosphere be as unarguable as this and have all the fun? Where is our world where the rules of gravity and air agree that we are in the right? One sphere to call our own, into which the world can enter and understand what we meant when we said _______________; understand why we needed that hug to last longer or those extra words of praise. Understand that we weren’t being needy, we weren’t feeding a cliché; we will not be branded and used as an example of Venus.

Breathe the air of our sphere and you’ll know how a woman feels. Fly around in our wind and you’ll understand why we fall so hard in love, why it makes us feel insecure, perfect, insufficient, and divine. I tell you if we could have a sphere of our own we would never be cornered with clichés again. We’d be an aerial fact, something to be measured. Rational minds would agree on the degrees of feminine passion, the knots of feminine insecurity and the average speed of feminine stability.

Was my anger in our last fight a moderate gale or a deep depression? I meant it to scatter the clouds but I fear it called forth a storm instead. In my passion, as analysed by the Beaufort Scale and therefore measured by observed conditions on land or sea (you choose), we are now flying over the India of my love and experiencing a moderate tropical storm. According to the anemometers this is the average wind speed for a monsoon. You know what to do.

A sphere for our emotional weather, where women can remain as understandable and elusive as the clouds of every other sphere.

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If you have any questions you would like me to include in QAYQA: ORIGINS (snigger), write me! I’m here for ya.

“Your Children Are Not Your Children”

5 Aug

a-book-is-a-magic-portal-to-another-dimension

Books, my ayllu, are fascinating creatures. How many of us know the phenomenon of buying a book only to not be able to read it? It’s as though it just won’t open itself up to us. And years later, having perhaps learnt new things and changed, suddenly, the book we had forgotten all about will suddenly attract us from the bookshelf, and we devour it within days.

This quite importantly happened to me when I bought The Prophet by Khalil Gibran in Lebanon. I was there visiting friends, who, as part of my short tour of Lebanon, took me to see his house. I was 16 and had no concept of Gibran. I bought the book because I loved his house and his paintings, and I felt buying the book was something I should do whilst in Lebanon. Yet that book kept me no company during my wait at Beirut Airport. I was bored to tears with it; I simply couldn’t access it. Then, when I was 20, it suddenly shone on the bookshelf. I took it down and inhaled it. I recommend it to everyone. I try to live by it. Seriously, if you don’t have it, get it right now. Your bookshelf – your life – needs it:

Click here if you’re in the UK.

Click here if you’re in Germany.

quote-your-children-are-not-your-children-they-are-the-sons-and-daughters-of-life-s-longing-for-itself-khalil-gibran-70826

So in a way, it should barely have surprised me that Qayqa is doing what she’s doing. And I can only thank you all for being so amazingly understanding. I was in Germany for 3 days and I want to say THANK YOU to the people I bumped into who were so supportive about Qayqa‘s book tour being postponed.

The greatest thing I was told was:

Don’t worry about anything. You just organise the tour and whenever it happens, I’ll be there. You don’t even have to tell me when & where: that’s MY part.

It’s amazing you should feel that way!!!

Qayqa, perhaps, is like a wine that matures with time. Or perhaps she’s just a little bitch. Sometimes I feel like I’m dragging a heavy horse up the Andes, and I don’t understand why I feel that way. I think of Emily Dickinson who, after a few publication rejections, stuffed her poems into her cupboard. (They weren’t discovered and subsequently celebrated until after her death.) Am I doing the same thing?

Or is a book-pregnancy just a big big birth to give?

Is Qayqa also biding her time to open up to me?

Equally, as most of you will know, I have been working on the sequel, Munay, for over two years now. I have had the skeleton of the story in my mind since her initial conception, but it was connecting the dots that proved the hardest. I know where the main character, Anahata, has to go, but I don’t know how to get her there. And no amount of living my life, reading books or speaking about it to people was helping.

Yesterday I finished reading –

by Stephan Talty

(a fun historical read; I recommend it)

– and suddenly it all made sense. I needed to make Anahata crawl through the earth and now I finally know how to get her down there. As always, it’s a question of wind. So thank you, Stephan Talty, for including 17th century philosophies on the origins of earthquakes in your excellent book. I now know how to connect the final dots in Munay and perhaps even finish her. After waiting 2 years, my own book opened up to me.

I am the mother of two. Qayqa, who I am trying to wobble into the world, and Munay, who is expanding in my belly. I have flushes of excitement with Munay – and I am terribly afraid and nervous with Qayqa. That’s just how it is to give birth, I suppose.

 

WHERE I AM NOW

Centro Internacional de la Papa

Centro Internacional de la Papa

So I am in Peru now, working on an anthropological-film internship. I have been hired by the International Potato Center in Lima-Peru, who is working, among others, in collaboration with the HoPe Foundation and Chirapaq Ñan on a project they have loving called the Las Papitas de mi Comunidad (the Little Potatoes in my Community). Together with several NGOs in the Andes, they have collected a vast array of film material about potatoes. Yes!

