I’m still here

I don’t normally like writing too much about personal stuff – I might (over)share about some experiences, but usually that’s in the process of ranting about some or other Big Topic. Wake me up in the middle of the night, and, once I’ve stopped spraying you with the anti-mosquito stuff I keep on my bedside table (I believe it’s a very effective weapon, though I’ve never actually tried it on a person. Bewaaaaare, thieves), I’ll have a lengthy opinion about whatever matter might be tickling your brain cells. I am armed with a seething curiosity, a few scattered experiences, and some infinitely small titbits of knowledge – usually I find these to be enough to keep me typing away furiously about my topic of the day, be it body shaming or the dangers of not being able to separate doing good deeds from religion (both of which I intend to write about. Soon).

But today I am tired. Actually, I have been tired for a while. I feel rather frayed at the edges, and my general cheer is finding it harder than usual to make a comeback. For lack of a better word I am calling it “over-involvement fatigue”: I am tired of all the clamouring voices insinuating themselves into my brain as I try to sleep; I am tired of the never-ending battle against sexism and racism and ignorance and lethargy I see all the time, oftentimes in fact taking place inside myself; I am tired of the internet and facebook and gmail and all the news sites I subscribe to, tired of trying to keep up, tired of Putin and Ebola.

Closer to home, I am tired of worrying about my younger brother who managed to get himself fired yesterday, who loses half his possessions and gives away the rest (he gave his good leather shoes to a homeless person. My mom phoned, she wants them back to hand them down to my other younger brother, and he fucking gave them away. How does one cope with the anger and love this awakens at the same time?), and who is always broke yet manages to drink like a sailor on a…well, sailor’s budget. When the (18-year old) little bugger moved to my town at the start of the year I became a mother overnight. And I feel ill-equipped, to say the least. The fierceness of the concern coiling and uncoiling in my belly is completely foreign to me. I need to read a parenting book somewhere, something like “How to get boys to become responsible men without mothering them and also without lying awake at night wondering whether they’re dying in a ditch somewhere”.

And so tonight I am not writing about a Big Topic. I am going to write about my year, because I could bear some reminding of the good things and some putting-into-perspective of the bad things.

It’s been a tough year. I moved house four times. My brother lived with me in my bachelor’s flat(s) for four achingly long months. My first place’s kitchen burnt down while I was gone (through, I feel the need to add, no fault of my own). I was, in as polite a manner as possible, eventually evicted because of it, and as a result suffered a significant financial blow, though this time very much through my own bad planning and weak impulse control. Having finally regained some momentum by the end of this year, my new flat got broken into and I lost some very valuable things again.

A very drawn-out, up-and-down, intense (from my side, anyway) relationship ended for me at the beginning of the year. This was followed by all sorts of romantic fumblings, culminating in my decision, in May, to be resolutely single until further notice. This, I might add, was probably the best decision I made this year. Nonetheless, not the most pleasant build-up to that decision.

I didn’t quit smoking – in fact, at our year-end function all the employees were given a certificate with a nickname on. Mine was #Iquitsmoking. We all had a good laugh, but seriously, I really thought reading Allen Carr would do the trick. (Currently I am trying meditation to that end, so let’s see how that works out.) I also didn’t become fit, or organised, or a better multi-tasker.

It has been a tough year, yet it has also been a breathtakingly beautiful year. Perhaps my favourite year so far, oddly. I cannot keep count of the amount of times I have walked up my street barely able to believe the beauty of the mountains in front of me, and of the flower baskets hanging from each street lamp, and of all the oak trees coming to life with tiny green leaves, seemingly overnight. The fire forced me to move to a much nicer place in a nicer area, I cultivated my own garden for the very first time, I got my own small veranda.

More importantly, there have been wonderful people in my life. In June I went to visit a friend in Namibia and he took me on a tour through the northern parts of the country – we spent days debating every possible meaningful aspect of life, drinking a lot of beer (cheers, Stefan!), and photographing some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I came back armed with funny stories of flat tyres and with a rested soul.

