Wednesday, 21 January 2009


With last night’s moving inauguration of Barack Obama, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela becoming president through the ballot and not the bullet in South Africa… of the euphoria and need of the country to move on and put the spectre of apartheid finally to rest. There are moments in our lives which are forever etched… Nelson Mandela walking to freedom and now Barack Obama standing on the podium.

I could be writing on this theme but this morning with the sun up on another spectacular day, I’m writing of something more mundane – an envy of writers with rooms of their own – a loft, attic, shed in the garden, gazebo, beach hut, tepee, or any hidey hole that gives a sense of containment and peace – a space to which I can withdraw and be as reclusive/industrious/inspired or lazy as I want to be.

So here in the sunshine far from my 3m X 4m workroom in London shared with my husband (I email him when I want to move my chair!) I’ve put this right. Yesterday I built a driftwood yurt out on the dunes.

Ever since reading ‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard, it’s hard to see space in an ordinary way. Bachelard believes language – especially poetry – can reveal hidden aspects of our experience of space, especially of our home space. He says certain spaces and experiences from childhood through to adulthood in places where we have lived, grown up, felt comfortable or alienated, have roles in our imaginary lives. The shell, the nest, the cave, the empty wardrobe or drawer, the attic, etc are significant spaces embedded in our memories and intrinsically meaningful in our lives. Fascinating reading!

A few years ago I wrote a book set on this same beach where my driftwood yurt now stands… Fish Notes and Star Songs… which is full of shelters of varying kinds. The protagonist and her father build a home from washed-up wood with a stone tower lined with shells and bits of mirror stuck on the walls so they can see the world reflected differently… a place where the girl’s imagination has free rein but where she feels sheltered and safe. Other children in the story, all have spaces which protect them from the world. A deep cave, a makeshift structure under a torn beach umbrella in the sand-dunes and the dark, shaded space under the branches of a Milkwood tree, provide refuge where they can hide away and reflect their true identity.

In confined space, experiences become condensed, intensified and enriched. Remember the dark space under the dining room table with a blanket draped over it? There’s the freedom to imagine but at the same time the space allows us immobility. We don’t have to do anything. We can just be. Which means from the confines of my driftwood yurt I can look out and observe the world… the shadows the beach grasses make against the sand, the terns dive-bombing between seals and dolphins in a fish-feeding frenzy that would impress even David Attenborough, the sea opalescent yesterday, today wild and crashing.

I can fool myself that inside my yurt, I’ll be creative... plots will come and words will flow. But will they? Does space or place make the difference? If I’m to believe Gaston Bachelard and judging by all those pictures or mention of garden writing sheds in this Awfully Big Blog Adventure, then yes! But I’m still sitting here with my chin tucked up against my knees thinking about it. And next week when the New Moon brings in the high tide, my yurt will be swept away and I’ll be back to envying all of you with rooms of your own!


Lucy Coats said...

And this morning you have taken my mind away entirely to the other and entirely more beautiful space which your words always create in my head, Dianne. Thank you. Perhaps the transience of your driftwood yurt makes it immeasurably more precious.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

thanks Lucy... isn't transience a great word... it's up there with the others like inchoate, uxorious and all those others we collect!

adele said...

Lovely to see your Yurt, Dianne! And I so loved Fish Notes and Star songs...nice to be reminded of it.