The material includes myths, rituals, songs about potatoes, as well as potato diseases, cooking methods and Andean agricultural farming methods. I have been given all this material and am now spending my hours at the institute going through it all to familiarise myself with it. My job will be to edit it into a series of trailers for a DVD. Teachers in the Andes will then be given this DVD / USB to reinforce their teaching in Andean communities.

at the office

at the office

I will, of course, show you the trailer once it’s done so that you can observe what I’ve been up to. In the mean time here are some pictures around my working space.

potato art around the institute

potato art around the institute

expansion routes

potato expansion routes

different types of potatoes

different types of potatoes

So far it’s incredible to be here. The working atmosphere is relaxed, so friendly, and everyone has been kind and welcoming. The institute emphasises the importance of sports, so there is a volleyball and a football court, as well as a gym with table tennis and zoomba possibilities. During my coffee break, I walk around the greenhouses, press my nose against the panes and ask the scientists inside to tell me about their plant experiments.

I am using the fact that I’m on holiday to read as much as possible. Today marks my first week of being in Lima. Once my routine has set and I’ve kicked my jetlag, I will continue sorting Qayqa out.

I’m still living 3 lives: the writer, the anthropology student, the aerialist. That’s just how it’s going to be from now on, because I could not imagine giving any of those lives up.

If books come to readers at the right time in their lives – when you need them the most, when you are ready for them – perhaps that means they didn’t leave the writer until it was the right time either. Perhaps.

 

Love,

Ritti

“In the Long & Grand Narrative of Your Life”

15 Jul

I have not been happy about the post I have to write, so I went did a very human thing: I pulled the covers over my head and ignored the world for a bit. I know it’s a shit thing to do when YOU are out there, possibly waiting, possible wondering what’s going on, and I hope you will understand that I crawled into a little hole for a bit.

Dearest ayllu, we have to postphone the book tour. This is the story about WHY.

After posting my book tour video, so many of you got in touch and invited me over. There was beautiful, exciting enthusiasm in the air. Mark was painting his hand off to complete the last suggestions on the cover. Everything was going very well.

Then I drew up a basic plan for my tour and realised how mad it was.

photo 1

But hey, it always was. I figured I could sleep on night trains and, dizzy as the tour may make me, at the end of the day: who cares? I’ll sleep on the plane. I’ll rest when I’m dead.

Everything was coming together, so I called my Book Printing Company Of Choice (where I also had Overripe Fruits printed) to ensure that everything would go according to plan. And this is where I met my iceberg.

The lady on the phone told me that the Printing Company had received an extraordinary amount of commissions that month that they could not guarantee meeting their own printing deadlines. “You’ll be lucky to have your books in 15 days,” she said, “but if I were you, I’d count on 20 days.”

This, of course, would not leave me with enough time to do the entire book tour as I wanted. I went back to my drawing board and desperately started moving cities around. And I started doing this:

photo

And I hated it.

My vow has always been that if you want me to come, I will do everything humanly possible to come. How can I justify leaving someone out?! How can I look someone in the face and say: “No, I’m not coming to see you”?! I don’t care how tiny the village is; how obscure or difficult to get to. If you want me to come, I’ll be there.

In art, a living room performance is never worth less than a stage performance. At least not on my f*ing planet.

So then, Ritti, what the hell are you going to do. Well, I took to the bed for a few days and pretended not to feel the iceberg. In fact, a while back a circus friend shared this fantastic image with me, which I think is incredibly fitting for this and all art-related situations:

(and a friend just commented: "I don't think the sub-surface part is big enough")

(and a friend just commented: “I don’t think the sub-surface part is big enough”)

I felt humiliation, anger, shame, embarrassment. How could I face any of you now? Even though this an be counted as a force majeur, I felt as though it were an account of my personal failure. I was failing to get my own book tour organised on time. I was losing credibility. I was so ashamed.

I cautiously tweeted something to the world, letting them know I had hit a rock. And, in the ways in which social media likes to play Jesus, a writer friend replied:

It’ll happen eventually, and by the time it does it will be better! Don’t worry about that. In the long run and the grand narrative of your life, this means nothing.

We wrote back & forth, me spilling all my woes, and he continued to comfort me and minimalise my extreme worries and fears.

photo 2

In an ironic turn of emotions, I asked myself: “Dare I hope this?”

So I shook the covers off and began consulting with some friends. I received a few suggestions (“do one half of the tour now and the other half later”, “do the tour without the books and take pre-orders”, “go only to big cities”, etc) and thought them through carefully, and the best alternative I could find was to POSTPHONE THE BOOK TOUR.

Again: How can I justify restricting myself to certain cities and not going to see as many of you as possible?! Or how can I justify that some of you get Qayqa now while others have to wait? Pre-orders just aren’t ideal. In the words of the great Hunter S Thompson:

If there’s something worth doing, it’s worth doing it right.

