Monthly Archives: March 2014

What does it mean to step out of line?

 Something I wrote about for the Citroën #stepoutofline campaign I’ve been running. 

What does it mean to “step out of line”? This is what it means to me:

Questioning widely accepted views because those views might not have all the answers.

Finding new ways to do things.

Being brave enough to be different.

Being true to yourself, even when your true self doesn’t fit in.

Doing things that make others feel uncomfortable, for the right reasons.

Standing up for what is right rather than what is popular.

Tackling others when they are wrong, even at a cost to yourself.

Never getting too comfortable with the way things are.

Never thinking that you can sit back and put up your feet.

Never going with the prevailing fashion because that’s what everyone else does.

Speaking the truth even when everyone wants comforting white lies.

Having a sense of what matters.

Valuing the feelings of others.

Knowing when to place principles above people, and when not to.

Admitting when you’re wrong.

Saying sorry and meaning it.

Asking for forgiveness even when it’s painful.

 

Is honesty the best policy?

“I’ve read your stuff online. You’re so… honest.”

I get that a lot, usually with a slight intake of breath and the hint of a wince.

Honesty makes others uncomfortable, of course. TMI and all that. On Twitter and in my blog posts, I’ve been honest about failure, depression, my finances, my sex life (or lack thereof), self esteem and other issues that most would prefer not to talk about. We live in a world in which we’re all our own publicists and spin doctors now, and to pretend to be anything other than successful is to cross a line that sets of murmurs of disapproval.

Not that it’s anything new. Over the years, many writers have chosen themselves as subjects and written in the realm of the confessional, but it took social media to turn the kind of unburdening that had once been a matter for the diary and, rarely, the column, and make it mainstream.

Even so, I have been told many times that my honesty is incompatible with my career. “You won’t get clients,” I am told. You should look more professional. Tell the world you’re successful. You’ll scare people off otherwise. Or give trolls like this one material:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 1.03.45 PM

They are quite right. I probably do scare some people off. So why choose to be honest about my failings, and make them so public?

Partly, I suppose, because I’ve always done it. Ever since I got into trouble with Mrs Hart in Grade 2 at Bryanston Primary for writing that a guest at a wedding where I was a flower girl called me a “little bugger” for throwing berries at my brother (he started it), I’ve been getting into trouble for being too honest about the way the world really is. I got into trouble when I wrote about buying a Matric dance dress in Style magazine at the age of 17, and I’ve been getting into trouble ever since.

Partly because we live in an era in which authenticity is valued, and where we are expected to be both real and human. Perhaps ironically, it would make it much harder for me to be good at one of the things I do – working with other influencers as a social media strategist – if I sounded like a series of press releases.

And partly, too, because it’s too much hard work to be anything else. If I am honest, maybe I can free others from the tyranny of pretence. Maintaining a mask is hard work. It can be a terrible strain, and I discovered that when I freed myself from it, I was free to tell the world about who I really am.

I’d rather be despised for who I am than admired for who I  am not.

Yes, it’s strange to encounter strangers who know so much about me. Writing to am amorphous audience is much easier than talking to an individual, and I forget that there are consequences.

But the upside to being real is that there’s so much less to worry about. So much less to keep track of. If there’s dirt on me, I want to be the one to dish it first.

I’ll be honest: I’m by no means honest about everything. The version of me that you see in social media is edited and curated. It’s authentic for the most part, but it’s not every aspect of me, and I may still surprise you.

Watch this space.

 

These are some of the ways I step out of line

I’m 39. Highly educated. Good family. I have had every opportunity. I should be living in a luxury cluster in a gated estate with nice furniture and a husband and two kids.

I should have a corporate job. Should drive an SUV. Should go on family holidays. Should be good at cooking thanks to lots of classes. Should go to yoga on Tuesdays and Pilates every Thursday. Should ride bicycles on Saturdays. Should be hot because of all the Pilates and bike riding. Should wear at least one expensive yet subtle piece of bling.

Instead, apart from the long hours I work and the meetings I attend, my lifestyle most closely approximates that of a drug addict.

I look successful, if you don’t look too closely, but I am not, not in the way that society would consider successful in conventional terms. I have no income, not while I’m building a business.

I don’t pay rent. I live with my parents in the sense that I use their wifi and sleep at their place, most of the time. (Sometimes I spend the night with my business partners, so we can drink wine and work.) My things are weirdly scattered and I have no clue where anything is.  I lose my cellphone, car keys, gate opener, hairbrush, asthma pump several times a day, every day.

If I need a car, I use one that belongs to my grandmother, who can no longer drive.

