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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Dear Trump Voters

Dear Trump Voters,

The election is over and I keep hearing you say, ‘I’m not racist.’ You tell me, ‘I didn’t vote for him because he was a bigot or sexist or homophobic.’ You say, ‘I voted him because of policy. Because of the working class. Because of the economy.’

Yet as the cabinet is being appointed, as potential Supreme Court nominees are being discussed, the world is not seeing a man interested in the working class, determined to make America great. No. They are seeing a fascist who is surrounding himself with people who are determined to destroy people’s rights. The white hoods are marching, the swastika is being spray painted on walls while the legality of Japanese Concentration Camps is being defended.

The majority of voters did not vote for this. Therefore, it should not be their job to defend the rights they already tried to save with their vote.

You did, dear Trump voter. You voted for a fascist. You started this mess, now stop it before real lives are broken and lost. Start writing to Trump and tell him why you really voted for him. That civil liberties will not be violated in your name. That the nation is stronger when ALL its citizens have equal freedom.

You start the petitions. You start calling and writing to your governors, your congress, your senators and tell them that the freedom of United States Citizens must be upheld. You start making it clear that you did NOT vote for this man so he could surround himself with people known for being anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and fear diversity of religions. It is your job to make it known to the man you voted for that it was about economic policy – or whatever he said that motivated you to tick his box that did not involve being motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry.

People have died trying to preserve democracy. Do not go the graves of Veterans and weep when you put the freedom of US citizens under threat. Do not say you ‘support the troops’ until you make it clear that liberty and justice for all is truly something you value for the people of this nation. Do not sing the national anthem with the words ‘home of the free’ unless you are committed to ensuring the nation will be exactly that. Do not tell people who are scared and frightened that the system will save them. Stand up and make sure it does.

Because we, the voters for Hilary Clinton, remember the McCarthy hearings. We remember the civil rights movement. We remember the Japanese Concentration Camps. We remember there was a time when women did not have the right to vote. We remember the Florida bombing of a gay nightclub. Which is why we made sure we didn’t vote for the fascist.

Voters of Trump, do not sit back and pray for everything to work out for the best. Take responsibility for your vote. Otherwise, as those white hoods march, they are doing it in your name.

To find your congressperson:
http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

To find your senator:
http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

To contact the president-elect:
https://www.donaldjtrump.com/contact

Exposing the Exoskeleton

In less than two weeks I’ll be wearing this:

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and this:

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and this:

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in public.

It all began with a popping collarbone, which is an odd start to a tale, but at least it is true. At first the subluxation didn’t hurt, only sounded disgusting. Nor did it happen often. But as time wore on, abdominal exercises became routinely accompanied by a macabre percussion, courtesy of my bones. Soreness set in, then pain. Pop! Physio frowned; husband flinched. We taped it. We modified exercises and stretches, then modified some more. But it wasn’t working. Eventually the act of taking off a bra or a jacket created a POP. Worse, the bid to fix the problem was creating another. ‘I’m losing abdominal toning,’ I told the physio. She felt around, eyebrows drawing together and nodded.

This was bad. Nobody should be out of shape. But core strength is vital for people with Hypermobility Syndrome / Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It is essentially how we have any hope of staying put together.

As the physio continued to work on soft tissue release I let loose a stream of consciousness: ‘Walking isn’t good enough. The pool is shut for winter. The stability exercises are not enough. I need…like Pilates, but standing up. Something that won’t stress the neck and shoulders so much while I regain strength and avoid injury.’

‘You know,’ the physio said, ‘One of my other patients is trying belly dancing. She says it is very good. She can really feel it in her abs. She is much older than you, so I think maybe you could try it.’

So I did. On my first day I was handed a flashy coin belt to strap over my layers of tatty mismatched gym clothes. Then I stood on the cold tile floor, my feet encased in two pairs of men’s hiking socks, and began to try to copy the foundation movements to belly dancing. These basic moves don’t look much like any belly dancing found on Youtube. They are slow movements, which gradually make the person aware of how many muscles are in involved in the abominable, pelvic and diaphragm region.

I once asked my original physio how, if I had so much underdeveloped muscle, I had managed to complete so many crunches at my old MMA classes, how I’d surfed, how I managed to do so much of what I had done until everything fell apart. She’d laughed. ‘You just fling your body around in ways it was never meant to do to get it all done. You got away with it for thirty-three years, but now you need to learn to do it right.’

This was four years later, ‘getting it right’ was still a work-in-progress, it seemed. Because my muscles didn’t want to cooperate. I didn’t feel like a dancer. I felt like an electrocuted Transformer, spasming around in the most unattractive manner.

‘You’re doing good,’ the instructor said.

Liar, I didn’t say.

But I kept going.

‘You’re looking better,’ people would say. ‘You are standing straighter,’ people would say. ‘I think it is helping,’ the physio said. Eventually, I thought so too.