So I am back at my desk, planning. I have more time to shift illustrations around the digital Qayqa  platform. Generally speaking, I have more time. I can’t say I’m upset about that. I was starting to feel incredibly rushed, and this is, after all, my first novel. I want to do this right.

I want to thank everyone who was enthusiastic & messaging me about the tour; who was inviting friends & buying chips & organising everything. I know who you are and I’m looking right at you saying THANK YOU. I apologise for any inconvenience. I will come to read for you, this is a vow. Thank you for supporting me and for continuing to believe in me. You have always been my ayllu.

To my critics out there: If you think you can do it better, do it. I’ll be happy to learn from you.

And suddenly I’m starting to feel a lot stronger. I just listened to Björk’s Cover Me a few times. From where I placed it, it was about hiding. From now, towards the end of this post, I’m focussing on this sentence: “I’m going to prove the impossible really exists.”

By the way…

"Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco. Cover by Mark Klawikowski

“Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco. Cover by Mark Klawikowski

So I was thinking of doing the tour in December . December is good because that’s when I have university holidays and you might want to get Qayqa as a Christmas present. It’s bad because it is far far away (how can I justify telling y’all to wait another 5 months?) and (as has been pointed out to me) will be busy enough as is. Running around, getting your Christmas shopping done; so many extra-curricular events to attend to…

I thought about September. It’s sooner; you’re all back from your holidays but still looking for reasons to dream; still wanting to relax, close your eyes and listen to me read instead of going to the office…

What do you think???

If we decide on September, I need to have a good & careful think about how I’m going to do it because my university starts up then. I will try to bend things so I don’t miss (many) classes.

Let’s be in touch.

Love, 

Ritti 

Book Tour // Buchtournee

12 Jun

Today we made you a video about how you can “Book the Book” tour. It’s in German because I’ll be starting my book tour in all German-speaking countries. Keep scrolling for some photos & a random video!

Now that you’ve seen it, join in the BOOK MY BOOK tour and book me via:

  • rittisoncco@gmail.com
  • facebook.com/rittisoncco
  • twitter  @ritti soncco

So how all this happened was, yesterday I was rambling to my good friend, Jamie the Pict, about making a video for y’all. He immediately offered to film it for me because he’s a Very Kind Man who loves doing Weird Things. Hence I say good friend!

on our way!

on our way!

He knows Aberdeen like his own “westentasche” (haha inside joke) so when I said I wanted to be in a tree, he suggested filming at Hazelhead Park. Like most things in Scotland, Hazelhead Park is partly a golf course, but this summer, it’ll host the Highland Games for Aberdeenshire, wherein ole Scottish things are done, such as throwing cabers and looking like badly-hidden euphemisms which would prove Freud right.

Anyway, we drove around the park until I screamed: “THERE’S OUR TREE!”

20140612-154504-56704648.jpg

We tried different angles, Jamie fought with my iPod’s focus, and we grr’d when golf cars or horse trunks rumbled by… But we got our shot!

And here are some photos of how we fell in love with this beautiful tree.

Jamie's filming position

Jamie’s filming position

film pose

film pose

20140612-154747-56867522.jpg

And some video nonsense.

There, dear ayllu, now you know how to BOOK MY BOOK. Remember I’m open to all your suggestions. I’ll read by your favourite river. If you play a musical instrument, maybe we can do a literary-musical fusion? I’ll read at midnight, at noon. Make it exciting, let your imagination go wild. I’m up for all sorts of epic nonsense.

So BOOK MY BOOK and tell all yer friends Qayqa is coming!

Thank you so much. Have an orchid.

Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis Orchid

(This comes from a link a good friend sent me of plants looking like creatures. You’ll love it, so click here, then BOOK MY BOOK tour!)

My Book Tour

9 Jun
photo 2

trees on the way up the Bennachie

Dearest ayllu,

Summer is here and my first year of university in Aberdeen is over. It is warm and beautiful in Scotland, in 12 days I will turn 30 years old, and this is the “joie de vivre” music I am listening to as I write this. So if you want the full experience, turn it up and continue to read!

 

University has been beautiful to me but I really felt the end of it: the first morning that exams were over, I wore flamboyant clothes, make-up and earrings, caught myself in the mirror and thought: The artist is back. 

Some of my friends had a different way of celebrating.

swimming in the North Sea!

swimming in the North Sea!

By now, most of my friends have left Scotland and gone back to their countries. Of my  five flatmates, only Chinchin and I are left, so whenever we bump into each other in the corridor, we celebrate it.

