Monthly Archives: April 2014

Thoughts on Freedom Day

It’s Freedom Day. I have mixed feelings. But whenever I am frustrated that things are nowhere near where they should be, I am reminded of this:

My gay friends have better marriages than mine ever was. They don’t ever have to pretend to be anyone other than who they are.

One of the things that separates me from many black South Africans is an interest in rugby.

I have been in five relationships that would have been illegal under apartheid. I am engaged to someone who is a different race.

Poverty and inequality still loom over us, but there are no rules that tell us who may be friends with whom, or who may love whom, and those are good things.

There are sex scenes and swearing in the movies, and we’re allowed to see and hear them.

I can go “into” a township if I like. (There was a time when that wasn’t allowed.)

I can put up an art exhibition critical of the president and the government and not face the threat of being banned. I can collect insults and make jokes, and – risk of a Twitter pile on aside –

I don’t have PW Botha staring down at me wherever I go. There are no relief posters of limpet mines.

I can go shopping and be shallow with my fellow South Africans are all races and creeds.

TV is a lot better since the days of the SAUK, or so I believe. (I don’t watch much TV.)

My South African passport isn’t welcome in most parts of the world, but then that’s nothing new.

And yes, I’ve learned to be afraid of the police, as black South Africans were under apartheid.

But I’m of this place and for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, I am here.

Here’s to freedom. Quisque suos patimer manes.

 

 

 

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Panic

Imagine you’ve almost been in a car accident. You know the feeling: the swoon of relief, the racing heart, the sense of ohmygodohmygodohmygod. That’s a bit like my anxiety attacks, only the feeling can last for hour upon interminable hour.

I spent the whole of 2010 consumed by severe anxiety every single day. I took a lot of medication to treat it, which is why I have such terrible short term memory problems today.

Gradually, the anxiety went away. Gradually, I felt almost ok.

It’s back now. Not every day, thank heavens, but often enough that I’ve grown to dread it. Why is it happening now? Why, when things are finally getting on track and I’m out of the abyss?

Today’s trigger was a bill for mounting art. I’ve spent over R10,000 on art materials and mounting this year, and that’s completely unsustainable – especially when I’ve had no income to speak of in months. I make commitments when I am in a positive frame of mind, and panic about them later. I’m in no danger of starving – hell, I could do with losing some weight – but the knowledge that this can’t go on indefinitely, and that haemorrhaging money is not a good idea is weighing on me.

Don’t misunderstand me: forgoing a salary while we get the business up and running is a choice that I can make because I have savings. And we’re in a good position. When we finally launch properly, I have no doubt we’ll be successful, and all of the partners will be able to realise our dreams.

But it’s very hard not to panic about money, not when it’s been a source of anxiety your entire life.

Old habits are hard to break.

Telling Facebook how you feel

“Please tell me it gets better. You don’t need to mean it.”

I clicked “share” and off it went to Facebook, a wan little cry for help on a Sunday where I’m sick, dealing with disappointment and haven’t slept well, and the thought of having to face an entire new week makes me want to weep.

But yes, I’ve done it again. Oversharing on social media, or at least letting Facebook and/or Twitter know that all is not hunky dory. Several of my mentors have called me on this over the years and warned me against doing it, largely on the grounds that it will put clients off.

Why do I share things on social media? Surely, you ask, I should confide in someone specific offline? Aren’t you just an attention-seeking narcissist using technology as a crutch? Maybe I am.

But if you’re interested, this is why. Maybe you do the same.

a. I’m not asking anyone specific for help. When you ask someone specific for help offline, you burden them with obligation. They have to take on your angst, and that’s not fair. See point b:

b. The people who respond are those who feel able to. People who offer help are not required to. They do it voluntarily. That decreases the chances of resentment or the potential that I may turn into an energy vampire.

c. I am not actually asking for help. More often than not, sharing something isn’t a request for a solution; it’s the sharing itself that eases the burden. I’m looking for a sense of connection with others, not necessarily a DIY fix to my messy, chaotic life.

d. Sharing makes it less lonely. And yes, sometimes a response is all that’s needed. If nobody had responded to that status update, I’d have felt worse than ever. (Thank you to everyone who did respond; I do appreciate it.)

e. I want perspective. Both for myself, from others, and vice versa. If I’m not having a good day, and I let others know, then they have a better sense that their own imperfect lives are ok.

f. I share the good moments, and the bad ones are just as much a part of real life. I refuse to be one of those annoyingly smug people who create the impression that their lives are fabulous, though I’m careful to acknowledge good things when they happen.

I’m very aware of the danger of doing this, of the potential to abuse the kindness of others, and to try their patience. It’s very easy to turn into a social media energy vampire. I am also uncertain as to the impact of the public sharing of emotions, since these can be contagious. Then again, the people around me deserve a break, and Facebook can be a sort of emotional Faraday cage, dissipating large amounts of negative emotion over a wider network and allowing it to earth itself safely.

What is your view on the sharing of negative emotions on Facebook? I’d love to know what you think.

 

It would be very much easier

It would be very much easier to go and live in the bush or by the sea and write books. Once, not so long ago, I thought quite seriously about buying an old Subaru and renting a place in Hoedspruit. I’d live off my savings until they ran out, and then… well, that’s when the plan runs out too.

It would be much easier than this daily slog of meetings and content grids and PowerPoint documents, of not earning an income (out of choice; I don’t want to be an overhead just yet), of little or no time for doing the things I love, of never taking a day off, of rollercoaster highs and terrible lows, of Berocca every morning and black rings under my eyes, of headaches from hunching over a laptop, of the awful fear that none of this is going to pay off.