I have made new friends, and strengthened old friendships – much of my year was spent in a bar, attempting (and failing) to play pool, talking about both serious and less serious things, or cooking for friends, or playing board games, or drinking copious cups of coffee in good company. I also became an aunt – to an adorable little red-headed boy whom I am meeting in two days for the first time.

I started a blog, and I have, more or less, kept at it. I have read thousands of inspiring and thought-provoking posts by other bloggers, unexpectedly immersing myself into this fascinating community where everybody loves what I love: writing and sharing. I wrote – both for my blog and for my own lonely computer – slightly more diligently than before, though not at all yet as much as I would like to.

What I like most about this year, though, is that I started liking myself more. Not that I have ever disliked myself (except perhaps as a teenager), but the voices constantly reminding me of my shortcomings have never been far away. They still aren’t. They aren’t far for anybody, I guess. Yet I have made more peace with them. I dislike that I am scatter-brained and overly intense and that I cry about everything. Yet I am also starting to look fondly at these things, as I hope others who know me do. And I like that I love fiercely, even though it is exhausting. I like that I cook really great food (when I cook. Which depends on how many pots and pans I need to wash first). I like that I can manage to keep a garden alive. I like that I am less bothered about being dignified, that I tried Ethiopian dance moves even though I looked like a swaying stick doing them, and that I admitted to my colleagues I don’t know how to pronounce “hyperbole”.

I look forward to growing older, if this is what growing older means: feeling fondness towards myself. I look forward to becoming wiser. I also look forward to quitting smoking and learning Xhosa and bicycling more often and learning to play the ukulele, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now: I had a good year. At worst, a growth-full year. I have loved and been loved. I washed my dishes tonight. I am tired and broke, but I’m still here.

I’m still here.

Advertisements

It will be morning/As ek in die oggend

Today I wrote an English poem. Now, while that might not seem particularly remarkable to you, it was my first attempt in eight years. I’m more comfortable writing these in Afrikaans, my mother tongue – while I speak both fluently, it feels to me that English is the language of my mind, and Afrikaans that of my heart.

Also, languages have personalities, I think, a certain flavour to them. Afrikaans is earthy, English ephemeral. English of the air, Afrikaans of the body. (This just my perception, of course.)

However, in the interest of personal development, and also for curiosity’s sake, I took a thought and wrote a poem about it in both languages. They are not translations of each other – I was curious about seeing what would surface, what would be different about each. I know that many of my readers do not understand Afrikaans, I apologise for the inconvenience. I hope you enjoy the English bit, though.

(I also apologise for the double spacing. It annoys the hell out of me but I can’t seem to find a spot on my ‘edit post’ to change that. If you know of any, do please let me know!)

It will be morning,

when I come to you:

the day will have sprung, wet

from the innards of a quiet sleep, like a calf

on new-birthed legs. It will be morning

when I come to you, yet

let us not forsake the night at once.

Let us not forget the tendrils of its breath;

its glistening flanks, its slow tongue,

and the tenderness of its wolflike embrace.

Let it be morning,

yet let us take the night with us.

As ek in die oggend na jou toe kom

dan is alles nuut; en ja kyk:

dit is goed.

Maar laat ons nie die nag verlaat nie;

nie so heeltemal

opeens nie.

Laat ons oplaas

die slierte van sy asem in ons hande hou,

die teerheid van sy skuiltes,

die lyne van sy duister lyf.

Soos ‘n wolf

laat sy stiltes altyd in ons skadu bly.

The gifts that kept on giving: a celebratory list of books I read in 2014 – part 2

Continuing my previous post, here are the next three books that shook me up this year.