Shortly before the majority of my Acrobats & Aerialists left for the summer, they surprised me with a THANK YOU bottle of champagne and card for founding our beautiful group, and a pre-birthday surprise!

photo 3

photo

People have been asking how I feel about turning 30, and my standard reply has been, “I think it’s a great idea.” I really couldn’t be more pleased. 30 sounds like an exciting but calm age; I feel less like (to use Doris Lessing’s words) “an awkwardly put-together parcel” and more like ME – that enigma I have been trying to figure out. Reaching 30, I feel as thought I finally understand the coat I am wearing. Like I know its moth-eaten holes, which buttons are wobbly, why it sometimes seems of cigarettes and booze, and how snug it feels when I wrap it over myself and head out into the sun.

photo 3

climbing Bennachie on Saturday

 

THE COVER OF “QAYQA”

As I prepare to travel down to Germany, I am of course preparing my NOVEL Qayqa for publication. Mark and I have been abusing Skype and Dropbox as we try to meet our deadlines. Last week I received an email with a beautiful attachment: the almost-finished cover. This was followed by 3 emails: “Well? Give me feedback! Hello? I need your feedback! Are you there? Tell me what you think!” So we skyped, chatted about this & that, and I almost cried because of the details he thought to include.

Photo 02-06-2014 12 57 38

yes, I document *everything*

Can you spot them? Can you see how well he knows me?

the cover for my first novel QAYQA by Mark Klawikowski

the cover for my first novel QAYQA by Mark Klawikowski

Now it’s not done yet: Damian is missing some hair… as you may have noticed! It’s only the main part of the bloody book… Hah. I wrote a book about hair. Typical.

What surprised the hell out of me is that it looks very much like the African childrens’ books I used to read when I was small in Nigeria. It has the same organic, magical, colourful feel. How amazing is it to have someone else paint a cover for a book I wrote that looks just like the books that inspired me as a child to write this very book in the first place.

The one thing we couldn’t quite decide on is: should the title QAYQA be left against a white background – or should it be surrounded by tree leaves? What do YOU think? Please write me!! I need your advice:  rittisoncco@gmail.com or @rittisoncco (tweet, tweet) or facebook.com/rittisoncco or COMMENT at the end of the post!

book hangover

 

 

HOW TO ORAGNISE a BOOK TOUR

This. Is. It. We are finally doing this, querido ayllu!! And here is the idea I have:

We are a community. We are making Qayqa‘s publication possible through crowdfunding. I would not be here without you. If I were a musician, I’d love to sell you my cassettes out of the back of my car. But I’m not a musician. So my plan is this.

I will come to you.

Wherever you are. You can book me.

I will read for you.

All you have to do for this to happen, is this:

  1. Write me before the 21st June (if you include a small Happy Birthday! it’ll make me smile)
  2. Tell me where you are / want me to come to. I will come to your living room, local pub, favourite café, community center, etc.
  3. Tell me when would be best for you – give me a few possible dates so that we can make this work. I am available for you all of July.
  4. Tell all your friends. Organise a little party in your living room, your pub / café / community center. Get everyone to come round, have a few drinks, some snacks, and we will begin. I can perform for up to 2 hours and a half.
  5. Got any friends in the press? Let them know! Tell your community this is happening. If you need any information from me (photos, short description of Qayqa, short biography, poster, etc) let me know. The sooner the better.

If you can offer me a sofa to crash, hurray! I’d love to stay with you and spend more time chatting. If not, don’t worry.

As soon as your dates start coming in, I’ll begin planning the tour, so please don’t hesitate. If you are interested, LET ME KNOW and I’ll put you on the list. Just let me know ASAP that you want me to come to you and I’ll bend myself to make it.

You can reach me: 

  • in the comments below
  • facebook.com/rittisoncco
  • twitter:  @rittisoncco
  • email:  rittisoncco@gmail.com

As soon as I’m done planning, I’ll publish the tour dates on my blog. I’ll bring copies of Qayqa and if you were a supporter, you’ll be getting a big kiss from me as well as your support stuff!

Any questions?

photo 1

I’ll be in my hut

 

We’ll have us a damn good book tour!

We’ll open bottles of wine, laugh loudly and love literature, sing, dance, and hug Qayqa.

She’s finally coming out!

photo 4

All my Love to you, ayllu. I’ll post this now, bug the shit out of everyone on Facebook, and wait for your emails / messages.

As the Scots would say: I cannae wait!!! 

In Which I Doubt Occasionally

20 May
obviously paying close attention in class

obviously paying close attention in class

University life is quickly coming to an end for the summer, which means I will be more active on my blog in the next few months. Hurray! University has been great to me and just earlier, walking through the quiet campus, I felt very happy to be a part of this place. I think it was definitely the right decision to come here.

But I am not without my doubts. Truth be told – especially when I hear about how amazingly well my friend Ben is doing. He moved to Berlin a year ago to do an internship with a StartUp and has been doing amazingly for himself since then. He sends me all his updates and I am overwhelmed and proudly happy for him – with a human tinge of envy. If you want to know what Ben’s been up, check out this great interview he gave for Die Zeit, which really explains it best: http://www.zeit.de/studium/uni-leben/2014-04/selbststudium-education-hacking

I know it’s normal to ask myself if, maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t be using this time better: What if I were focussing on my writing instead of being at university? What if I were giving readings night after night instead?

photo 4

 

Where would I be instead? Could I achieve more?

