My first big creative collaboration

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With the exception of one person, mentioned in my piece “My first friend who was a boy,” I have only ever been able to identify with other women, be friends with other women, have understanding for the lives of other women. To me, men are definitely the other, the opposite of myself, the strange, unattractive, irritating useless other half of the population. Their way of doing things, their thought-patterns and feelings don’t just not make sense to me; they don’t matter at all in my life. I keep hoping for a shift in my own narrowmindedness – I am co-raising two boys who will one day be men. I don’t want to find myself at some point switching from loving them and taking care of them to discarding them to merely being two among the others. My view is jaded and an ugly generalization, I admit this, but it is still mine.

I have never imagined myself able to collaborate with a man in any way. I know I am unable and utterly unwilling to have a relationship with a man, be it a platonic work-relationship, as colleagues, or a romantic love-relationship. I don’t long for such a collaboration and I have never felt the faintest need for it. Surrounding myself with women as my colleagues, women as my friends and women as my lovers, my life has been fulfilled and all the more enriched. Women really just have more to offer. One woman standing alone, standing up for something or someone she truly believes in, is ten times more powerful than an army of men trying to do the same.

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So it wasn’t a surprise to me how easily a collaboration formed between myself and CW, a woman my senior with about a decade and living at the other end of the country. One day I stumbled upon an Afrikaans amateur-writers-website, where any unpublished writer of any genre could post his/her bemusings, open to an entire community of more such writers, all reading and commenting on each other’s words. I posted some of the poems I had written in high school, under a pseudonymn. They were dark, disturbed poems, not rhyming little soppy love poems. My talent (and perhaps more so my melancholy nature) was noticed by a number of other writers and one in particular, CW, started leaving comments on a regular basis. I started becoming increasingly interested in her posts and so began an internet friendship of another kind. We posted comments back and forth, often having quite the discussion among ourselves but open to the rest of the community using the site. It was she who suggested doing something more personal, a project, just by us, for us. Our writing styles were peculiarly similar and we could easily pull it off to co-write a story. The idea gave me tingles of excitement and I couldn’t wait to get started, so I was very happy when she suggested that I should be the one to start us off.

The initial idea, the rough plan, was to alternate chapters: I would do the first, email it to her and wait for her to do the second, etc. In our first ever phone conversation we discussed very shortly who our characters were and what they were going to get up to, more or less. We knew we wanted to try and tell our story within the timeline of one calendar year, but didn’t want to limit ourselves too strictly.

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For the first chapter – my introduction of the characters to any prospective reader – I immediately chose the theme of our fictitious family together at Christmas. With that as a marker in time, our story would end around the next Christmas, giving us twelve months in the lives of our characters. I used my most elaborate descriptive words and felt that I had completed my task after typing only two and a half pages. I knew it wasn’t enough for an entire first chapter, but I felt unsure of myself, not wanting to send the story in a direction completely different to what my co-author had in mind. I sent it off to her and anxiously awaited her reaction, extremely excited about what she was going to write.

To make a so-called long story short, our writing reached 59 chapters within less than half a year. Most of the time we did alternate chapters, but sometimes it happened that my creativity seemed to disappear for a while, leaving the story completely up to CW for a few consecutive chapters, and vice versa. Or one of us would feel more drawn to one particular character than the others, going off on a tangent and writing that person’s life for pages and pages, not keeping track of what chapter it would fit into. The uncanny thing about the whole process though, is that there never came a point at all where we had opposing ideas or didn’t like what the other wrote or didn’t agree about what should happen next. Our command of the Afrikaans language is on a par and once we had finished writing the first draft and started editing and fine-tuning things, it was virtually impossible to tell who wrote what parts, even to our own eyes. Our story read as a flowing narrative written by one author. We were pleasantly surprised at our own capabilities, individually, but especially as a duo.

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When we felt mutually satisfied that our manuscript didn’t contain any typo’s or grammatical errors, we joyously sent it off to a large well-known South-African publishing house, dreaming big dreams of seeing it on the shelves of popular bookstores. Our co-written Afrikaans novel! We celebrated completing our project by imagining our first physical meeting happening on the Afrikaans magazine show “Kwela,” sitting on the famous green couch, seeing the other’s facial expressions for the first time ever. We told each other about the radio interviews and book signings we would have, becoming as famous as authors can be in this country.

As the months of waiting for the reply from the publishers went by, the excitement started wearing off a bit but instead of abandoning our newfound alliance, we became very good friends, still without having met. We continued exchanging poetry, music and letters describing everyday life. We got to know each other fairly well and started picking up on all the innuendo’s between the lines with increasing ease.

Women can do this. Women share something like a uni-mind, a uni-soul. When the two people involved in the friendship/relationship/partnership find that particular sweet spot where they start tapping in on a kind of global emotion, a global knowledge, a global consciousness (how New Age do I sound right now?) the alliance reaches a depth unknown otherwise. We definitely did. For a few months there our process of sharing life-truths was very intense, our bond unusually strong.

Things change, necessarily. A certain shift happened in her romantic relationship as well as her work environment; shortly after that the same happened for me. In the alliances between women, the very fine intricate inner workings of friendships between women, such small changes are felt and can’t just be ignored. They necessarily cause subtle but tangible differences in what exactly the content of the relationship was.  And the reply from the first, second and third publisher we tried, was no. With far less enthusiasm we worked together to translate our story into English and showed it to another couple of publishers, also with no luck. We stopped trying.

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At the moment we have little bits of contact – quick phonecalls or a string of messages in one day – with weeks in between. It has been months since we wrote anything together as we have both become involved in our own separate, individual projects. We still know one another with a deep intuition but it’s a knowing across a vast emotional and physical distance. I am quite sure that our paths will cross somehow, someday and that our meeting will be amazing and that our friendship will never die; it will just keep evolving.

We once collaborated very successfully – for us the success of our writing doesn’t depend on our manuscript being published – and will do so again. In the meantime, I am soon moving to a city with many different publishing houses and I intend on knocking their doors down until one of them accepts our story. We both know without any doubt that it is worth the effort and perhaps with the objectivity a couple of months gives, we may be able to tweak it to being just right. When we’re ready, and when the next shift in our friendship happens, we’ll do it.

As women we have so many stories to tell; our own lifestories as well as the stories of our imagined but dearly loved characters. They all combine and intertwine to enrich our lives, to add to our global awareness of each other and our shared knowledge of the world we live in.

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