5. In favour of the sensitive man and other essays, by Anaïs Nin

Every time I read Anaïs Nin (her complete set of diaries is on my ‘I have to buy this before I die’ list) I feel wistful, because she wrote the words I wanted to write. Every unformed thought in my mind she has already put in lyrical prose. Every quote by her resonates. This book, a collection of articles and pieces she wrote over the years, is no different. Reading it, I kept wanting to exclaim “where have you been all my life?!” Like The Women’s Room, her words still apply today; both her passion and her wry way of looking at life break the heart a little bit, the way the heart breaks when it recognises truth.

It was the principle of creative will that I admired and learned from musicians like Eric Satie, who defied starvation and used his compositions to protect his piano from the dampness of his little room in a suburb in Paris. Even Einstein, who disbelieved Newton’s unified field theory, died believing what is being proved now. I give that as an instance of faith, and faith is what I want to talk about. What kept me writing, when for twenty years I was received by complete silence, is that faith in the necessity to be the artist – and no matter what happens even if there is no one listening (…) I mean that we must gain our strength and our values from self-growth and self-discovery. Against all odds, against all handicaps, against the chamber of horrors we call history, man has continued to dream and to depict its opposite. That is what we have to do. We do not escape into philosophy, psychology and art – we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.

and related to the above quote, but elsewhere (I love the way all of her quotes are so cohesive):

Even in the darkest periods of social history, outer events would be changed if we had a center. It is only in the private world that we can learn to alchemize the ugly, the terrible, the horrors of war, the evils and cruelties of man, into a new kind of human being. I do not say turn away or escape. We cannot turn away from social history, because it is necessary to maintain our responsibilities to society, but we need to create a center of strength and resistance to disappointment and failures in outward events. Today I am working for causes which I consider worthwhile, but that is in the world of action, and the world from which we draw our wisdom, our lucidities, our power to act, our courage, is in this other world which is not an escape but a laboratory of the soul.

It feels to me that Nin’s words are tremendously important. To live from this ‘laboratory of the soul’, to create from this place, and to give to the outer world from a fullness within – this resonates.

6. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman

Probably my favourite book of poetry ever, I didn’t so much read as reread it this year. Yet there is always something new in Whitman’s poetry, some part where I didn’t previously grasp the profundity – like any good poet, I guess, his words mean so very much that one could spend a lifetime digging around in them. Quoting him is a challenge – what do I leave out?

[17]

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,

If they are not yours as much as they are mine they are nothing or next to nothing,

If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,

If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,

If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,

This is the common air that bathes the globe.

and

[31]

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,

And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,

And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,

And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,

And the cow crunching with depressed head surpasses any statue,

And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels,

And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer’s girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking shortcake.

Finally, my very favourite line ever:

Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,

I and this mystery, here we stand.

7. The bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder

Like Whitman’s poems, this is a book I keep coming back to. It is short, and written simply, but it tells a powerful story – in fact, it tells all the stories that make life what it is. It is about being human, about dying, about loss, about friendship, about grief, about love in all its forms. If you read just one book from my list, read this one, even if only for this ending:

Even now’, she thought, ‘almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita but myself. Camila alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’

A few other books that I loved and that have shaken me up deserve a mention – I wish I could quote all of them:

Brave new world, by Aldous Huxley

The god of small things, by Arundhati Roy

Love in the time of cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The history of love, by Nicole Krauss

The casual vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

Of my entire year, of all the things that have stood out for me, the words of these authors have perhaps become ingrained more than anything else. I hope that you have read equally good books this year – and please do comment with some titles! I love singing a good book’s praises, and I love reading new ones.

The gifts that kept on giving: a celebratory list of books I read in 2014 – part 1

A good book chills the bone and warms the heart, grabs by the throat, excites the mind and inflames the spirit. Words well-written are a gift, a thing of incandescent beauty, a joy and a sustenance forever (with warm gratitude to Keats who first, and inimitably, sang beauty’s praises).

