“Well, this is where I live,” you say, flinging your arm in an all-encompassing gesture around the space just entered. There’s a low light seeping down a passage leading straight ahead. It casts uneven, flickering shadows on bare, white walls and reveals an alcove to the left, just large enough for an L of black suede couches and an enormous television.
You say, “It’s not for watching anything, really,” and settle your bag on one of the couches. Your hair ripples over your shoulders in dark waves. The curls on top of your head make whorls and spirals and invite a finger to twine it ever so gently, tug it backwards, tilt your forehead backwards …
“Wine?” you ask, and it’s a welcome distraction.
“I haven’t drunk red wine in years,” you say, as the ruby liquid rolls into the glass. You hand it over – steady, now – and your eyes and smile tilt a little extra at the corners in their upturn.
You say, “Let’s sit outside.” Your shoulders as you walk sway side-to-side. Your shoulders and your hips sway in opposition and you glide through dim spaces to a cubicle of light and air. White walls rise on two sides, a bamboo fence on a third. Crowns of trees loom over them and cast spiderwebs of shifting shadows over your skin.
“If you sit and look up at them you can see why they’re the Earth’s lungs,” you say, and sit down on a bench made out of a sleeper stacked on three crates. Your eyes glimmer in the wavering moonlight and you pat your hand on the bench beside you.
Your leg is warm. It shifts and moves with your gesticulating hands – they never stop moving – and friction makes it warmer. A tendril of fire moves up your side to your shoulder, your upper arm, where it settles and pulses. Your fingers never stop moving.
“More wine?” you say, and it’s a welcome distraction.
When you walk away, the cold seeps in.
You speak of the Universe as if it’s your friend and your fingertips are cool and smooth. There are rough edges where your cuticles meet the skin. Your thumbnail is opal-shaped and ridged. You trace your thumb in winding spirals, trailing an electric charge everywhere it travels.
“You’ve never heard of Ben Howard?!” you ask. Your eyes widen and you grab your tablet to start scrolling.
You dance like nobody’s watching. You fling your hands in the air. You throw your head back and your dark curls trail out behind you when you spin. You sit again and lean your head back against the window glass in reverie. The music shifts and your body shifts with it and someone is watching.
“It’s midnight,” you say, and race inside. You return with a brown paper envelope. It carries a tribute to the beginning of something.
“Happy Birthday,” you say, and your lips feel like ripe strawberries, though they taste like rich wine.
Writing prompt from here! “Well, this is where I live.”
Earlier today, while being reluctantly swallowed by Instagram, I came across this post by Kamala Harris, one of the inspirational, powerful, uncompromising women running for President of the United States next year. I don’t know enough about these candidates or their specific platforms to have an opinion on which one I think should or will win. I just hope one of them does.
This is how Ms Harris speaks to a young girl who has asked her how to become a better public speaker, cupping her hands as her friends look on in awe.
“Remember, it’s not about you. You know something that they need to know,” she says. The girl is bursting to speak but she manages – barely – to hold her excitement at bay.
I want to talk to girls like this. I want girls to see their own futures in what I’ve done with mine. I want girls to experience their own infinite potential because I’ve wrapped my hands around theirs as they hold their words in physically, clamping their mouths shut, eyes glistening in passion and drive and wonder.
I want to influence girls like this. I want them to walk away from me feeling like they can recreate themselves.
But first, I have to do it myself.
I’ve missed a vital piece of information. I’ve been contemplating – I want to say recently, but really it’s been going on for years – why it is that I can work absolutely batshit hours, exhaust myself into a three-day depression and deliver the impossible for other people, but I can’t do it for me?
Why can’t I just get this business turning over, for me.
Why can’t I just get up early and work, for me?
Why can’t I stick to a routine, for me?
Why can’t I…?
Why don’t I do this for me?
And then I realised: It’s because I’m making it about me. Doing stuff for yourself and caring for yourself and having bubble baths and days off to rest is all well and good and necessary but you don’t build a whole business for yourself. You build it because you have something valuable to share, and people need to know.
Best I get building.
Have you ever started a business? What were your biggest challenges and how did you deal with them? Do you also wish Kamala Harris would squish your face?
After months (years?) of talking about doing weekly writing prompts, Lady Lee and I finally sat down on a Friday night and spent 30 minutes actually doing a writing prompt. Then we went inside and played Super Mario Bros and Tetris on my long-neglected Sony NES until almost midnight. No television, no social media, just creativity and play. It was a good evening. Here’s my result.