It would be very much easier to not do any of this.

The Year of Taking Strain

“I’m taking strain.” Hands up if you say this on a regular basis. I’ve been saying this for 6 years. Every year has brought a different type of strain, but the basic oh-god-how-much-more-of-this goes on.

2008 was the first major year of taking strain. That brought death-of-mother-in-law, emigration-retrenchment strain. Sydney was a useful distraction.

2009 sashayed in with failing-marriage, reverse-emigration, divorce strain. A classically awful year and the easiest to explain to outsiders.

2010 was the year of vintage strain, or, as I like to call it, my year in hell. That was resign-or-take-a-pay-cut, you-could-be-retrenched-at-any-point strain. I spent the year on many, many tranquillisers. 2010 is the reason I lose things and battle with short term memory.

2011 was the year of what-do-I-do-next strain. This was the year I realised I was completely unsuited to corporate life and a salaried job.

2012 was, logically, the year of taking-the-leap strain. I walked out of my job in January. It was a little bit scary, but a huge relief.

2013 brought a goodbye to Australia, the birth of our agency, and running-things-on-my-own strain. It was the loneliest year of all, the one that dunked me in the deep end and got me doubting myself and everything I knew – but also the year that taught me that maybe, just maybe, I was more than a freelancer: I’m a business owner.

2014 has been a different type of strain. To focus on the agency, I’ve walked away from all my freelance clients, which has meant reducing my income to pretty much zero while the hours are longer than ever. But I have clients, and partners, and we have a dream, and that’s a lot to hold on to. I keep reminding myself that I should be lucky to have these problems, and that others are way, way worse off than me.

So here’s to taking strain. Although, if I could have any choice in the matter, I’d like a tiny little bit less.

It’s entirely possible

I can’t help but be drawn into the Oscar Pistorius trial. It’s not only the fact that I’m a regular guest on the Oscar Trial Channel, so I have to pay attention to what’s going on. My timeline on Facebook and Twitter is filled with opinion. The channel shows in the reception areas of my clients. Every news broadcast is filled with his testimony in that gentle, halting voice, the one that occasionally dissolves into raw and wretched anguish.

How can this tearful, emotionally tortured man be the jerk in those messages, who bullied his girlfriend and prompted her to confess that she was sometimes a bit scared of him? How can such a sensitive soul also be capable of being a controlling and somewhat abusive partner?

Quite easily.

I was married to a man who was very sensitive, very emotional and very angry all at the same time. (“Afrikaners are very emotional people,” my British mother-in-law would say, nodding sagely.)

I was always In Trouble. I was always upsetting him. (I don’t blame him, by the way; I was messy, forgetful and occasionally inconsiderate and we were a horrible, horrible combination.) I was always being educated about the error of my ways. After the shouting, when the lecture was over, and my silence crept over the room and filled all the spaces between the molecules around us, he would calm down. Then he would say to me, in the wheedling voice of a small child: “Do you still love me?” And I would nod and say yes because yes was easier than anything else.

Every time I read those messages between Oscar and Reeva, or hear his testimony, I am reminded of the person I was when I was with him, and I panic again. I’m right back there, head bowed, waiting out the storm, the resentment setting in and hardening. The taste of metal is in my mouth and I want it to stop. Just. please. stop.

It’s entirely possible for Oscar to be sensitive and loving. It’s also entirely possible for him to be controlling and abusive. Entirely possible for Oscar to bawl his eyes out until he can barely breathe because the grief and remorse is so terrible. Also entirely possible for him to get so angry that he lashes out in rage without thinking. He can be all of these things at once. They are not contradictory at all.

Trust me, I know.

 

A place of my own

Yes, this is a choice. Yes,  there’s a bigger picture. Yes, I’m gritting my teeth and holding out.  Yes, I can’t possibly justify renting a place when I can stay at my parents’ for free and I’m not there half the time and I’m trying to start something and I have no income andandand.

(If I sound out of breath it’s because the horrible chow-chow got out again and I triggered an asthma attack trying to get the deaf dog inside the house so I could leap into the car to catch the bastard. I am not in a good mood.)

But oh god I miss having a place of my own.

I miss knowing where my stuff is. I miss not having my things chucked out the window by a certain eccentric relative. I miss getting to place furniture where it looks like it belongs, instead of random corners where there’s room. I miss being able to look at things that are meaningful to me. I miss having walls to hang my paintings.

Defining your space is a way to define your world. It’s a way to control something, anything, when all around you is chaos. Walk into any open plan office and look at the way the cubicles are decorated with photos and lolcats: something, anything to say this is mine.

Even as kids, most of us have a room of our own. Our bedrooms are filled with our things, places we shape like bower birds, and from which parents are barred. Later we expand to fill entire houses. I haven’t had that since I lived in the townhouse we rented when I came back from Australia.

I remember how, when I looked at the bedrooms at Home of Hope, how moved I was by the toys so carefully arranged on each bed. It was shared space, but a little piece of it belonged to that one girl and nobody else. Even in the midst of hardship, we seem compelled to claim territory for ourselves, and that territory always involves 1. stuff and 2. a place to put it.

Can we be fully human without this capacity to define the world around us? I am not sure we can.

Being a bywoner is bloody hard. I joke about living in the cloud, how my life is plug and play depending on where I happen to be, and that I am defined not by things but tasks and relationships.

But oh I want my stuff again, and I want space to put it. I want a place of my own, and I can’t have it.

I think it’s time for wine.