All books are wonderful in their own right, simply because the author poured him/herself out into them, because we are being given a glimpse of someone’s inner workings and their unique perspective is being shared with us. Yet there are some books that are so vibrant, so poignant, so tender, that, had they been human, I would have desperately wanted to move in with them, string them down, bind them to me (thank God they aren’t); had they been houses I would have lived in them.

Marilyn French perfectly describes the dissociation we often experience between a significant event and our emotions at this event, which are seldom on par with their cause:

in life one almost never has an emotion appropriate to an event. Either you don’t know the event is occurring, or you don’t know its significance. We celebrate births and weddings; we mourn deaths and divorces; yet what are we celebrating, what mourning? Rituals mark feelings, but feelings and events do not coincide. Feelings are large and spread over a lifetime. I will dance the polka with you and stamp my feet with vigor, celebrating every energy I have ever felt. But those energies were moments, not codifiable, not certifiable, not able to be fixed: you may be seduced into thinking my celebration is for you. Anyway, that is a thing art does for us: it allows us to fix our emotions on events at the moment they occur, it permits a union of heart and mind and tongue and tear. Whereas in life, from moment to moment, one can’t tell an onion from a piece of dry toast. *

Christmas and New Year are such rituals, moments we have created within which we allow ourselves, even expect from ourselves, to feel the emotions of the entire year. Gratitude, love, awe – the whole range of warm fuzzies (and often some gremlins too). We need rituals to be able to label our experiences, to formally acknowledge them, to acknowledge ourselves and our lives. To take stock. And so, too, do we need art, because good art expresses us to ourselves, it gifts us with our own emotions, it both universalises and personifies the entire vast experience of living. And so, on this day of gratefulness I felt the urge to share the books, the art in them, that have lit my way and kindled my mind this year. The gifts that have kept on giving, oftentimes long past the final breath of their authors.

1. The women’s room, by Marilyn French

The quintessential feminist novel from the 1970’s, ‘The women’s room’ surprised me because of how relevant it still felt (perhaps not a good thing), how timely to both my own life and to those of many of the women and men I know. Covering the life of one woman over a few decades, it is written with irony and anger and great tenderness. I underlined. I folded corners so as to re-read. I quoted on Facebook. Some parts I read aloud because they needed to be heard: a pages-long tirade on romantic love done so frighteningly well that I wondered whether to laugh or be terrified; a wistful description of a utopian world in which all humans would love each other. The entire book is immensely quotable, so much so that I am at a loss about what to leave out. A few choice bits:

Other girls went to bars, other girls danced. The difference was that she had appeared to be alone. That a woman was not marked as the property of some male made her a bitch in heat to be attacked by any male, or even by all of them at once. That a woman could not go out in public and enjoy herself dancing without worrying what every male in the place was thinking or even worse, what they might do, seemed to her an injustice so extreme that she could not swallow it. She was a woman and that alone was enough to deprive her of freedom, no matter how much the history books pretended that women’s suffrage had ended in equality, or that women’s feet had been bound only in an ancient and outmoded and foreign place like China. She was constitutionally unfree. She could not go out alone at night. She could not in a moment of loneliness go out to a local tavern to have a drink in company.

This especially struck me as heart-breaking because I know this still to be true today. Women might, in name, enjoy the same rights as men in the workplace and at home, but with something as simple as going to a bar, old, limiting ideas still determine our actions and impressions.

On a less angry note, here’s another (lovely) bit:

Taking care of Chris, problem that it was, somehow kept me human. And if we all did that, all took care of each other, if that became, oh, not just a requirement but a custom, something people just did unless they really didn’t want to…I have this scene in my head. I see a rose garden tended by an elderly man who tends to be grouchy. And some children coming to see him, visiting him once in a while, as he tends the roses. And he always shoos them at first, growls at them, but he’s been there so long they’re not afraid of him, they stand around and talk to him and one day, one spring day after a couple of years, he starts to teach them how to tend roses and even puts the clipper in one child’s hands and helps them to clip off the dead or dying sprouts. Well.’ She spread her hands out, and laughed a little. ‘You have to let me be a fool. Somebody has to do the dreaming.’