I began using my wrist braces less. Starting carrying plates two by two, instead of one by one. I baked bread. I volunteered to handwash dishes at my in-laws. But I still felt tight.

‘If you try yoga, then you must be careful,’ the physio said. Which is true. Yoga can be terrible for people with HMS / EDS. It is easy – and tempting – to stretch the joint rather than the muscles. Then people compliment you for being flexible when actually all you’re accomplishing is damage to the self. But fibromyalgia, that evil imp, loves to turn my muscles and soft tissues into useless lumps of rock, while causing my autonomic nervous  response to run amok. The best exercise for fibro – yoga. Thanks to constant physio and belly dancing, finally – finally! – my damaged right wrist and shoulder felt like it could take the weight to do downward facing dog. I began with one class a week, then two. Now I can do three to four. ‘Just don’t ever jump into a position,’ my physio said. I don’t.

The belly dancing and yoga have made a rather successful pair. This February I got up at 3:30am and drove to Cape Town in the rain to attend a press launch that very day. In March I turned around and did the same drive, but this time managed to make the drive home that next day. This was after I’d take my first motorbike ride (as pillion) only a few days before, an hour and forty-five minutes each way. ‘I’m a bit of a mess,’ I admitted to the physio, after all that. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but not as big of one as I expected. You are doing well. Really well.’

Which led me to attending a dance workshop later that month. It brought together women of various ages, shapes and sizes and aptitude. All wearing their belly dance gear comfortably, glamorously and if there was anyone feeling self conscious, they hid it well. This was the body they had that day, and they were using it, and living in it and having fun.

I gestured to my plain tanktop and leggings, adorned by a simple belly dance skirt. ‘I’ve been at this just under a year,’ I said. They welcomed me anyway.

We danced. Until somebody spotted the tape. ‘What happened?’

Session stopped. ‘Its like my exoskeleton,’ I said. I shifted uncomfortably. ‘I’m a bit like a jalopy.’

They laughed. ‘We’re all jalopies.’

One woman caught my eye, with a grin, she popped a hip forward. Fastened neatly into the waistband of her fabulous skirt was an insulin pump. Before that day,  I’d vowed I’d always keep my torso covered, especially for the upcoming show in May. But seeing that insulin pump gave me pause.

Let me be clear, my so-called-modesty wasn’t and isn’t about being a thirty-eight year old woman who has carried and birthed two babies. I’ve long ago made peace with my shape and marks. It was, and is, all about the tape. Let me be also be clear that I’m grateful for the stuff. Without it, I’d be living a much smaller life. I could give you a long list or reasons why it is better to use it than have to rely so heavily on braces, of which I own a boxful and still must use here and there. Nor does my husband care about my artificial stripes; he’s simply grateful it allows me to join him on the back of the motorbike.

It’s the Oh-My-Gods – the stares ­– as if I’ve come down with the plague, when people realise it goes far beyond my arms. Sure, it is nice for people to understand some of it, otherwise they’ll think I’m rude or lazy when I don’t volunteer to move heavy furniture or help hand wash a hundreds of dishes (real examples). But the Oh-My-Gods distract from main point, such as dancing. Yet, without the tape I wouldn’t be dancing. Without dancing I wouldn’t be sitting pillion on a motorbike, flying through the Swartberg pass. I want to respect that. I also want to respect the other woman taking part in the show this month that will be dancing without apology, moving with themselves, rather than against.

The week after the workshop I sent the dance instructor a picture of myself, sans undershirt, wearing one of the costumes for the upcoming show. I asked her if she thought it was going to cause a loud round of Oh-My-Gods. Instead, she said I looked nice. That belly dancers often wear loud accessories and colour. How, perhaps, rather than trying to disguise it with beige tape, I should be bold. Treat the medical necessity as body art, a part of the outfit. We discussed the various colours the tape comes in, how they’d look from a distance and against various fabrics. We’ve settled on blue.

May is EDS Awareness Month. You can find the HMSA FB page here, or find info on twitter under the hashtag #MayWeSay and #EDSAwarenessMonth

 

 

Phone calls

I was seven years old the first time the call came. It was my friend from over the back fence. She was eight. Her older sister babysat my sister, brother and I from time to time. My friend was crying. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Down the line came the sounds of her sister screaming as her father pounded her teenage flesh.

I didn’t know what to do.

I was seven. I knew you called 911 in the event of a fire. I knew you called the police when bad people did bad things. But this was her dad. A father. A person I should have been able to go to if there was any “stranger danger’”. Next day at the bus stop, there they were, my friend and her big sister. The wide 80s hairstyle couldn’t hide the teenager’s black eye, or the bruises that covered most of one side of her face.

Thirty-one years later, the phone calls still come. The women change: the class lines, the economic lines, the age, the race, the culture – but the men all seem to be the same. They believe they’re entitled. It was only because she made him angry. Or because he’d been drinking. Or hadn’t had a drink. Or because he needed her to go. Or needed her to stay. Or because she didn’t understand that he was stressed.