She had made a poor job of hiding the damage
She had made a poor job of hiding the damage and she shifts to the left as they slide through the door beside her, blocking their view with her body. Her fingers reach back and brush against the wall behind her, feeling the crack spiralling up behind her spine like an electrical current just waiting to light up the gaudy neon sign she feels hanging over her head.
The last to pass pauses on their way through and reaches a hand out to her, gesturing that she walk ahead of them. She can’t see their robed face – has never seen any of their faces – but she knows this one by their fingers; manicured, powerful, but delicate like a piano player’s. This one has been kind, in the past. The fingers gesture again, Come, and she knows she must obey. Brushing her hand one more time against the fissure at her back, she steps towards and ahead of the figure, keeping her eyes fixed ahead. Don’t look at the wall. Not now. We’re so close.
She feels the figure pause for a moment as she passes and they turn their head, tilting it back as if to sniff for something on the breeze blowing through the air tunnel from which they have just emerged. Her breath catches in her throat and she reaches her hand out, allowing it to brush the edge of the cape flowing to the ground. The figure startles and turns back to her, whipping their hand down to pull the cape back from her touch. She can almost feel their eyes burning into the back of her head. Perhaps they will not be as kind in the future, but it would be far worse if they saw what she had done before it was time.
She walks along the path in front of her, her hands clasped carefully in front of her belly and her eyes gazing straight towards the group walking ahead. As they walk, the path descends in a slow spiral. She can feel beads of sweat breaking out on her forehead as she walks and her breath begins to slow. The air thickens and a haze forms between her and her companions. She stumbles through the white dark, not daring to slow. Please, let it work. Please let them be there. This can’t go on.
Just as she feels she cannot walk any further, her breath heaving and streams of sweat pouring from her head, a hand reaches out from the haze and yanks her off the path. She falls with her mouth open, a scream of lost air coming up in her throat, barely a squeak escaping before another hand clamps down over her jaw, holding her rebelling body down on the ground as she struggles to breathe. Her lungs scream for air but the figure holding her down will not relent. Their breath comes in short bursts as she fights them and she feels her vision dim, stars come up behind her eyes, and then the darkness is complete.
She feels herself carried. The smell of wet earth. A dozen pairs of feet scurrying against the ground. A distant explosion and a muted cheer from invisible mouths before a series of hushes and a quick heave through a short, tight hole and out into the open air. There is the smell of smoke on the wind but she hears birds and she hears a voice, so familiar. It curls into her ears and behind her eyes and pushes tears down her cheeks in rivulets. Safe. At last.
I have no idea what happened to this poor girl to get her into that situation in the first place but I’m sure glad she got out!
Come back next week for another random piece of (mostly) unedited 30-minute fiction. And if you decide to do your own, point me there and I’ll check it out!
It’s almost midnight and I just got out of bed, picked up my computer and various accoutrements, and came to my shed to write a blog.
It wasn’t this blog. It was an angry, fuming blog about racist neighbours** and the creeping death-by-middle-class-gulags we are facing, here in the last sliver of countryside left; the last bastion before the inevitable megalithic merging of metropolises. Here, a few hares and guineas remain. I think there’s one crane. Even the hadedas are dwindling.***
I meant it, though. That’s not the blog. Between the kettle and the computer, my brain has rebelled against negativity, and I have more exciting things to say.
This is the blog:
Today, I had two firsts.
First #1: I did a handstand.
This has only been a solid goal for a year. When I climbed back onto my yoga mat in January, I followed #alloftheyogis on Instagram, as one does. I was inspired by all these women, with businesses and jobs and children, large and small, old and young, somehow managing to carve time into their days to practice this one single thing, no matter what.
Thanks to a year away from day job office toxicity, the mental and physical strength that these women displayed did not seem out of reach to me. I set myself a goal: to do a handstand by the end of 2018. I’ve never done a handstand – not even as a kid – and it suddenly became essential that I do.
I have a confession, which isn’t, because everyone who knows me, knows:
I have, in the past, become serially obsessed with everything from playing Mario Brothers to CrossFit. These obsessions have not lasted. They fizzle, flare and die right about the time I’m expected to start putting in some effort.
It’s an effective tactic. I’ve never failed at anything. I just get ‘bored’ and move on.
I’ve worked hard for this one.
I have moved and stretched and pushed and pulled for almost 11 months. I’ve fallen on my face. My wrists have hurt. I’ve curled supine on my mat and wept.