These are very normal doubts and I am filled with them occasionally – but they are never strong enough for me to consider packing my bags. I love everything my university life has to offer, from the studying to the carefree enjoyment of life (which, if we’re calling a duck a duck, is terribly relaxing after constantly worrying how to pay the rent… suffer the antagonism of being the black sheep in the family who just won’t get a normal job… wonder how to get more gigs… and how I’m going to buy food).

My greatest joy in Aberdeen is the Aerials & Acrobatics group I founded.

silks hanging

A few weeks ago, I invited my friend Philipp (who I met at the EJC in France last summer) to give an acrobatics workshop to my acrobats. As chance would have it, the hall we had (thought we had) booked wasn’t open to us on the weekend, which forced us to look around Aberdeen for a quick alternative.

We got lucky. Philipp had spotted something on his way in to Aberdeen – something I had seen, and forgotten.

studio 202

A studio promising trapeze and aerial hoops… I gave the owner, Sandi, a call, and asked if we could super spontaneously host our workshop at her studio. She asked when. I said: “In an hour?”

Sandi said yes.

There’s photographic evidence of this moment:

us

 

Thanks to this happy blessing-in-disguise, we had a home for our acrobatics workshop and, as it would turn out, we would have a new place to train every week. This is perfect because the hall where we sometimes train aerials isn’t always available to us – whereas Sandi has made Studio 202 always available to us.

photo 4

Sandi on the far right, recognisable thanks to her blue hair

Thanks to Philipp from Codarts Circus School in Rotterdam for coming and giving us such excellent teaching!

photo 2

 

photo 3

Seeing as acrobatics and aerials has become such a big part of the society, we recently had a meeting concerning the name of the society we are operating under: Juggling & Slacklining Society. We voted to change it. I was voted into the committee as Aerials & Acrobatics president. Yesterday, we met on King’s Lawn at the university and had an official photo shoot for our new society.

The CIRCUS ARTS & FIRE SKILLS society!

photograph by Jamie Hughes

photograph by Jamie Hughes

This photograph will go into the Freshers’ Manual for next year so we can advertise our society to all new students. I think we look like a very fun society!

The people in this society have become my family. I now also have a regular job teaching acrobatics to adults in Studio 202. Things are really coming together.

With all the colours in my life in Aberdeen, I still look wistfully across the water at the Other Life I could be living – but I’ve lived it, haven’t I? Now it’s time for this.

a studious writer

(but like everyone else, I need occasional reminding)

So summer is coming and I’m back on Skype a lot with Mark. I post the occasional picture of our digital conversations, which must be completely fascinating (ah, the sarcasm) but I have no other way of letting you know that we’re hard at work!

this is the one I mean

this is the one I mean

Mark is magical. I don’t know if I have said that enough: we have had our share of ups and downs concerning the ILLUSTRATIONS. Then, last week, he sent me a DROPBOX LINK. “Here it is. Have fun.”

dropbox

AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

I might have gone crazy that day. All the illustrations were in there. ALL! (Except the cover.)

I can’t publish any spoilers but I do want to share one or two illustrations with you, because you have been so wonderfully patient and supportive all these years. This share is just for my beautiful ayllu – and you know who you are. Here are a few, not-photoshopped.

I once knew a group of flying men and women, and although they were born with their gifts, they worked very hard to perfect it and be graceful in the air. I met them at a time when my head was in a muddle and I walked around looking like a baba, all my thoughts in confused knots on top of my head. After making love to one of the flying women, I agreed to travel with their caravans for a while and see if I could do something about my knots…

IMG_7664

by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for "Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for "Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

I called him to congratulate him – and we ended up discussing the cover for an hour. This is what it’s not going to be, but a rough idea of what it will look like. If you’ll remember, this was the sketch I gave Mark:

photo 3

And this is what Mark transformed it into:

rough sketch by Mark Klawikowski

rough sketch by Mark Klawikowski

 

It won’t be this one because he’s messing around with what kind of water colours / ink to use. Why did we spend one hour talking about it? We discussed if Damian should stand still (as he does in my sketch) or if he should be walking (as in Mark’s). We agreed immediately that he should be walking. We discussed the edges of the words, which I want to be natural, organic and full of rough edges. I wouldn’t want them to be clean & clear. Mark said you couldn’t see it, but he had already started giving them rough edges. We discussed if you could see the desert behind Damian, and if not, how to hint at it. We discussed what Damian is carrying in his hand.

You know, details.

Well, my dearest ayllu, I must be off. This week, I’ll be studying for my exams next week and, during my breaks, I’ll do the last digital editing on the illustrations and begin to lay them into the book.

The final stages are upon us… Soon, I’ll blog about the BOOK TOUR.