It’s the children that leave me feeling I’ve failed the most. When they call telling me that their mother is hurt, that their daddy won’t stop, won’t listen, that they’ve called the emergency services twice and nobody has come.

I still don’t know what to do.

When I was young, it was simple – she should leave. But now I’ve tried to track down these places that can supposedly assist. They are full, defunded, there is a waiting list, or nobody knows where to go since the last place shut down. The mother tells me about her worries that if she leaves, her children won’t be able to eat. Where will they live? How will she find a new job? How will she get the children into a new school? How to afford new uniforms? New books? Better to risk staying, she almost always decides, so long as he doesn’t hurt the kids. Too much.

So I find myself sometimes seeing these men face to face. It is tempting to tell them to “go to hell.” But if I ever followed such an impulse, I am sure it would only make it worse for her that night.

I still don’t know what to do.

I’ve looked at the community of men around the world, who, in various ways, have touchstones, milestones and ceremonies about becoming a man. Churches preach about men being head of the household. The military promises to turn boys into men. There are slaps on the backs, jokes over beer and male bonding away from female eyes.

I can’t see that any of this is working. Somehow these things – gatherings, institutions and traditions –are not getting the message across of what it means to be a real man. That real men are present fathers for their own children. Real men don’t beat their lovers and families. Or the girls who say no.

It is not all men. I know. But these half-men are more than the random bad apple. I read the vile comments in news sections. I watch despicable males get voted into authority “because he makes economic sense.” I hear victim-blaming drop off the tongues of judges, police officers and leaders in communities. I watch rape crisis centres being defunded. I see people campaigning for women’s health services to be shut down. I hear the hate.

I don’t know what to do. Probably because it shouldn’t be my problem to fix. Or hers. All these years, I’ve heard joke after joke after joke about women’s hormones in flux: PMS or PMT or that “raging” time of the month. I’m done. Dear men, control your own rage first, and remind your friend, and his friend, too.

Thirty-one years of phone calls. I don’t know the answers, but I have learned a few lessons along the way. That these men won’t look me in the eye, but will seek out my husband behind my back, to talk “man to man”. That the police and emergency services will respond faster if I tell them there is a child who might be in danger at the scene, because a woman’s life is not always enough to make them respond. That in some communities, my accent gives me privilege, in which case one call from me in the middle of the night will be more effective than three from the woman dodging the man’s blows. I’ve learned that in certain situations, calling the emergency line is pointless. In such cases, the thing to do is to track down somebody who knows somebody who can give me a cop’s direct number, one who will care. One who will keep the woman alive for another day. Until the man gets angry again. Does it again. Or hunts her down and finds her, wherever it is she went.

But no matter what I do, it doesn’t feel enough. Does it to you? Do you give to rape crisis centres? Have you told your crass friend to knock it off with jokes? Have you reconsidered your vote? Because saying, “I don’t hit my wife” isn’t enough.

To give to Rape Crises click here. It will only take a few minutes of your time.

Dear Children

On the 3rd of September I, and three other authors, were invited to be speakers at an SPCA fund raiser. Yes, four introverts were slated to be the entertainment. Yes, I was to speak about a time that I’ve now left to history. During the run up to the event, my mind was blank. I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t already said, to say. Then one morning, in the shower (where all good ideas emerge), I began to think of all the things I wanted my children to someday know about This Day.* So that’s what I did, letter by letter.

 

3 September 2015

Dear Children,
Today I was asked to give a little talk on why I wrote a book. Instead I’m reading letters I’ve written for you, to read someday, but not today. I’m not ready for you to hear these words, even if I’m speaking them to others. Because I’m not sure you’re ready to understand. Or maybe you are and it’s me that isn’t ready. Either way, you can wait.

 

Dear Children,
As much as I tell people I wrote the book for me, I also wrote it for you. Don’t bother to search for your names in the dedication. They’re not there. I couldn’t forget that my first published book, about an unexpected pregnancy, became an actual experience after I landed an agent.

So then there was you, my son. The first child. Who arrived without invite after a hideous year of good-bye. Good-bye due to old age. Good-bye due to suicide. They kept coming, even after your birth. Such as the day I held the finger of your eight-month-old playmate. A cold, they said. But by the next day he was dead.

Then there were the almost good byes. Near misses. One from depression.  Then two. Then you, my second child, my daughter, whose faulty umbilical cord should have killed you during birth. But it didn’t.

Nevertheless, forgive my superstitions. There was no way I was putting your names on a book that opens with a mother writing a letter in the sand to her dead son.

 

Dear Children,

I wrote a book about living life in a world that is far from fair. How not everything in life can be cured or fixed, nonetheless, we must learn to live in that space. Because when times got hard I began to reflect on the women I most admired, including my grandmother. That the single attribute that all these women shared was that they tried. No matter what life tossed at them, even if it killed them, they tried to keep going. This was despite, I am sure, going through periods where they weren’t sure what they were living for.