2. Night train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier

Relentlessly self-questioning, both poignant and deeply philosophical – I initially struggled with this novel. And then I fell in love with its words, with the way their rhythm and melancholy bind the whole text together. Very little happens in the story beyond the account of one man’s journey, both inwards and outwards. Yet that journey is worth a read, and a re-read. This is the kind of book that wants savouring, slow savouring, for its words to permeate, to start inhabiting the mind fully. I will let the quotes speak for themselves.

It is a mistake to believe the decisive moments of a life when its direction changes for ever must be marked by sentimental loud and shrill dramatics, manifested by violent inner urges. This is a sentimental fairy tale invented by drunken journalists, flashbulb happy film-makers and readers of the tabloids. In truth, the dramatic moments of a life-determining experience are often unbelievably low-key. It has so little in common with the bang, the flash, or the volcanic eruption that, at the moment it happens, the experience is often not even noticed. When it unfolds its revolutionary effect, and ensures that a life is revealed in a brand-new light, with a brand-new melody, it does that silently and in this wonderful silences resides its special nobility.

and

When we talk about ourselves, about others, or simply about things, we want – it could be said – to reveal ourselves through our words: we want to show what we think and feel. We let others have a glimpse into our soul (We give them a piece of our mind, as they say in English)(…)In this understanding of the case, we’re the sovereign directors, the self-appointed dramaturge as far as exposing our self is concerned. But maybe this is utterly false? A self-deception? For not only do we reveal ourselves with our words, we also betray ourselves. We give away a lot more than we had intended to reveal and sometimes it’s the exact opposite. And others can interpret our words as symptoms of something we ourselves may not even be aware of.

3. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This novel, which I read after watching Adichie’s TED-talk (well worth a watch) cast a piercing light on race, language, identity – and it does so with such gentle irony that it is all the more powerful for it. I have read very little African literature before and I felt rather humbled by my lack of knowledge, yet the novel never intimidated – I was enthralled, I was blown away, I was pierced to the core. In the following quote, the novel’s main character (a Nigerian woman living in the USA) tells her experience of Obama’s election as president – somehow I found this deeply moving and very representative of the rest of the novel, though I expect it will lose some of its power by being removed from context (I apologise for the length but I find it hard to leave any bit out).

On the eve of Election Day, Ifemelu lay sleepless in bed.

You awake?” Blaine asked her.

Yes.”

They held each other in the dark, saying nothing, their breathing regular until finally they drifted into a state of half sleep and half wakefulness. In the morning, they went to the high school, Blaine wanted to be one of the first to vote. Ifemelu watched the people already there, in line, waiting for the door to open, and she willed them all to vote for Obama. It felt to her like a bereavement, that she could not vote. Her application for citizenship had been approved but the oath-taking was still weeks away. She spent a restless morning, checking all the news sites, and when Blaine came back from class he asked her to take a break, breathe deeply, eat the risotto he had made(…)Michael came with a bottle of presecco. “I wish my mama was alive to see this day no matter what happens,” he said. Paula and Pee and Nathan arrived together, and soon they were all seated, on the couch and the dining chairs, eyes on the television, sipping tea and Blaine’s virgin cocktails and repeating the same things they had said before. ‘If he wins Indiana and Pennsylvania, then that’s it. It’s looking good in Florida. The news from Iowa is conflicting.’(…)

Blaine was sitting straight and still, staring at the television, and then came the deep voice of Keith Olbermann, whom Ifemelu had watched so obsessively on MSNBC in the past months, the voice of a searing, sparkling liberal rage; now that voice was saying “Barack Obama is projected to be the next president of the United States of America.”