So please stay tuned.

And thank you for your continuous support, dearest ayllu. This dialogue has been my continuous support to continue fighting for my work to be published – and to fight off my snide little doubts. Some of my occasional Skype chats with Ben have been about our doubts, and yet we continue fighting. As long as we support each other, there’s no need to give up, is there?

Congratulations, once again, dear Ben, for everything you are doing. For not giving up, for believing in your voice, and – above all – for staying so humble. You’re doing a damn fucking amazing thing, and you can really give yourself more pats on the back! There’s a part of me that really believes that everything you touch becomes gold.

 

Love, Ritti

1491: a Book Review

29 Apr

Dear ayllu,

Back in foggy Scotland, university has kicked in again hard, and I have never done this before – but I recently received a beautiful set of questions that prompted me to consider anew the things I could use this blog for. The questions I received followed this theme:

What’s writing time like for you?

Do you have a setting, a sound, a feeling you try to create before you put fingertips upon keys?

I was also asked about my special Quiet Places (where I love to go just to relax), more about university life – and I realised I really could involve you more.

So the first way in which I plan to do this is by sharing with you a book review I wrote for my anthropology course. (I have been waiting with this until my tutor marked it. Had I received a terrible grade, I would have known that it is utter shite and I should best shut up about it. But it received a good mark, so it’s okay to pass it on!)

ancestral pride

The issues that concern me are, of course, recurrent – in my personal interests as in my writing: indigenous rights, plants, pride / socio-political movements, and history (past and present). You’ll find these in Qayqa, Munay, and wherever I can squeeze it in: all over my university essays. I am, after all, studying anthropology and Hispanic studies.

For my anthropology course, we were required to select a book dedicated to the field of anthropology / ethnography, and write a book review. I chose 1491: The Americas Before Columbus, a book that came very highly recommended to me over the Christmas break by Heather Gatley.

1491

 

This is a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in the newly developing histories in the Americas, as well as anything written by my friend Hugh Thomson. But I’ll let the review speak for itself.

________________________________

Book Review

Mann, Charles C. 1491: The Americas Before Columbus. 465 pp., appendixes & bibliography. London: Granta Publications, 2005. £12.99 (paper)

 

Following the establishment of the Caral settlement as the cradle of civilisation in the Americas, archaeologists, anthropologists and historians have found themselves reassessing not only the arrival date of Native Americas to the continent, but more importantly following the question – as quoted by Duke University historian Elizabeth Fenn – “who were all these people? And what were they doing? (chap. 4) This is the question author Charles C. Mann explicitly and convincingly analyses in his book, 1491: The Americas Before Columbus, over chapters that span the various reasons why the Spanish Conquest was successful (part one, chapters 2-4); Native American inventive and agricultural sophistication (part two, chapters 5-7); farming and landscaping (part three, chapters 8-10); a humanist call for the future (part four, chapter 11).

Mann’s focus in chapter 1 on the smallpox epidemic places the theory that European perception of native population was so minute because the civilisations had already been reduced to one third of the original populace by the disease, prior to direct contact. This central argument of a greater original populace is the foundation of Mann’s book, upon which the author bases the theories of far more advanced manpower, intellect, invention, and influence on the agriculture than previously assumed.

Mann paints a sympathetic image of rhetorically intellectual Indians, emphasised by their sophistication of language: “the corpus of writings in classical Nahuatl is even larger than the corpus of texts in classical Greek.” The civilisations’ remarkable social advancement is highlighted by the isolation of Mesoamerica and the Andes from one another, as well as from the rest of the world. Anything they possess, they created themselves, such as the wheel and history’s second-ever experiment with government (both chap. 2). Other innovative theories presented by Mann are the historical defiance that all civilisations are founded on agriculture: Peru’s ancient cities drew their sustenance from the sea, with farming was as “an afterthought”. Mann demonstrates their superior agricultural knowledge: building water canals that are “an engineering feat that would be a challenge today” (chap. 2); the burning of the undergrowth to “retool ecosystems to encourage elk, deer and bear” (chap. 3); and improving the Amazon soil conditions into terra preta so it could be “capable of supporting about 200,000 to 400,000 people” (chap. 3).

In precise and detailed arguments, Mann guides his readers through the discoveries and contemporary discussions held in the broad fields of anthropology, archaeology, ecology and even palaeoparasitology, the study of ancient parasites. His praiseworthy ability to explain complexities of a scientific discipline are exemplified in his explanation of how the analysis of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) demonstrate Native American vulnerability to the smallpox virus carried by Europeans (chap. 1). Mann walks his readership through complex biological processes with a strong sensibility for the use of metaphors best suited to the layman, increasing the complexity of his language at a conscious pace. Throughout his work, the author remains apprehensive to the wider ethical consequences of contemporary discussions in these fields; for example stating: “much of the environmental movement is animated by what geographer William Denevan calls ‘the pristine myth’ – the belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost untouched, even Edenic land. (…) Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humankind is pervasive, where does that leave efforts to restore nature?”