Today, I walked to the wall and I faced it. I put my hands on the ground and spread my palms wide, pressing all ten fingerprints into the earth and rotating my shoulders outward. I breathed into my belly, pulled in my lower ribs, pushed the crown of my head into the wall and rolled my pelvis backwards. I curled my left knee to my chest and I started to lift. I kicked off the ground with my right foot and curled my right knee up and back to touch lightly on the wall. My left knee followed. I stretched both legs high above my head. I hovered in space, inverted.
I stood on my hands. It was easy. I didn’t even shake. And after a time – a breath, five? I don’t know – I floated back down.
First #2: I was published on a platform not mine.
Getting published has been on the list for a very long time. I think always. Can I say always? I don’t remember always but I feel I was born with this in me. The first story I wrote, when I was eight, was a fully illustrated sci-fi comedy adventure for my grandfather for his birthday. It encompassed a trip to the moon, complete with a monster-prank played by a crew member.****
Thus began a steady stream of poetry and stories, hundreds of them, several folders full on my computer. The best and worst of what I had written for 15 years and only some of it printed out.
When the drive crashed, I lost every word, including the ones in my head.
I was frozen for years. Not even bad poetry could tap from my fingertips, let alone anything resembling a story.
Then a couple of years ago, I started to write again – the story of how is a different one – and I began to find my voice. She was inconsistent and muffled, but I listened and what she said, I wrote, the best I could understand.
I stuck with this too. I’m sensing a pattern.
Today I was published. It’s an article about being a new entrepreneur. It took four months and a whole lot of hair-pulling and tooth-grinding but with gentle guidance from the team at OfferZen Source, and a new-found willingness to slash and burn words without argument, I produced this.
I don’t know how to close this out. It’s now 15:11 the day after the start of this writing, which went on until 01:00 this morning and I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.
Assume pithy and relevant closing comment here. I don’t wish to delay any longer. I’ve learned how easy it is for these things to get stale and never be posted.
Remember, all things are possible.
*It was actually yesterday, but at time of starting writing it was still today, so I’m keeping it.
**NEWS FLASH, NEIGHBOURS: A few rabbits taken by hunting dogs to feed a couple of destitute families that have been doing this for at leastten years is not the reason there is hardly any wildlife left. And you, with your fucking retrievers and guns, hunting ducks in godforsaken swamps somewhere far away, where your people can’t see you, can take your “we need to protect our ‘endangered’ species in this precious space” – it’ll be gone in ten years and I’ll notbe here to see it – and jump very neatly down the nearest well.*****
***I went with my mother once to the Oregon Zoo and one of the displays was of birds who flew over the heads of the audience to land on the stage. One of the birds was a hadeda, and the sound it made as it flew over us was the call of Jozi from very far away. It made us both cry. To this day, when others curse and rail at the loudness of them, I just remember how foreign and strange the silence was without them there.
****I still have it stashed somewhere in a box in my shed. If someone reminds me, I’ll dig it out and show ya.
With the cost of food, petrol, and everything else skyrocketing, there is no better time than now to start feeding ourselves. There is infinite information on the internet about how to go about getting started with a vegetable garden, and I’ve drawn much of my knowledge from there, but the majority of what I’ve managed to do thus far is based on a lot of trial and error.
A quick background on the garden:
Year 1 was preparing beds, planting some things and trying to get rid of cutworms.
So how do you get rid of cutworms? The internet said “cultivate and water” so that’s what I did. We dug those beds deep and every cutworm we found was tossed squealing into the veld. They still decimated my cauliflower.
Year 2 was re-arranging beds, putting sides on them to hold water better, and planting a whole lot of veggies.
My pumpkin vine took over the entire space but did not produce a single pumpkin and about 10% of the food for a two-person household came from the garden in the first half of 2018.
Let me tell you, there are few things more satisfying than cooking a delicious, nutritious stir-fry in which almost every ingredient was pulled from the ground less than an hour before!
This is Year 3, a new beginning, a fresh start. At the moment, everything is pretty dead. Except, of course, the Swiss Chard, which doesn’t die no matter how much frost you throw at it! I have spring onions, mint, radishes, lettuce and beetroot in the ground, and am getting ready to start my spring planting.
My aim is to get at least 25% of our food from the garden this year. I’ll blog you through it, as well as take some trips back to how I finally got to the point where there is a Year 3.
In a world where death sells papers, whiteness gives voice and algorithms reign supreme in the delivery of information, I have found myself increasingly reluctant to engage in mainstream media and entertainment.
I gave up my Facebook account 18 months ago–deleted, completely, irretrievably–all those pithy, thoughtful posts and celebratory albums surrendered to the void rather than risk the void sucking me back in. I felt my fingers twitch for a week then the peace set in and I’ve not missed it since.
