Today is Freedom Day in South Africa. The “New South Africa” is 19 years old. And our home, like all homes with teenagers, echo with a great deal of door-slamming and illicit experimentation.
But hopefully that, too, will pass.
For freedom, even when it is being bent over double and tarred and feathered, is still sweet and full of life, energy and possibilities.
And that is, in teenspeak, “kinda like” writing.
For writing really is the greatest freedom there is. The ability to express what you feel, think or imagine is one of mankind’s greatest gifts.
Which is why it really is important to honour the gift by allowing your writing to reflect all your many facets. Some are easy to show to the world. They are the shiny, well-mannered parts of you, all dressed up in Sunday best and ready to meet the world with a friendly, polite “Great to meet you, Sir/Mam/Ms”.
But some are the dark cousins of the soul. Yes, you are free to hide them deep within corners of denial. But never forget, that you are also free to share them, purge them on white paper/screen.
Nearly midnight in South African when I had finished my work and lounged around on Twitter looking for something interesting. Watched in total horror as the story of the bombings in Boston unfolded.
The funny thing about living in a country struggling with acts of extreme violence, is that it desensitizes you to a degree. It is not that I am not shocked anymore by hearing about acts of extreme violence. I am. It makes me sick to my stomach to hear of babies being raped, old people being tortured for a tiny bit of money and ATMs being bombed.I lived through the worst years of apartheid when we were trained at school to watch out for any bag or package left unattended, as it could be a bomb. And it often was. I have a friend who walks around with a scarred body after dying and being revived following a huge bomb explosion at a family restaurant where she worked as a waitress.
So it is not something that you can ever get used to. But you accept the reality of it and you deal with the way it makes you feel as best you can. And gradually you find yourself saying “Ag shame” and moving on after the merest moment of sympathy. And you are thankful because you know that you have actually had it good. That others felt it much closer to the skin.
It is not something that I wish anyone to have.
It is innocence lost.
And that is why I feel infinite sadness when it happens where people feel secure and where one of the stated goals of a whole nation can be the persuit of happiness. I have always thought it incredible, as our goal is simply to get past the injustices and the horrors of our past and the lingering angers of our present.
The past few months have been heavy on the sadness front. First the thing with Oscar Pistorius. I don’t care what happened. I don’t even care what the truth might be. All I know is that I feel deep, deep sorrow for the whole thing. Kinda like a diet-hungry hollowness just below my heart. I will never feel better about the situation, and I will never ‘get over it’. Because it was, to a degree, a loss of innocence. He really was one of my heroes.
But last night, when I was pecking away in Twitter, a Tweet stopped me right in my tracks. A friend had died. At 29. From a heart attack. That is wrong in a multitude of ways. I dreamed I hugged his mom last night, woke up early and upset.
Paulie was a drummer in a great band called ‘Southern Gypsey Queen’. I have known him since 1994. At one stage I taught him – or tried to – for a true drummer sitting at a desk is a bit like a wild thing caught in a cage. He would fidget and fuss and do it all with his charming smile and edible personality. I forgave him all and everything. Because he was Paulie.
Shit. I don’t know how those closer to him than I will cope. Because Paulie was a presence. A great, positive burst of energy.
I read the wall posts on his and his family’s Facebook walls as they came in. And inbetween the shock and sadness the one theme echoed – SUCH a nice guy. Sexy, hell yes!. Talented, infinitely. X-factor, in oodles. But everyone missed most of all the kindness, the love, the fact that he was down to earth and one of the friendliest people I know.
In January this year he posted: “Working hard on my solo project this week and beating my drums because next week SGQ starts our 2013 with a bang!!:)” and his last post was: “Recording my first solo single tomorrow!!! Can’t wait!!!:)”
What is your favourite social media? I am a Facebooker. Love the medium and the quirkiness of it all. Twitter and I are off to a slow but steady start. My problem is word count. How on earth can a novelist (aka long-winded writer) say anything meaningful in 140 characters?
Maybe in 140 words.
Twitter, I like you like I like a friend that I see once a month or so. Fun to be with for the hour we spend drinking coffee at the local hangout, but after that we don’t really have all that much to say to each other. Not really.
Facebook I can do. I know it shortens my lengthy sentences, but at least if you click on me, you can read all of it. Oh, and the pics and the shares and the recipes and the strange bugs and the deepest of shallow wisdoms beautifully adorned to touch the soul (or at least make you smile a bit). The weird animals, funny cats and dogs, strange people and the total joy of sharing your family pics with total strangers. And don’t forget those pics of yourself that thought was funny at the time?
I have the greatest view. I seriously think so. The only contender would be someone living at the foot of Mount Everest.
Yet, my view carries my country’s past with me. The picture above shows Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for so many decades. It’s part of my view. In winter the sun sets right behind the island. In summer the island is a memory to the right of the sunset. (symbolic, hey?)
The daily joy of trying to see if the sea and sky and wind and clouds will conspire yet again to surprise me (never failed yet) … all of that has a twinge of … something in it.
I am not sure what the something is. I think it’s part of me. Part of having grown up white in Apartheid South Africa. Part of being ashamed of all the things my childhood heroes got up to on the other side of the censure board. Part of being tired of being ashamed about the core of who I am/was.
It’s part of my writing as well. It leaves me with a dry mouth of regret sometimes that the stories that I have to tell, no one particularly wants to listen to any more. Because the stories of this generation is politically incorrect.
I asked them to ‘show me what you can do’ and this was the result. Their passion and enthusiasm made me laugh so hard that this is just about the only picture that isn’t blurred. They contorted and grinned and tried to do insanely crazy stunts involving each other, the grass and the odd bucket.
And no, I have no idea what the bucket would have been used for originally.
But it made me think about how much passion and enthusiasm I still carry around inside. I am totally, eternally crazy about words and what you can do with these little black squiggles on a page, a piece of paper or a screen. And yet I find myself not doing splits and cartwheels and performing tricks in my quest for eternal fame and unimaginable fortune as a writer slash linguist.
I kinda do it sedately, as though I was a bit more than a century old or weighed double what I do.
And no, my weight is not the issue here.
So, tomorrow being the first of April, I thought I would dig around inside myself and see what happened to my passion and all the crazy tricks I had inside.
I plan to take them out for a spin, and a cartwheel or two and maybe one or two splits.
And if I find a bucket … I might just use that as well!
Ask writers why they write, and you’ll get different responses, from the wide-eyed, slightly scary ‘Because it is like breathing … I cannot live without it’ to the more jaded, yet outrageously hopeful ‘To earn some extra cash’ with all varieties of ‘To cleanse myself’ or even ‘To get my writer mom off my back’ peppered in there.
Whatever the reasons, whatever the excuses, whatever the driving forces … one thing is clear: writing takes time. There seems to be a bit of a correlation between the time you spend writing and the quality of the writing. Where this isn’t true, there will still be a correlation between the time you spend writing and the quantity of drivel produced.
For freelance writers, finding time is what writer’s block is to full-time writers. Hard to overcome.
But there are bits of time that could be claimed. A few minutes on the loo, if nothing else. Maybe take the bus to work rather than driving – that should give you a solid chunk of time. Or stop visiting those friends who always want to moan and groan and sap your energy. Bypass them and find a quiet spot in a coffee shop or the library or the third rock away from the screaming crowd at the beach. Whatever works for you.