Taking stock, 4 December 2003

Okay, let me just write everything down again. It’s Thursday, 4 December 2003 at twenty minutes past eleven in the morning. I’m listening to Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, the winter sun is warming up outside, and I’m waiting for my pot of tea to cool off so I can take a smoke break. Life is all right. I have 67,000 Taiwan dollars in the bank, and about 11,000 in the drawer. I also have three tea bags in the can, and I would say about fifteen cigarettes.

Some time ago I put forth the “Middelburg Plan” with so much passion that my voice started cracking. I thought: sell a series of English children’s books for a million, or a quarter. Then I throw my 32 boxes and my 9 pieces of furniture in a 20-foot container, and plant my heels into a linoleum floor in Middelburg for R895 per month. Yippee, finally.

Then I browsed around on the websites of some local publishers of language textbooks. Lights that warned of naïve ignorance flashed like police sirens: Writers of English textbooks rarely march out of a publisher’s office with cash checks in their hands after overwhelming the publisher with the results of a few months’ labour. The process, unfortunately, requires a little more patience.

But now, am I a businessman or a writer? I’m a writer, but I would very much like to be a businessman because I need money to go home.

My question is, if I live in South Africa and I need to do five hours of work on the computer for my business, and I get back from the Shoprite with an essay in my head that would take me two hours to write, what would I do?

I want to be a businessman, and not just for the cash with which I can buy plane tickets and container space. I want to win a round against people whispering behind their hands, “Shame, he’s a writer – or at least he tries to be one. He doesn’t know about things like paying bills and credit cards and money like us grown-ups.” I know it’s a personal matter I’ve written to pieces to a large extent, but I still need to … prove to perhaps none other than myself that I can talk about money with the same skill as about “the meaning of life”.

Do I want my bread with peanut butter on both sides? I know it’s frowned upon … but if I can just make enough for a plane ticket and a little space in that container.

I am a writer. I know this, because I’m sitting here on Thursday, 4 December writing a note to myself, whilst knowing full well I have work to do with profit in the pipeline.

Time for a plan. I am currently executing the plan of early August when I thought it was a brilliant idea to cancel two-thirds of my classes and just focus on “Business!” and Chinese studies. Then I moved to an even older apartment, wrote another million pages on “identity and place” and thought up business ideas (read: other types of writing) that can make me a ton of money as soon as possible.

Nightmares about perpetual exile, and dreams of barbecues and people who speak Afrikaans and Zulu opened my eyes to a combination of Plans A and B: continue with what I write, and teach enough classes for single-digit months to go home in single-digit months. If it is with profit from some business idea, fine. If not, then with money from another source.

The struggle will continue. My sword is sharp enough for any challenge.