Blaine was crying, holding Araminta, who was crying, and then holding Ifemelu, squeezing her too tight, and Pee was hugging Michael(…)and the living room became an altar of disbelieving joy.

Her phone beeped with a text from Dike.

I can’t believe it. My president is black like me.’ She read the text a few times, her eyes filling with tears.

On television, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and their two young daughters were walking onto a stage(…) Barack Obama’s voice rose and fell, his face solemn, and around him the large and resplendent crowd of the hopeful. Ifemelu watched, mesmerised. And there was, at that moment, nothing that was more beautiful to her than America.

4. The Choice of Hercules, by A.C.Grayling

A thoughtful look at two seemingly opposing ideals: living the Good Life, and living a good (i.e. virtuous) life. Grayling brings these two together in concise yet thorough manner, with chapters discussing aspects such as ethics, drugs, sexuality, human rights, and wars. Eventually he concludes, and one cannot help but conclude along with him, that the two above ideals are in reality inseparable. It is not possible to live a pleasurable, happy life in which one’s fellow man is being trodden down. And living a good life – one of striving towards the common good – is the only way to ensure future pleasure, the only way to legitimise and ensure one’s own happiness.

It is hard (not impossible, but hard) for there to be good individual lives in social arrangements that are bad, where people are oppressed, denied, deprived, limited, frustrated, coerced, and stunted. The worse the degree of these things, the harder it is for individuals to forge good lives. The real point of politics is to build circumstances in which good individual lives can flourish (…)

and

But the focus remains with real people, individuals in relationships with each other, all seeking and meriting a chance to realise the good. Under other names or none, consciously or not, that is what all of us do. And since that is so, it is worth repeating – again and again – the point that the life best worth living is the informed life, the considered life, the responsible life, the chosen life, in which sound the notes that together, in harmony, make for fulfilment in the active sense of well-being and well-doing that Aristotle nominated as the mark of moral success. It might be a Herculean labour at times to achieve this success; but the choice any would-be Hercules of the good life should make, is at least to try: for it is the endeavour itself which is the greatest part of the good.

For the next three books, see my next post – I was a bit scared of overloading my poor cell-phone uploader with a ten-pages long thing. Also, I am terrified of being the worst kind of evangelist: a boring one. Whatever the case may be, evangelise I shall.

* I’m not adding page numbers or any further information such as publishers, as this will simply be too time-consuming and start resembling an academic paper.

Revisiting the Thigh Gap: Thin Body Shaming Isn’t Okay Either

As a skinny person – and one who struggled through her entire teenage years to pick up weight and look ‘normal’ – this really spoke to me. Down with all body shaming!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

judging-any-body-is-wrongWe talk a lot on the blog about body-shaming and usually it’s code for fat-shaming.  But thin bodies can also be “shamed,” and this has been brought to my attention a few times in recent weeks.

In December, I showed the film, Arresting Ana, to one of my Women’s Studies classes. It’s a documentary about the potential criminalization of the pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) movement in France.  At one point, they show a billboard campaign in Italy [first campaign shown in this link] that was meant to scare women out of being anorexic.  The billboards depicted an extremely thin model posing nude, with the caption “No!.”

At the time of the photo shoot the model, Isabelle Caro, was recovering from near death from her eating disorder. According to her interview in the film, she weighed 75 pounds in the photo.  Isabelle Caro has since died from her eating disorder at…

View original post 825 more words

How to spot a Successful Person (and figure out whether you are one)

In accordance with today’s 60-minute challenge, as posted by Writerish Ramblings here, I made a valiant attempt at writing for a full hour.  This was somewhat hampered by my to-do list and accompanying guilty conscience, hence the result. I enjoyed doing this way more than cleaning, though. Plus a clean house never stays that way, while this post actually might. So, here goes:

My house is a mess. A complete and utter mess. Dirty glasses and mugs litter every available surface. There’s an empty wine bottle on my little lounge table, and some old flowers shedding all over the floor, and random pieces of plastic from a wide variety of eats fluttering everywhere. There are clothes lying on the floor. And leaves that blew in from outside. And books, and newspapers, are taking over all the floor space. There are dead spiders in my bathroom that I liberally sprayed with Doom and haven’t swept away yet. A dead bee somewhere too, only I can’t seem to find it. My kitchen smells odd and I can’t find its source – I’m too afraid to investigate. My dishes are piling up – when I’m hungry I selectively wash a plate, fork and knife and get the hell out of my kitchen with a piece of toast.