The radio held no appeal for me–all bad news and autotune–so I switched that off too.
I turned, instead, to podcasts. From murder and mayhem to storytelling and interviews with Jack Kerouac, I now fill the silent car time and the minutes in plank hold with the voices of people from across the globe who have something to say so they’re saying it.
Ordinary people. With something to say. Saying it.
All over the world, people are turning from an imploding Hollywood and Faux News to listen to people like them, forming communities of shared interests and communal passion around the things they want to say but haven’t been able to. Whether you love murder or myth, documentary or drama, there’s an ordinary person, like you, giving it to you.
Not because they’re being paid to, but because they have something to say. And they’re saying it.
Here are a few of my favourites. I listen to many more, but try never to miss an episode of these.
My Favourite Murder: Two women on a couch talking about murder, mayhem, cats and pockets. It’s funny, irreverent, empathetic and sad, finding humour in some of the most terrible acts ever committed while never losing sight of the victims.
Our Fake History: Deep dives into mythologies around things like Atlantis, Cleopatra and Richard the Lionheart. Very well-researched and beautifully narrated, the podcast merges fact-finding and storytelling to figure out whether some of the most commonly accepted histories are actually true.
The Paris Review Podcast: Selections of old interviews, short stories, poems and essays taken from the archives of the Paris Review. This is a beautifully curated podcast, perfect for a long, hot bath with candles flickering in the windowpanes.
The Moth: Recordings of people from all over the world telling their stories on stage at various Moth events. Organised around a different theme every episode, this gives deep, personal insight into how people from all walks of life experience the world and how it affects them and the people around them.
2 Girls 1 Podcast: Two women talking all things weird and wonderful on the internet. From furries to pregnant men, they chat to the people behind the posts and try to get some insight into some of the wackiest communities the world wide web has brought together.
Any conversation that starts with “I want to be my own boss” invariably results in a stream of discouraging words from the listener. People have told me ad nauseum abouthow many hours you need to work, the lack of free time, the uncertain income. Every article you read about startups, they mention the unrelenting grind of 17 hour days, the constant rejection from clients and investors, the myriad little things you absolutely must remember to do for fear of all your balls falling to the ground and bouncing off in a merry little band to float away on the nearest river.
No one ever talks about what comes before that; before the long days and the investor pitches and the abandoned partners. There is a gap between deciding to do something and actually doing it. It is the widest, deepest gap you will ever have to step across. But until you do, nothing will get done. You’ll still be talking about how awesome your business idea is when you’re 70.
I’m in that gap now. It’s the one where after a couple of hours of recording finances or writing a document, I’m exhausted and finding ways to justify leaving the rest of the work until tomorrow. I wander around the house, moving coffee cups from the bedside table to the kitchen. I stand outside and stare at my lawn, planning how many boxes of grass seed I need to make it the truly luxurious carpet I aspire to grow. I check my emails, even when I know there is nothing in there. I read countless articles and call it research. I PROCRASTINATE.
Why, though? Why could I spend 12, 13, 14 hours a day sitting in an office and meeting deadlines for someone else, but I can’t do it for me? Why do I have huge bursts of energy for a week or two and then a week of feeling so flat I can’t get out of bed except to pee and occasionally feed myself? Is it depression? Is it fear? Is it laziness? Is it just a normal cycle that I haven’t noticed before?
The short answer: Yes. It’s all of those things. But also, it’s CONSEQUENCES.
When you’re working for someone else, there are consequences if you don’t do your work, or if you don’t show up for swivel chair duty. Those consequences are immediate and unpleasant; you get yelled at, you get warnings, you get fired. So you do the job. Because you must. Consequences force you into action even when your back is aching and your eyes are drooping and you feel like you’re going to burst into tears any minute.
I, of course, am not going to yell, or warn, or fire myself. Hell, I’m not even going to let myself feel guilty, because that never did anyone any good at all. So how do I go about creating consequences for not doing the work?
The answer, as hypothesised on our magical porch, where all great ideas come home to roost, is to look far future, big dreams, barely possible goals:
If I don’t get up, I am never going to hike Machu Picchu or see the Northern Lights
If I don’t get up, I am never going to spend months at a time with my mother
If I don’t get up, I am never going to start a global housing foundation for creatives
If I don’t get up, I am never going to run an incubation hub in Jozi Central
If I don’t get up, I am never going to change the world
All these things are vital.
All these things are MINE.
All these things are impossible, unless I finish that document and send it to the lawyer. Today.