Remember, my children, life isn’t a contest. All I ask is, you try.

 

Dear Children,
You don’t remember me as I knew me up to the age of thirty-three. I was strong, sporty, never used prams, instead I carried both of you in slings. I even managed to teach basketball classes with one of you on my back. All of which happened before the time you began to store your memories, for now and the future nows.

The me you know, and will remember, is a mother who can’t always use a knife. Who isn’t supposed to lift heavy things. Who sometimes can’t drive a measly 55ks. She spends a lot of time on the computer. She is always sore. Sometimes she can dance, other days not. She’s supposed to exercise a lot, but also rest-rest-rest, take daily medication, wear funny tape and braces, all of which change depending on the day. But at least we now know I’ll be okay. It doesn’t kill you. That’s something, at least.

 

Dear Children,

There is a rumoured poem by Charles Bukowski containing the line Find what you love and let it kill you. James Rhodes, a pianist, wrote an article of the same name for The Guardian. In it, he discusses rediscovering his love for the piano, even though the endless repetition from practising can be hard. Boring. Means dropping other activities he liked all for the one thing he loved to do more than any other.

The world is an interesting place. There is so much to do and explore. But sometimes you are forced to make choices. Sometimes you can’t do it all. James chose the piano. I picked the book. A book I wasn’t sure I would physically be able to finish. Things were still unknown during that time. So on the first day of writing I wrote the beginning and the end. Then, in a way, I could say it was done.

This is called hedging your bets.

 

Dear Children,
I wrote a book about how your spouse, your partner, can never be your everything. That society often expects too much from lay people – our friends and families – when it comes to dealing with hardship and poor health, including depression. That it is wrong to believe that your spouse has some magic ability to fix or support all that life tosses your way. They have their own demons to battle. Society will try to isolate you, in grief, in hardship, in illness. But often the answer is outside of your relationship. Even then, the answers might not be a fix. They may only be how to make do.

Making do is better than nothing at all.

 

Dear Children,

I wrote a sad book where people still laugh and make jokes. Because that’s what real life is like. You can be hurting, things can go terribly wrong, yet still find something inside that moment, funny. Even during a funeral. Don’t apologise for this.

 

Dear Children,

People used to tell me, after I had you, to treasure every moment. The truth is, parenting is hard. Children sometimes behave terribly. Not every moment is wonderful. And that is exactly how life works, too. The key is, no matter how awful life has become, is to be able to laugh. I read in an article by Glennon Melton, ‘Don’t Carpe Diem,’ that rather than to feel regret for not always being happy, to simply be satisfied with Kairos. Kairos, the Greeks called this the time of the gods, those moments that take you out of the everyday, full of chores and responsibility, the hardship and the pains. Life is not easy. But you’re okay, so long as you can still see these moments, that raise us up from the rubbish, as Kairos. If you ever reach a point where you can longer can see these times, when the laughter is totally absent, please, get help.

 

Dear Children,

I wrote a book where women talk to each other, and not always about men or children. These women have ideas, impulses and random thoughts about a variety of topics. Because that is what women do. I was tired of books that didn’t show this.

 

Dear Children,

When I began the book, they didn’t actually know what was wrong with me. There I was, thirty-three, losing the ability to use my hands and everything hurt. Experts kept making suggestions, but things only got worse. At that time, we didn’t understand that Hypermobility Syndrome paired with something like Fibromyalgia, if left untreated, can create havoc on the autonomic nervous response, mimicking other chronic disorders that are very scary.

During this time of fear, I was losing all that I used to do: surfing, knitting, cooking, piano, gardening. My hands were working less and less. And nothing I’d written up to that point was good enough. I wanted to say, at least once, that I’d written something beautiful, even if it was a bit sad. To leave it for you. So I decided I would. Even if though it hurt. Even if nobody published it. At least I could print a few copies to show you, my children, that there was a me that could do things before I no longer could.

That’s why it is a short book.

I wasn’t sure I had much time.

I really wanted to make sure it was done.

Then things turned out better than I thought. Not great. But okay. And during this, somebody agreed to publish my little manuscript.

There are more than two copies around. Honest.

 

Dear Children,
While it is trendy to claim that everything can be solved with positivity, this isn’t actually true. Sometimes, no matter which way you turn a situation around, it still stinks. It’s still awful. You still wish it didn’t happen. It’s okay to vent. To cry. To say you’re angry and upset. But in the end, you need to keep going. But keep going doesn’t always mean try harder.  It sometimes means try different.

 

Dear Children,

While writing the book the doctors discovered that I was okay. Well, not really. There is no cure for HMS, a chronic degenerative condition, or Fibromyalgia. But neither condition is as bad as some they were testing for. You can live a long life with both. And that while that life will never be easy, most people’s lives are not. As Marian Keyes put it, ‘I’ve realised I’m not special.’ Everyone lives with challenges, some are visible, others are not.