I’ve been smoking too much. Not eating healthy enough – I haven’t made juice, as I intended to do when I bought all those beetroots, in three days. I only just remembered to take my meat out the freezer, which means I’ll have to start cooking at ten tonight. I haven’t planted my little coriander and chilli seedlings in my garden as I have been intending to do for the past five days. I have done very little exercise. I haven’t done my laundry.

I have been spending too much time on the internet. Too much time in my favourite restaurant making small talk with the waiters. Too much time reading. Too much time writing. And here I am, writing again. As part of the sixty-minute challenge, so it’s all justified of course.

I thought about naming this piece “How not to fail at life” – very tongue in cheek, of course. I have no idea how not to fail at life. I’m not quite sure what failing or not-failing looks like, to be honest. I only know I have been dogged by guilt for an alarming amount of time now, because of an alarming amount of things, and I have no exact idea why. I just know there are things you are supposed to do to be successful, to not feel guilty when you walk past other people on the street who have obviously got it together. And I’m not doing those things.

So one of the prompts was “think of a stereotype you believe in and why”. Well, I always think I’m open-minded and then realise, of course, that I am not. I can’t see my own blind spots, which doesn’t mean I don’t have any. So here’s a stereotype I believe in, if you want to call it that, and in keeping with the stereotype I shall label it: “How to spot a Successful Person (or figure out whether you are one)”.

Successful people have clean houses, clothes that always smell of lovely springtime washing powder, garden that flourish, kitchens equipped with state-of-the-art knives and a wide repertoire of impeccable cooking skills. Successful people can tick off at least two thirds of all the things they meant to do from their lists, every day. Successful people do not feel guilty, they do not waste time sitting in bed munching crackers and reading the news or indulging in some guilty Facebook-stalking. Successful people never overspend on their budgets, always answer their emails promptly, and remember to floss their teeth at night. Successful people get at least an hour’s exercise a day, and remember to shave their legs, and moisturise properly. Successful people never neglect any of their friends – they remember birthdays and anniversaries, they buy thoughtful gifts, they send thank-you notes.

Successful people read Good Literature and manage to finish it (Catch-22 comes to mind, and War and Peace). Successful people watch a lot of Woody Allen movies without getting depressed. Successful people can make small talk without appearing bored. Successful people might have cellulite and scars, but they can shrug it off because they know they’re awesome anyway, and other people agree too. Successful people don’t eat a whole Camembert in one sitting and pretend that it’s lunch. Successful people definitely do not smoke.

Successful people have folders where they store payslips and bank slips and rental contracts and warranties in alphabetical order. Successful people recycle. Successful people can recognise a good wine and even tell you what type it is (how the hell does one tell, in one sip, the difference, between a Shiraz and a Merlot? I have giant gap in my education). Successful people post tasteful pictures of their holidays on Facebook, never braggingly, but enough to make a mortal like me feel the sting of jealousy. Successful people go to bed at ten p.m. and get up at six in the morning looking as cheerful as Meg Ryan, but with better hair.

Successful people can listen to a lot of jazz and give thoughtful comments on the creative process. Successful people have neat fingernails that seem to buff themselves. Successful people remember to drink enough water and eat five portions of fruits and veggies a day.  Successful people never let the milk in their fridge go off, or some harmless broccoli become blue and hairy, or an onion in the cupboard start producing baby onions. Successful people do not apologise to spiders before killing them, because they don’t have spiders in their houses.