Many readers will enjoy Mann’s balance of professional debates, personal anecdotes (including of his rowdy ancestors arriving on the Mayflower) and powerful imagery, such as the emphasis on the devastation of the European’s arrival: “a Lakota winter count memorialised the year 1784 with a stark image: a pox-scarred man, alone in a tipi, shooting himself.” Yet the author’s will to provide a balanced overview of all arguments occasionally backfires with the excessive load of eye-witness accounts, elaborate interviews, and compulsive details, such as his elaborate history of maize (chap. 2). Mann stands at periodic risk of drowning his readers in information. However, I argue that the author wins his readers over with his bemused and personal narrative voice – spiced with occasional frustrated undertones, or even direct quotes – “they were in the midst of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything” – that show a passionate affiliation for his subject matter.

Mann’s book shakes the foundations of everything we thought we knew about pre-contact Americas. Readers are reminded that his book is a presentation of on-going theories and debates, not facts – not yet. The broader readership may use Mann’s book as a well-informed introduction to modern debates as well as to enjoy individual anecdotes so often forgotten by history or science.

 Word count: 786  

________________________________

If you want more insight into the book, I found a link that shares very good extracts from the book: http://www.d.umn.edu/~pfarrell/Latin%20America/1491.pdf

The growth of Latin American pride is very present in my studies at the moment, be it in Hispanic Studies or anthropology. I feel so passionate about this that I feel I could fill this blog up immediately, but please allow me to restrict myself to sharing a few videos with you, so that you may grasp the issues in my head; the issues we are tackling at Aberdeen University.

Firstly, Scottish director Ken Loach’s contribution to the film September ’11, which is comprised of a series of short films made by directors around the world, all of who cast the North American’s tragedy on 9/11 in a global light.

9:11

 

Skip ahead a bit, if you like, to the main video. It takes a short time to start. I highly recommend September ’11, if you ever have the chance to see it. It is a very good global answer to what happened in the United States – and the “global” aspect is what is most important, I think.

Here, a documentary we are currently watching in Hispanic studies about the Zapatista “Indigenous Revolution” in Chiapas. We haven’t finished watching it, so you can get ahead of us if you like! I know it’s long but so far, it is very very good. Let’s curl up in bed with socks and tea and educate ourselves.

 

Lastly, one of the MOST POETIC songs I have ever heard about the beauty of Latin American pride, by the Puerto Rican band Calle 13, with English subtitles.

 

The university teaching year is almost done and exams are coming up. My blog goes kinda quiet when university kicks in, plus now we’re all looking for places to live next year, so forgive me if I am somewhat silent. If you get bored, check out my TUMBLR where more stuff (but smaller stuff) happens. I will try to post as much as I can, about university, about our new TRAPEZE, about our first ACROBATICS CONVENTION this upcoming weekend… Post videos & photos. And of course, tell you that I spent most of my Easter break re-reading Munay to become reacquainted with her, that Mark is working on the cover for Qayqa at the moment, and let you know how the publishing will take place come Summer 2014. I am SO F***** EXCITED about Qayqa coming out, and I intend to spend a lot of my summer writing Munay. She is so beautiful.

Love, Ritti

Love Letters in Ulm

8 Apr

It’s a cloudy, moody day in Ulm; the kind that brings out the green in trees. I’m sitting in an empty house near the park, near the city center. My host family is out and about, living their lives and going to school, and I am loving the quiet nothingness.

my host family

my host family

My host children are circus students of mine, and back in June 2013 the family showed me their guest room and said, “When you come back to Ulm in 6 months, you can stay here, for as long as you like.”

6 months later, the children wrote me: “Are you coming? Are you staying with us?”

Who am I to say no! It has been such an uncomplicated, relaxed and fun stay that I am already sad to leave at the end of the week. An example of how lovely it’s been is a quote I tweeted last night:

Just told my host it’s coincidence that every time they’re about to eat, I walk in. He said: I think it’s evidence of pre-established harmony.

cuddle puddle

cuddle puddle

I’ve been uploading pictures like mad onto Facebook and, looking over the album two nights ago, I realised I could boil my life in Germany down to two things: friends and the circus.

my host girl

my host girl

Or even a fusion: circusfriends.

family portrait

family portrait

The evening I arrived in Ulm, I went straight to the Ulmer Messe for the Kunstschimmern art event, where Mark was showing our films and performing afterwards. It was a great way to see many artist friends at once, but it was also very emotional and I felt on the verge of tears for most of the night.

There I was, the beraggled university student – and people still remembered me as the writer. I was having a lovely conversation with a young lady when a man joined us and she turned and introduced me for me: “This is Ritti, she wrote that book.” I didn’t know she knew who I was! Everyone still remembered my crowdfunding project; everyone still asked me about Qayqa. And there was, the beraggled university student.