However, I may have passed it on to you. Actually, we already know one of you has it. But you have your own choices. We know more about how to live with it. Your experience might not be so bad. In fact, right now, you both seem to be living well. Active, but not too much. Even so, should it start to snowball – the doctors still don’t know why it does for some and not for others – at least we now know what to do. For me, it means proper meds, tape, exercises and braces. For you? We shall see. Science is still exploring.

 

Dear Children,

Now that I know I can still write, this book is hopefully not the last. I’m working on another. I still have to write slowly, but not as slow as before. I’m stronger. I don’t require as much rest.

Yet, I’m still trying to write for you. And me. But this time, it is two stories: the one that I planned and another that consists of the main character you demanded. This book is a massive mess.

You see, writing This Day was the most physically taxing thing I ever wrote. But the voice of the main character was easy. I walked with her. Understood her. Could hear her, clearly.

This mess is physically easier, but the voices are loud and keep talking over each other. It is the most complicated storyline I’ve ever tried to create. Even so, if that book is ever published, I’ll dedicate it to you.

Promise.

* This Day currently on sale (now – 30th September)  for R100 on the Modjaji website.

Who are you?


I began asking people “Who are you?” rather than “What do you do?”
– Yulinda Noortman,
Reclaiming the L-Word.

‘Who are you?’ It is a question that pushes beyond all the antidotes that make up a typical obituary. Where we were born and who raised us may contribute into who we’ve become, but if life was that simple then identical twins would be exactly the same. Yet they are not. This is an important question for writers to examine. If we can’t discover the defining pieces of ourselves, how can we compose another?

Thus, I asked the people taking part in my writing classes – both the young and those legally allowed to drink – to write on ‘What makes you YOU?’ Which means, of course, I have to write one for me.

Tick, tick, tick goes the clock, deadline drawing near. My mind keeps focusing on what I’m not, starting with my lack of talent in parenting. I can see it now, my son and daughter trying to muster words at my wake. Eventually one will sigh, ‘Well, she tried.’ And Husband? If he were in an honest mood, he could declare, ‘It was an experience.’ Because marriage tends to be that, at the very least.

I would love to be able to claim to be kind, wise or charismatic. But I can draw up a long list of people I’ve hurt, offended and upset over the years both due to a temporary absence of charitable affection and obstinate opinions. And if God had asked me, rather than Moses, to say to the people, ‘Follow me,’ the story would have ended well short of the Promised Land.  During my childhood, my mother was fond of telling people I was graceful. Which is true, so long as we’re only talking about dance. In life, however, I’ve mostly barrelled through, often flaying my way around like a toddler high on fizzy drink.

Over my thirty-seven years I’ve watched my address change more than my accent. I’ve witnessed my weight fluctuate more than my hair colour. I’ve seen my physical healthy morph into this amazing dichotomy of brilliance and utter crap. Even if we were to change the question to ‘What do you do?’ my career can only be described as eclectic.

‘Who are you?’ I boiled myself down, examined what was left in the pot. I didn’t find a woman that has managed to become financially independent, strong or elegant. I saw a person who has gone through a number of ups and downs, combined with some amazing experiences and others that were hell. Yet, through it all, she kept getting out of bed. She vents, yells, becomes recluse and altogether can be rather trying to live with. I know. I’m with her every day. But she is determined. It isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it is down right scary. Yet, when the dust has settled and she’s looked over her options, she gives it another go.

As my children will say, ‘Well, she tried.’

The Write Life Part 4 – The End

This is a short series on trying to find the Write Life: click to read Part 1 or Part 2, or Part 3.

The Write Life. It sounds catchy. Desirable. It involves a perfect balance between commitments, writing, family, rest and living. Living, which according to internet memes and motivational slogans, appears to be those things that are not work and family and reading and writing…this elusive living that is done in that spare time by people who have lives. With arms stretched out wide. On a mountaintop. At sunrise. Maybe sunset.  The rest of us are not living, apparently, but zombies. Can’t be dead, because the dead don’t move. Hard to do laundry and not move. Believe me, I’ve tried.

I’m not sure there is a Write Life, however. I’ve spent time cutting things out of my life only to have new things slip in: children’s writing group, Spring Wring Course, #WriterPrompt and belly dancing, to name a few. I like being busy. But I don’t like being stressed and anxious. I enjoy working with writers under the age of 18 in person. It remains to be seen if I feel the same about adults. Giving feedback on #WriterPrompt (which I enjoy) is a far cry from adult writers gathered in my dining room. But it is a challenge, and at least I can say I tried.

