Monsters and foundation: the projects of Brand Smit


I stand behind my computer every day, and as I reach the end of another page full of text, or the end of a chapter, or the end of a poem, or a lesson of some textbook, I remind myself not to become too excited: there are after all hundreds of pages of text that still need to be reviewed, and there are more than a dozen notebooks with written material that still needs to be typed. Then it would certainly be good if I can review my poems “one final time”, and there are half a dozen textbook ideas that I still want to work on, or that has to be completed, and short stories, and greeting cards and calendars and translations of completed Afrikaans text and translations of material that still has to be typed and processed … That the projects that will be listed in this document are both monsters and the foundation on which I build my future is by now old news in the life of Brand Smit.

This afternoon I confronted myself with a question: When did this happen? When did it happen that I overwhelmed myself to this degree with what I so lovingly refer to as my “projects”? Five years ago, I had vague ideas of a collection of poetry and a book about my opinions on the human experience on this planet; there were also language textbooks I wanted to write because … well, because it was possible, and because I thought some of my ideas for textbooks were better than some of the books I had to use. Then, in 2001, I decided to trim down my teaching schedule and use the extra time to work on projects I had been talking about for a long time. That year I completed my first textbook, Countries of the World – which is supposed to be the first book in a series of four or five. By the end of 2001, I had also started working on a phonics book for young learners. Lists of words and phrases for my Chinese studies had also been compiled by the second half of 2001, which formed the basis of another project that I feverishly started working on at the beginning of 2004. Material that eventually became “Personal Agenda, Book One” had been gathering dust for years before I finally started the editing process at the beginning of 2003. By the time I had completed Book One (June 2003), I knew I was working on a project that would surpass all others in importance. I continued writing essays and notes that could become Books Two and Three and Four and Five and so on. I had also been trying my hand at poetry since the mid-nineties, and every couple of months had seen some new titles, or edited or rewritten versions of older attempts. Meanwhile, I had also written a few short stories. I had also thought of a series of stories for young learners with a focus on vocabulary and comprehension questions one day and as a matter of course I had to immediately start working on it. In between I came up with a series of greeting cards, and since I have always had a slight obsession with dates, why not also a range of unconventional calendars? And in the meantime, I am writing and typing my fingers numb on Books Four, Five, Six …

So it came that I started drawing up a list this afternoon, Monday 16 January 2006, to once again – for the sake of alleviating anxiety and possibly to work up some motivation – review my ideas of the last five years, to see exactly what it is I am doing and to see where I am hopefully heading.

My hope has always been that I will be able to finish off the proverbial everything within the much vaunted “next six months”, regardless of the number of hours in a typical day, and regardless of my human limitations. So I thought: It has taken me five years to come up with this list of projects, and to have done the work that has so far been completed. Would it be inappropriate to think that it will take me another five years to complete everything? It is true that it is a lot of work. It is true that I work alone on every single project. It is true that it is a broad range of projects: there are essays about personal politics and religious beliefs combined with social criticism and the occasional everyday event; language textbooks for a spectrum of students ranging from young learners to adults who want to expand their language skills and knowledge of the world to people who say, “Give me everything I need to know. I’ll do it in my own time”; there is poetry that expresses how I experience life; and there are giant calendars that reduce daily life to small squares on the wall. It is also possible that the seeds of long-term financial independence have already been planted. So what if another five years pass before the last item is crossed out on the current list? What I don’t complete during the next six months will be completed in the six months after that, and what is not completed over those six months, will be completed in the following six, and then the six months after that – until each and every textbook has been written and published, and each and every poem has been reviewed ad nauseam, and every opinion has been polished to a sparkling finish, and a stack of books can be placed on the table that all say: This is how I see life.

And at the end I will still disappear into the nothingness – the paper all the textbooks were printed on eventually recycled for other uses; all the copies of my poetry collection packed away in boxes; Books One all the way up to Seven … bundled together with other old books on dusty shelves. But at least I will be able to say: I didn’t give up. I said I think it can be done in a different way than what had been prescribed, and it took me five years, or ten, but “financial independence through creativity” has been victorious!

Everything comes down to this: Brand Smit has chosen his profession. He has chosen not to become a human resources manager, a preacher or a psychologist – he has decided to become a master of projects. The main reason why he decided to become a master of projects is because he had felt from an early age that he had do something with his life. Leaving behind his twenties in notebooks and attempts at poetry he also became convinced of the fact that he had something to say. To say what he wants to say, he needs to spend his days and nights in a particular way. And to live a life that is conducive to the work he feels the need to do, this he knows and understands, he has to earn money in ways that do not appear in a high school guidance teacher’s career book. Thus: Projects.

Until as recently as this afternoon I thought of my projects as work that I had started years ago that I have yet to complete. This has led to me viewing myself as someone who is behind with his work, someone who is still busy with work that he should have been done with months ago – even three or four years ago in some cases. That changes today.

Some of the projects I have started in the last five years are commercial in nature, others are more personal. Some projects have already been completed; most have not. The work on the unfinished projects continues, and will continue until it has been completed, even if it takes me another six months … or another five years. The list is long enough.

The list: […]

It is today (already) Tuesday, 17 January 2006 (00:12), the seventh anniversary of the day I arrived on this island. Seven years and still counting – until it is no longer conducive.