Successful people never get tipsy and start telling everyone who will hear the most blush-inducing personal stories. Successful people do not cry when they watch romantic comedies – they don’t watch romantic comedies anyway. Successful people don’t watch four seasons of Big Bang Theory in one sitting and then talk of nothing else for two days. Successful people don’t forget to read the news on the apps they so thoughtfully installed on their phones, and then fumble their way through the next conversation about the Taliban. Successful people know every detail about ISIS, the CIA and torture, Obama’s policies, Australia’s Muslims, England’s newest Prime Minister, and Angela Merkel. Successful people never get angry at idiots either, even though they themselves are obviously very decidedly Non-Idiots.

Successful people don’t write about successful people, unless it is to give advice such as “five handy tips to better manage your time” or “why eight hours’ sleep is essential for proper brain functioning”. Successful people also don’t know that they are making me feel guilty, because they think everybody is as successful as they are, except drug addicts and those only exist in Columbia and Cape Town’s slums, obviously. Successful people do not know the abject terror of always being behind on life, always with something yet unfinished. Successful people do not buy sketch pads at extreme cost and then never draw a single picture. Successful people read The Economist in one sitting. Successful people can play piano like it’s nobody’s business, because they started taking lessons at seven. Successful people run marathons, and their home-grown tomatoes don’t get eaten by birds and insects, and they can cook Chicken Korma from basic ingredients.

Successful people don’t say ‘fuck’ (there, I might hazard to say, they are missing out). They are either atheists or Christians, and in both cases they have their argument well thought-through and fool-proof. Successful people manage to meditate for an hour without falling asleep. They have read both Nietzsche and Sartre, and also Alain De Botton (they can also spell “Nietzche without having to double check on the internet). They know what being an existentialist or a postmodernist means. They like Picasso and can say clever things about Cubism. They go to museums for fun. When they have children, these children can speak at the age of one and a half and read by four – they call their kids ‘gifted’ and everybody agrees. They know all about MSG and make sure never to feed their kids any. They make their own pesto.

Unlike me, successful people don’t feel guilty when they read Time’s “ten ways to improve your exercise regime”. They don’t make lists to improve their lives and then promptly (and conveniently) lose these. So, my question is, how do I become a Successful Person? How do I stop feeling guilty as hell all the time? Because, the ugly truth is, I still take bites of raw bacon while cooking and occasionally eat food off the floor. I mostly clean my house only when I know I’m having guests. I only buy wine when it’s on special and I wear hats when my hair’s looking dirty. I don’t even stick to my principles: I pray when I’m scared or I want something, even though I’m not a Christian.

One thing I know: I’m not going to figure this out while sitting in front of my computer, intermittently playing Solitaire and typing. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to wash a plate. Maybe I’ll even wash two. After that exhausting exercise, you may find me in my bed, eating crackers and attempting to solve the mysteries of the universe.

People Who Use Drugs are the Forgotten Victims of Rape

A well-researched and truly heartrending post, providing the opportunity to think of an issue rarely covered – I feel that everyone should read this.

Keri Blakinger

Rape has been in the headlines lately. That’s partly thanks to aRolling Stoneexpose last month detailing a gang rape of a first-year student at a frat party at the University of Virginia. The story went viral and sparked campus protests. Then discrepanciesemerged in the account the victim told the reporter. Amid aflurryofstories slamming Rolling Stone for setting back sexual assault victim advocacy efforts, the magazine issued an apology.

Despite this problematic incident, the recent coverage has sparked much-needed discussion. Aside from the UVA story, there have been a number of interesting developments regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment, such as California’s controversial affirmative consent rule, the report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and Senate draft legislation that would create tougher penalties for colleges that mishandle sexual assault cases.

Some talk has focused on the interplay…

View original post 1,574 more words