It means threshold. That place between where you started and where you’re going. That place with no clear sense of what you’ll see next, you only know you’ve stepped out into it. The path to the gate is before you, but the gate itself? Formless and shifting in the swirling clouds of mist that is your Great Life Plan.
There’s a total whiteout beyond the gate. A blizzard. A fog. A driving rain. That shit’s dangerous. You could get lost in that. Wander off and never find your way home. Freeze to death, drown in a flash flood, fall off a cliff. Much better to stay here on the threshold, just behind the screen door, where it’s still safe and warm.
Not as safe and warm as it was inside the house, of course, but that door’s locked behind you and you already threw your keys out of the window in a fit of pique.
It was warm in there, but the air was stale and no one wanted to open any windows for fear the weather would blow in and shuffle their papers and cool their coffee too quickly.
So you threw on your warmest jacket, put your coffee in a travel mug, flung the keys, flipped everyone the bird and stepped outside. Now the jacket isn’t as warm as you thought it was, the coffee is finished and no one would open the door for you even if you knocked.
Even if you wanted to knock.
You know there’s a train out there, just out the gate, across the field, over the next hill and through the tunnel to the station. It’s warm and safe and has a power point for your computer so you don’t even have to stop working while you travel. You already bought your ticket, you just need to get there.
And we all know visibility is about where you’re standing. So until you get walking, you won’t see a thing.
It’s winter, but the air in the car is sultry and warm as a summer afternoon, so I roll down the window to let the breeze in. It chills my hands curled around the steering wheel and whips my hair across my face, driving it into my mouth in strands, which snag on my teeth and the corners of my lips. The small dog in my lap is shedding fine hair, which floats around the car in swirling upcurrents of air, sliding into my nose and tickling the edges of my nostrils. He flips his head up to look at me and his breath washes over my face, invoking a momentary gag-reflex in the back of my throat. You’d swear he lives a wild life, dining on swamp creatures and cached dead things in holes, buried and forgotten until the smell reminds him they are there.
I swear. Loudly. And push him away. I reach past him and turn up the radio. Classic FM waltzes Beethoven concertos through the sunlit air. The cigarette between my fingers is sending tendrils of smoke into the atmosphere and I bring it to my lips, inhaling the minty freshness which belies the taste of nicotine and sending it soaring out again into the whistling wind. The dog sneezes. Serves him right. But I soothe his ears as I drive, my right hand balancing the wheel with the three fingers not occupied with gripping the cigarette. I lean back in my seat, allowing the back support to cushion me in padding, the headrest wobbling behind me.
The air blowing through my window smells of petrol fumes and veld fire. Both of these mean death to small things and I wonder if the small dog would prefer his carrion roasted.
The sun glares white on my windshield and I flip the visor down, shielding my eyes from the brightest light. To either side of me are multi-coloured apartment complexes: beige,white, eggshell, ivory, grey, dove, peach, tan, sand. I wonder how the people can stand to live in such a riot of colour.
Even the trees are grey, this time of year. A few dusty leaves cling to skeletal branches and as I drive, they drift across my path and get caught in my windscreen wipers.
The leaf leaves a line across the windshield when I try to flick it off with the wiper. It’s a yellow-green smear. Perhaps there was a caterpillar caught in there.
Winter driving is death to small things.
The other cars on the road fly past me too fast to catch the expressions on the pink-blurred faces of their operators. It’s Sunday, so I imagine most of them are on their way to lunch with their families, freshly pressed from prayers, the scent of roast beef and potatoes already playing tunes on their tastebuds.
I’m going to see my grandfather. We’ll eat sandwiches and drink juice and he’ll talk about that time he met the prime minister of England. These are the things that stick with him, these days. That, and all the Very Important PR work he did for the mines.
So we celebrated youth day in South Africa on Thursday. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Soweto uprising which happened in 1976, when a large group of students were gunned down for marching against the use of Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in South African schools, as well as the policy of Bantu education. It’s an ugly history, but today the day is used to celebrate all things great about the young future leaders and innovators of South Africa and the world. I decided to use it to remind myself of the youthful talent I had which has been swept away in the hamster wheel which is adulthood, and attempted to draw a portrait of my girlfriend, having not picked up a pencil in 19 years. Needless to say, there was much scrumpling of paper and gnashing of teeth, and not a huge amount of success. So I decided to draw a pear instead, reminding myself that it may be a good idea to climb a boulder before I tackle the mountain. I think it worked. I think it’s fairly convincing. Maybe tomorrow I’ll attempt a mug.