What I have come to understand, however, is that my Write Life is only achievable in moments. Yes, since the 28th of May I’ve managed to put down another 6,000 words in a work-in-progress. First time I’ve added words to a work-in-progress during the months of May and June since I became a part of Short Story Day Africa. It hasn’t been easy to acquire the space for those new words. They are the first new words since the 24th of April. Nor will we discuss how long it took for me to write this final post. Things were going, then they were not. People get sick, have injuries, face unexpected events – Write Life depends upon consistency. Life, even the zombie sort, is full of unpredictability. Organisation, diaries and working ahead can only accomplish so much. Life happens. And it isn’t always at sunrise on a mountaintop.

Write Life blog series is done. But this isn’t a mini project. Like my health, how much I’m working – how I’m using my time -  is going to require constant reassessment. There is already a looming what if hovering in July. To happen, or not happen. I’m not sure what the answer will be. I thought I knew. Now I don’t. But what I’ve come to realise is, that it is wonderful to be at a place to have choices. There are times I have not had much choice. The trick is to keep in mind that, ‘No, is an answer, too,’ as my physio said. Nonetheless, what a beautiful time in my life this is, where I have choice. It is an important point. Because looking behind me, it is evident that when I lose sight of choice the demons creep in. I must remember, because I can’t keep adopting black dogs to keep the rest at bay.

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Write Life Part 3: Liked vs Loved

This is a short series on trying to find the Write Life: click to read Part 1 or Part 2.

I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, recently. In it, she talks about an artist who was getting a ton of likes on YouTube. Loads. The artist’s work was popular, people were watching, glad to have that work in their lives. That is, until the artist tried to crowdsource for funding in order to turn the art into something more tangible than a YouTube video. I believe the artist raised around 45US dollars. People liked the artist’s work, but it was not loved. It takes a certain love before people will pay. I read that scene in Palmer’s book and thought: Bingo, my problem in a nutshell.

Love is not always necessary. There are things I do because they are part of who I am, regardless if I have a flair for it. Writing, for example. Yes, I prefer it when publishers want to publish me. Yes, I prefer it when people read my work and enjoy it. But if these chronic conditions have taught me anything in life, it is that I write for me, first. I have, in the past, tried to peruse more lucrative writing gigs and taken a stab at writing for that elusive market. The only things I achieved with those stunts was a pile of rejections, braces and permanent damage to one of my wrists. But when the days came to stop living life as I once had, giving up most of what I used to do, I discovered that writing was a part of me, even if it hurt. I can’t even say writing is something I love or enjoy. But I know I’m not me without it and I am willing to risk a lot to keep doing it, even if nobody is reading.

Dedication sometimes requires a bit of love, however. There is an activity has eaten a ton of my time, cost me money and earned a lot of like. People were delighted with what I was doing, as long as it was on par with that artist on YouTube: free. Yes, I had my 45dollars of love, from a few souls. But overall, there was like and no love from the greater world. Which wasn’t a big deal, at first. Again, not everything I do needs to be loved or appreciated by others. That is, until:

  • I was getting too tired.
  • Some people said that if I ever found to time to do this other idea they’d pay me. Even better, this other idea wouldn’t take up quite as much of my time.

 

Putting it that way, it would seem the decision would have been no-brainer. But life is rarely so simple as two bullet points. In addition to a number of other factors, I’d invested a lot of my energy into a something that had touched lives. It is hard to call such a project off, even when exhausted, fed up and news that my latest funding idea had fallen through. Liked is still something and that something had felt good. Also, I was cautious about the enthusiasm of this other idea. I’ve learned over the years that just because people say they’ll pay for something, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily pony up once the goods are produced.

The process of reaching the final decision was gradual and involved a number of events. One of which was being able to drive myself to Cape Town and back, for the first time in four frustrating years. That felt good. I love the freedom. Independence. But I know from my past, that I am running on borrowed time. If I keep working at the intensity I have been, all my hard work to regain my life – hold car keys without dropping them, cut up my own food, drive 5 hours and back – will start slipping away, all over again. As it is, I still can’t consistently walk my dogs or jog, surfing is totally gone, my time at the piano is a joke and I considered it an amazing week if I’ve managed to knit a row or two at a scarf that, after four months, might finally be long enough to wrap around the neck of a Smurf.

I’d rather try to stay as healthy as is possible while living my life. I’d rather look into things that might pay. I’d rather have a bit more time for writing. So I made the change. There is guilt. Overall, however, I know the change is necessary if I’m ever going to find the Write Life.

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Write Life Part II – They just stood by and let it happen.

This is part 2 of a mini series on getting myself back to the Write Life.

This second post was originally going to be light-hearted. How, after six years of public education, we’ve taken a different direction. How, when life is too busy,  it might be time to stop screaming at the universe and attending pointless meetings and consider, instead, a radical change. That the results of this risk, so far, have been brilliant and play a huge part in finding the Write Life.

That was what I was going to write about.