I paint with lipstick instead of wearing it.

I donate more than I earn to charity in an attempt to buy my own love and then feel weirdly resentful. I don’t have time for my current workload and keep missing deadlines, but keep saying yes to favours which always involve doing work for free.

I share too much of myself online because it’s easier than talking to people who might think I might want them to help, when I don’t. I often get lectured for doing this, because you’re supposed to look successful so that clients will hire you.

I am opinionated when it would probably be better to keep quiet.

I feel I have to explain, but the explaining is painful. I am tribeless. I don’t fit in anywhere, not really. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes reassuring.

It is never not strange.

 

Safe and warm and dry. And good.

Today I saw a Facebook status update that filled me with that sense of pleasure that is most closely associated, I suppose, to a good meal with friends or a movie with a happy ending. A contentment that sits in your stomach and lightness that blooms in your heart.

A friend announced today on Facebook that he is in a relationship. People do that all the time, but this matters because last year, he lost his wife to a short illness. I remember finding out what was going on, that she was in a coma, and I followed the tweets and status updates with heart in mouth, hopinghopinghoping that it would all end well.

I had never met either of them, but I knew enough to know that they were good together. Not perfect, but good. Part of that process involved painting this, how I imagined a good marriage to be, that bond that goes beyonds the bounds of time and space.

“We are in the territory of miracles,” he wrote to me, and that ended up being the title.

Love goes on

And then she died. (I hate the expression “passed away”. I use it out of consideration for the sensitivities of others in conversation,  but not on my own blog.)

Afterwards, we met for the first time so that I could give the painting to him.  I remember the hollow look in his eyes, and the sadness, but also the refusal to be defeated. Safe and warm and dry, he said to me. That is what matters. I wrote about our conversation here, on Thought Leader. 

I am glad that he has found happiness. It is a reminder that even in the middle of unbearable darkness, life not only goes on, it brings us good things too.

Thank you, Cobus. I wish you all the joy in the world.

Happy Unniversary

Today wasn’t meant to matter.

Screen Shot 2013-08-10 at 9.06.58 PM

Today, what would have been my 13th wedding anniversary, was meant to be an excuse to write something – probably for Women24 – on how even though I have every reason to be cynical about marriage, I’m not. How, even though I knew I’d made a mistake a week after my wedding, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of finding something lasting and good with a person who felt right and held me when I needed to be held.

It was supposed to be a celebration of finally, finally conquering this endlessly fucking miserable boring chapter of my life, the one that refuses to draw to a conclusion even though it wore out its narrative welcome years ago.

But the universe – that hold-all metaphor for fate, or random indifference, or anything we don’t quite understand or feel entirely in control of – had other plans. Because here I am at the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban, talking about insults, and that of course means thinking about him, because my ex-husband is so indelibly connected with the books. He gave me the large wooden chicken I’m posing with on the back page of the programme. And he helped colour in the cover on the last of them, which was published while I was in the middle of going through the divorce.

Time of the writer

I’d pretty much disowned those books years ago. I’d love to burn all the copies I have left, because they take up space, and remind me of yet more failure.

The ex was frustrated that I wrote the insult books instead of focusing on something useful like a bestseller. He was absolutely right. He always was.  I wonder what he’d think about the fact that they’re on sale here at R10; I’d rather give them away than sell them at that price. Nothing messes with your ego like being published, because any sense of achievement soon gets pulped and that nagging sense of failure that shadows your every move soon looms large enough to darken every chink of light.

Today was meant to remind me that I’ve escaped, and that I survived. That I am ok. That things will get better. (Things will get better, right? They have to. I can’t bear the possibility that they might not.)

Today wasn’t meant to matter, but it does.

Lost and found

4 years ago, I bought a pair of hiking boots for a walking trail through Nyalaland in the northern Kruger Park. After I got back, they went missing. I searched high and low for them. Every trip I needed to pack for, I’d scratch in the back of my cupboard and every time, I’d emerge disappointed.

And then, 3 weeks ago, while hunting for a box of Beacon marshmallow eggs in a spare room cupboard in my parents’ house, what should I find but my missing boots?

I hadn’t looked for them for years. They were the last thing on my mind. And suddenly, there they were.

Me on the mountainHere I am wearing them today while I stand on top of a mountain in Marakele National Park. I feel strong and sure-footed in them, as though I can stride across any surface.

It’s tempting, on a Sunday night, to become philosophical. Why is it so easy to lose things? Why is it that when we stop looking for something, there it is?

And how do we learn to let go, so that those things which we seek may more easily find us?