So to answer all your questions ABOUT QAYQA.

The Easter holidays are just too short a time to do much with Qayqa in terms of publishing and touring. Lucky for me, Scottish university closes earlier than schools in Germany, leaving me with the whole month of July to perform in Germany. That, at the moment, is the plan. I’ll return to Germany in July, publish and perform Qayqa, and everyone will get their book.

I know it’s taken a lot longer than people wanted, and I myself am quite torn about this. On the one hand, a lot changed in my life: I went from being an artist to a university student! On the other hand, I would have loved to have closed the Qayqa chapter before opening the university one.

But it wasn’t possible. The illustrations weren’t done, and I still had some editing to do on Qayqa. I apologise to the people who have been waiting, but I really am not about to rush the publication of my first novel. I hope they can understand that.

And perhaps it’s good that I couldn’t close the chapter, because this way, Qayqa is alive during my university experience, and I haven’t quite shaken loose of my artist identity. So while it’s a bit crazy to have two identities at once… Perhaps it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and I really should be used to it by now.

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Working with Mark has not always been easy. I’ve been keeping relatively quiet about it on my blog, but last night I thought there are some things that can be said.

Mark is my best friend, and – in my opinion – one of the greatest artists of our time. His potential is limitless. The Kunstschimmern was an epic example of this. He can seamlessly slip from the role of film maker to comedy-singer who improvises all his lyrics, makes them rhyme, and inspires other musicians to be swept away by his current…

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept "Songlotterie"

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept “Songlotterie”

… to creator of giant robot suits …

robot suit

… to painter, to illustrator

… to my best friend.

Mark & I

Mark & I

Mark creates art I didn’t understand, and through our many conversations over the years, he explained his thoughts, passions, motivations and I came to understand and love an art form I had never cared much for before. We supported and motivated one another, and in our three years together, we made 5 films, won awards, toured Peru, gave workshops in the Netherlands and Germany, gave exhibitions and wrote books.

We were together while I was writing Qayqa and it was clear, from those early days, that he would do the illustrations. Our separation didn’t change that desire – not for either of us – but our separation did block us. For people who don’t understand why the illustration process has taken so long: artists are also people.

That’s not to say I was always understanding and patient. That’s not to say we didn’t occasionally rip each others’ hair out. But we worked – in all senses of the word.

The year I met Mark, the Ulmer Museum had an exhibition whose posters rocked my circle of friends. Everyone I knew was tearing the posters off the walls and hanging them in their rooms. All I can find on the internet is this:

Niki & Jean

Niki & Jean

The exhibiton was called L’art et l’amour, art and love.

Shortly after the exhibition closed, Mark and I drove to Tuscany to visit Niki de Saint-Phalle’s magnificent Tarot Garden. If you’ve never been there, I cannot recommend it enough.

tarot garden

Us

Us

There was a pillar that, over the years, I have never managed to shake out of my head. I just found it in an album; it’s called “Love Letters”.

love letters

It is a dedication from Niki de Saint-Phalle to her artist partner and long-time partner Jean Tinguely.

my brain

everything

Somewhere amongst the Love Letters is a small panel that struck me the most, and I didn’t take a photograph of it, perhaps because I didn’t want to think about it at the time. It is a drawing of both Niki and Jean, and the words above them: CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? And between them the word: YES.

I knew returning to Ulm would be emotional. This wasn’t something I was going to blog about, but now I understand it’s just an important testimony to artist cooperation, as everything else I have blogged about in the past. To artists who separate and continue working together, all I can say from my experience is: It can work, but it will be work.

Mark and I will always be artist partners because it enriches our lives. With every reason I have to strangle him, he just hugs me back.

And when people hear my frustration about how long the illustrations are taking, about how many deadlines we have missed, they (quite rightly) ask me: “Why do you want him to do the illustrations?? Why don’t you just ask someone else?”

Well we met the other day and Mark showed me the illustrations. All but one are complete. I looked them over and although he had no idea what I was talking about, I blurted: “- Because you get it.”

Every single illustration he showed me shone with love, beauty and understanding for Qayqa. Every single one caused a minor tremble within me that made me, the author, fall in love with Qayqa again. He understood details I had forgotten all about. He understood moods I hadn’t created on purpose. I look at his illustrations and it inspires me for Munay. 

I don’t know if anyone else, looking at the illustrations in the finished book, will feel the minor tremble. I am curious if you do. But through the illustrations I felt a deep connection to my artist partner and best friend – one that has survived all these years – and that’s a damn good connection.

We’re working on the cover for Qayqa now. I had this idea.

photo 1

Sketched, it looked like this.

photo 2

Mark didn’t like it. So we threw ideas back and forth some more, and then I had this idea.

photo 3

I drew it down; Mark laughed at my stick figures and terrible trees. We liked it.

And this, dear ayllu, has been my love letter from Ulm.