But this morning, as I took the children to the new educational arrangement, we got to talking. The conversation began over a wildlife program we’d watched last night, which led to a discussion over why I am incredibly reluctant to watch TV. That when I do, it is programs like Myth Busters or Muppet Show reruns. I explained that I read and see a lot of things, especially on social media, and much of it is incredibly sad. That it reaches a point where I’ve had enough. Watching it on TV is too much. So they asked if I’d seen anything on the internet had upset me recently. I said yes. That in addition to a bunch of heart-breaking news stories, there is a photograph I saw while loading up twitter that I cannot un-see. I didn’t tell them what I saw, but I did tell them it had to do with the xenophobic attacks occurring across South Africa.

This led to discussing xenophobia. They asked a lot of questions, good questions, and I tried to be answer as honestly as I could in an age appropriate manner. But some of the questions are the same questions I am seeing across the internet and, while there are a lot of theories, the truth seems to be that nobody knows. I told them that, too. Because I think it is important for adults to tell children that sometimes, even the big people, don’t know the answer. Then one of my children asked if I was going to be safe. Would people come after me since, unlike my children and husband, I am not South African.

They are the first people in my daily life to question if I am safe. For reasons I cannot explain, the anger does not seem to be directed towards white women living in South Africa holding American and British passports. To a child, this makes no sense. If people are upset with foreigners and doing bad things to foreigners what difference would it make that my mom is white and has US and UK passports? Foreign is foreign and we need to go hide mommy, now. I calmed them down. But no, it doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense. Just like Apartheid, which we’ve spoken a lot about, didn’t make sense. Hate never makes sense.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered the foreigner but not. During the various hoops I jumped in the United Kingdom to get my residency and, eventually, my citizenship (all vastly easier than trying to get any visa or residency in South Africa, by the way) people would routinely go, ‘But that is ridiculous. They shouldn’t make you do that. These rules are for those people…’ and then they’d normally stop talking, splutter, in the realisation of what they almost said.

Those people…Whoever those people are, depends on the country you live in, but every country has them. These mythical people that are causing all the problems, taking all the jobs, using up all the welfare, not participating in daily life. Those people. It becomes so ingrained that during my UK citizenship ceremony I, and the rest of those people, had to suffer through a pedantic lecture about getting involved in our new country, volunteering, taking part in local activities. Which is ridiculous. The UK, like most countries, has rules about granting citizenship. One of them is that you have to live in the UK for many years before you are eligible to apply for citizenship. During those eight years of living in the UK before being granted citizenship, I’d been working, volunteering and doing exactly what the lecture encouraged me to do. But if you’d been in the audience that day, you’d be forgiven if you’d thought we’d all walked off the boat a mere ten minutes ago.

But none of what I experienced in the UK comes close to what I have gone through and witnessed at the whims of the South African Home Affairs. I considered putting it in this post, but it turned into a 2,000 word rant and the fingers were still going. Another day, perhaps.

Instead, I’ll return to my children’s education. Originally the plan was to remove only one child from the local government primary. Then three things happened in as many weeks, two of which were illegal, all of them not good. I only found out about the first illegal action when I discovered the second. I only discovered the second because, unlike the first, the child could no longer hide the pain, hurting so much the child did not want to sit in the car. I demanded an explanation.

I was furious, as any parent would be. But what cut deepest was that the illegal actions had happened, not unseen in some dark storage closest, but on a playing field in front of fellow students, staff and parents. This was not a matter of one adult making a wrong decision. It was that nobody intervened. Not one person took the adult aside and said, ‘We don’t do this.’ People pretended not to see, looked away or decided it wasn’t their problem.

They just stood by and let it happen.

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The Write Life: Part 1

This is part 1 of a mini series on getting myself back to the Write Life.

I was bursting into tears at odd moments. I was finding myself angry over things that normally wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. Yes, 2015 got off to a rocky start, and our hearts have yet to recover. But this was something else. I watched myself writing vents on Facebook that friends would – kindly, nicely, gently – tell me to delete. And after a few deep breaths (and hastily following their advice) I would gradually see that what I was complaining about was not, actually, the problem. But what, exactly, was the problem?

A month ago I vented to a friend. When I was done, she – kind, nicely, gently – said, ‘Tiah, when’s the last time you’ve taken a break? A real break from work.’ I blinked a few times, considered the last few months. I said, ‘That day you took me for the op. That day. Well, actually, I don’t remember much about that morning. But I certainly didn’t do any work after we got to the hospital.’ My friend put her mug of coffee down. ‘Tiah, that’s not healthy. That’s not healthy for anyone.

It has been four years since my health plunged and altered permanently. Four years from the dark days I feared I couldn’t cope, was useless, had nothing left to offer the world. Somehow, in four years, while learning to live with two chronic conditions, I have managed to refill my life to such an extent that my work hours exceed what is considered wise even for a physically healthy individual.

