Sunday, November 2, 2014

Over the moon about a new favourite author

I see he's been around for a while, so he's not "new" except to me, but I have just discovered the joy of John Green, author of "Fault in Our Stars" (which has just been made into a movie) and many other books. The book that has turned me onto him is "Looking for Alaska" which I bought on a whim (based on the cover, yes) at CNA as it wasn't expensive. It's actually a teenage fiction story, but it's such a good read that it had me hooked from a few pages in.

I am nearly at the end of the book, and I am battling to put it down.

I LOVE it when this happens. I LOVE it when a book grips me so, when I get such a warm thrill from reading. Thank you John Green. I haven't enjoyed a book this much in ages. I haven't found an author I've enjoyed so much in years! Really.

The thrill of a good book, written so simply that you don't even "notice" the author (you just see the story playing out in your head and you feel the emotions) is comparable to eating the BEST dessert in the world, which for me is chocolate mousse. You want to race through it because it's so good, but you hold yourself back to savour it and prolong the pleasure. OOOH.

This book has given me that pleasure. And it reminds me of why I want to write: I would love to give someone that warm and thrilling feeling of reading something so good. It's like a mental-emotional orgasm. Delicious.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Feeling blue? Gratitude!

Dunno about you, but for me, gratitude is a life-changer. If I am ever feeling down it is the one instant pick-me-up guaranteed to work - even better than new shoes!

I know we've all heard it before. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude Journals. Etc. But the idea keeps circling because it works.

I often forget to be grateful. But when I do I feel instantly happier. And it's not false either. It's a real joy. Sometimes I go all out and count running water and electricity as reasons to feel grateful - but that's because they are! Many domestic workers and laborers in South Africa still have to walk to get water and have no electricity, so just think about your luck if you have those!

So let's get out our pens and paper (or open up a new word doc) and list ten things we are grateful for RIGHT NOW.


With love. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I quit gym because of my butt.

I was in the gym changeroom, when I caught sight of it.
My butt.
Reflecting from the mirror behind me, into the mirror in front of me. Holy crap, is that mine?
I was pulling off my work trousers so that I could squeeze into my uncomfortable, tight  gym pants, but I stopped undressing when I saw my bum’s reflection and I went right up to the mirror behind me to inspect.
It was so cellulitey and saggy. I was mildly happy to note it was not large, but it was indeed flabby. Not at all how I pictured it would look after all the hours of diet and exercise I have put in over the years.I have managed to avoid seeing my butt in a mirror thanks to the joyous convenience of online shopping, so this was the first time in about five years that I had really seen it.

I suddenly felt exhausted and had no desire to wrestle into my gym clothes. What for?  I have been watching what I eat and exercising since I was fifteen. I am now forty. That is twenty five years of trying. And my butt still looks like this? Quite simply, I could see, age and gravity were taking their toll. And there was nothing I could do about that.

I sank down on a change-room bench and just sat for a while. I wondered if my bum would have looked any worse without all the effort I have put into my body. I supposed it could have been fatter, possibly saggier, but otherwise I guessed my butt would have looked much the same regardless as there is nothing I can do about my genes. I even wondered if all those earlier years of jiggling around in the aerobics hall actually made it sag more? And then I thought of all the puddings, cakes, and salad dressings I have not eaten over the years, and how I get up at the crack of dawn to get to gym before work in the mornings, and yet still I am getting older and flabbier.
I wished I were one of those women who come to gym for “fun” because they love to exercise, but sadly I am not. My cousin Cindy, however,  is one of those. She is a triathlete-iron-woman something-or-other and she is constantly in the gym, or running or swimming. She lives to exercise but that is just not me. I only exercised to look good and that seemed to have back-fired, pun intended.

I rose slowly from the bench and then I pulled my work trousers back on, and carefully packed my lycra workout gear back into my gym back and then I went up to the reception desk and said to the lady there, “I’d like to cancel my gym contract please.”
 And then, “No I am not ill, nor am I moving away. I am just tired of gym. From now on I am going to just let whatever happens to my body, happen.”
I smiled when I said that and felt this incredible relaxation spread in my neck and shoulders.
 "Eish, seriously?" the receptionist asked me with big eyes.
I nodded and then she smiled right back at me, and quickly looked over her shoulder before she leaned in to me and said “Ag, sweetie, good for you! You know, I have worked here at this gym for ten years. Ten years I have seen ladies come here to exercise and you know what? They mostly look the same as they did the day they first joined the gym. Oh, sometimes one of them might lose a bit on this diet or that, but they always gain it back, plus some. And let me tell you, they all age, just as we all will. You go enjoy yourself my dear, and enjoy your free time.”
“Well, thank you,” I said and felt like a bird flying from it's cage as I walked out the gym door.

And then, seeing as I had a whole hour free before work, I drove across the road to the Mugg n Bean and ordered a slice of their Rich Dark Chocolate cake (for breakfast!) which I had with a cremoccino.  I ate that cake slowly, savouring each bite. And as I ate, I decided that from then on I would never again order food I didn’t really want just because it was “healthy”. No, I decided that from then on if I had a salad it would be with dressing. And avo and bacon too! I would have cheesey sauces with my steak and creamy pastas full of butter. From now on I would eat real food and I would enjoy it. I had deprived myself since I was a chubby teen, desperate to be thin and fit in, and now it was time for me to be good to myself.