The difficult part is, I don’t have a terrible life. My days are blessed with wonderful things. I have – at last – come to the realisation that being a work-at-home parent is a good thing for me and my family.  It is a pleasure watching my children take part in their after-school activities. I enjoy having dogs around. I find the chickens a hoot. It is a delight to have a book published. It is a privilege to be part of Short Story Day Africa. I still giggle at the idea that I get paid to read books. I want to do reader reports, and have enjoyed the work. And even with all of this, there is still more out there that I want to do.

Everyone has exactly the same amount of time, the same twenty-four hours. – Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

I have been known to talk about ice cream. How ice cream is delicious, but you shouldn’t eat it for every meal. Perhaps I’ve created a life with too much ice cream. Some have suggested whole parts of my life should be cut, like going on a brutal diet. But what would go? And is it really about cutting, or more a matter of portion size?

About a month ago, I began to address these questions. Things have to change, before I alienate my friends, family and the people I work with. Because it is never good to be exhausted. But perhaps a more realistic balance can be achieved without a slash and burn. This isn’t about quitting. This is about finding the Write Life.

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Black dog arriving

On paper my life has been through a bit, in the last three months. 2014 ended with an accident. 2015 began with a death. Another member of the family is gravely ill. Tucked around the loss and worry have been the more everyday life-hitches: Eskom load shedding, Telkom incompetence, a burst water pipe (again, and again, and again), an employee breaking a leg, a minor operation (me), a stomach bug (child)… The physio keeps strapping me up and sending me back out there, like a coach during a game. So it goes, Kurt Vonnegut would say.

The morning after the death, husband and I sat side-by-side, bleary eyed and stunned while a waitress brought our drinks. We were at a rest stop outside Swellendam, facing their picturesque mountains. In an adjoining field, our dog, Orwell, joyfully ran, delighted to be travelling with his family. His bliss was so great you could practically hear Born Free playing as he romped. Smiles crept across our weary faces. I said to Husband, ‘Really glad we brought the dog.’

Then we returned from the wake and Orwell fell into his post-holiday-with-other-dogs-slump. So it goes…

Between the accident and the wake a friend dropped by. After saying what is said in these times, the conversation wandered into the more everyday. He mentioned he had started volunteering at the SPCA. He regaled us with his humorous encounters with dogs that would never suit our family. Then he paused. ‘I probably shouldn’t tell you this…’ But he did. A blind Labrador puppy. ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘You’d never know at first that she’s blind.’

And my ears perked up. Labrador is the right size to be a friend to Orwell. Blind dog might not try to usurp our un-Alpha-but-still-like-being-in-charge dog. And he really needs a friend because every time we return from holiday that involves other dogs, he goes into a slump. Plus a blind dog would probably be less likely to catch a chicken while we train her not-to-chase-the-hens. But this was not the time to get a second dog. We were still travelling back and forth on a moment’s notice, hoping death would be held at bay. She’ll be adopted by the time life has calmed.

She was still there.    

I could tell you all the reasons people told me not to get another dog. The list is long and their objections are sound. I could tell you all the reasons people say you should never adopt a blind dog, too, as many were eager to share their thoughts. But there are times when decisions don’t make sense on paper. I wanted a dog. I can take care of a dog. As I told my father during a recent telephone conversation, ‘Everyone keeps telling me not to over do it, until they want something, like dinner and laundry to be done. If life is going to be this busy and this chaotic, I’d like for some of this crazy to be for good reasons.’

Because the truth of the matter is, when your health limits your physical capabilities the greater world can forget about your need to participate in fun. Unintentionally, these caring souls try to make my life even smaller than it needs to be. You could just watch. Be careful! Are you sure you should? Oh, please take the kids to school and activities. You want to what? You might get hurt! Is dinner ready? Have you seen my shirt?

Hey, if I’m going to hurt, it would be nice to be hurting because I love dogs, and not because of the damn dishes. And let me be the first to say, my most debilitating injuries I’ve suffered in the last four years were all acquired while doing not-fun-things! Like saving a child from poor traffic choices. Necessary, but not fun.

Almost two weeks ago I went to the SPCA and asked to see their kennels. I told them I was cautiously interested in a second dog. I did not, however, inquire about a specific one. I stood there and examined them all, and there was one dog – more than any other – that tracked me as I walked around. This puppy was alert, energetic and showed promise of intelligence and was sweet as any dog lover could want. So then I brought Orwell to see what he thought. Then the kids. And then a few days after that, the black dog arrived.

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Her name is Ziva. She’d like you to know she gets around fine, all on her own, thank you very much. That how a dog copes with a disability depends on the dog. Her presence has yanked Orwell out of his mope-slump and is keeping me from losing perspective in this current circus called 2015. Playing with my dogs is the ultimate stress relief.

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And every day since I brought her home I’ve thought of Ella, from This Day. How throwing your energy into devoted, loyal companions keeps the beast at bay.  If our characters have future lives, may Ella be blessed with a dog – or two.