I thought about the groceries I needed to get that evening after work and I mentally changed my whole list. No skim milk, I would buy full cream. No more sour-tasting fat free yoghurt but double-cream Greek!  And I would buy real butter for the first time in my whole life ever. I tingled with anticipation.
And then I panicked. But what about finding a man? If I just give in and probably get fatter, would I ever attract a man? I was no spring chicken after all. But then again, I had been divorced and single for over ten years now, even with all my efforts to look a certain way so perhaps it was time to just let go? And then I thought about Daisy, a woman in my office who is fifty-something and dating (get this!) a thirty-two year old man. And Daisy is not your typical cougar, all taut-bodied and botoxed, oh no she isn’t. She is round and soft and and wrinkled and she enjoys her food. She says Dave loves her because she is so easy to be with and he can just relax and be himself with her.

Then I stopped eating my cake, because I realised I was full. Well how about that? I had never, ever, not once, left cake. I didn’t even know I could. Usually I am so full of food-guilt that I stuff the whole piece down in five minutes without even really tasting it. But this savouring has been wonderful. I asked for a take-away (wow, look at me) and an inner knowing came to me that I didn’t want a man who loved me for how I looked anyway. No, I wanted to fall in love truly, and have that man love me truly. For my soul. For my insides. Not because I had defied my age and had a butt like steel.
As I got into my car to go to work, I felt like singing. I put my favourite CD on loud in the car and started bopping along to the music. Jeepers, when last had I just danced for fun?
It’s a full year of no gym and dieting later, and I wish I could tell you that I magically lost five pounds now that I am not stressing about my weight anymore, but of course that isn’t how it works. Nope, in fact I have gained some weight. I have no idea how much as I haven’t weighed myself but I have gone up about a dress size and seem to have settled there. What I can tell you is that I have so much more mental space now without the constant calories in vs calories out calculations that I used to do daily in my head, that my dress size doesn’t matter.

I also recently read an article in the paper about the “Noakes” diet or the Low Carb High Fat diet where fat is actually considered good for you (imagine that!), and where you actually lose weight eating fat, and I had to chuckle to myself because it seems no one actually knows what is really good for you. Next thing they’ll say it’s it's the bloody veggies that are bad for you, blah blah blah. All I can say is that I am no longer denying myself anything. Not fat or sugar or carbs or meat. I figure I only have about 30 or so good years left on this planet, so I will let the experts wage their debates, but I will eat what I like and stop when I’m full.  I am all about enjoyment and moderation these days.
And I surprised myself by signing up nine months ago for a local salsa class, which I look forward to all week! So it turns out that I don’t mind exercise after all, when it’s fun.
But best of all is Richard, the man I met at salsa-class. He is balding, wrinkled and pot-bellied and I simply adore him. I think he adores me too. We have only been dating for a few months, but we just laugh and enjoy ourselves when we’re together, which is really what it should be all about.  On our first date he said to me “It’s so refreshing to see a woman who tucks into her meal and who orders dessert!”
“Cheers to that,” I remember saying, and we clinked our wine glasses.

Friday, August 22, 2014

More Inspiration for Writers from Elizabeth Berg

I hear stories all the time of writers who sit motionless before their empty pages, waiting for inspiration to come. But all that's needed, sometimes, is for us to leave our desks and go out into the world for a look at nature and the interactions of our species. Who knows what lessons can be taught or metaphors inspired by a simple turn around the block? Into your begging basket [thanks, Betsy Woodman, for sharing that concept with me, "begging basket"] go snippets of conversation you overhear, the variation in leaves, the sight of a kid hanging by his knees on the jungle gym, a very old person gamely pulling open the door of a cafe, a young couple walking hand-in-hand, dreamy eyed. And it's not just writers who profit from turning away from work to get AT their work: Richard Feynman, the great theoretical physicist, said he solved problems by playing frisbee.
There is something about the rhythm of one's own footsteps, the movement past things familiar and not familiar that is centering and calming. It makes your mind open up. Maybe when you come back to your desk, you'll write wonderful pages, or solve a problem that had you stymied. Maybe not. But you will have furnished your soul with things that work against isolation and abstraction and tightness, and move you toward appreciation and connection and wideness.
- Elizabeth Berg

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Beautiful words on writing by Elizabeth Berg.

If it's any consolation for those of you who aren't able to go to a retreat space far away, please know that you can do this sort of thing yourself, locally. I used to go to a really cheap B&B one hour from my house, alone. Whatever you can do to just find a place where you can breathe, and think, and take the time you hardly ever have to devote to your craft will be so very beneficial. You can even find a room or space at the library to call your own once a week or so. Take along a book you find inspiring, take along pen and paper or your computer, and give yourself the luxury of letting your imagination go. The most important thing you can do if you want to write is not take classes or go to retreats or obtain degrees but to really commit to that longing inside to get what's in there, out. And as a lot of writers say, myself included, the best instruction in writing comes from reading. Make a promise to yourself to read at LEAST half an hour a day, much more if you can. And keep a pencil and notebook by your beside for those great ideas that come in the dead of night. Be watchful of the way people move, and listen to how they talk. Observe your species all the time, and if you can do so with great love and forgiveness and hope, so much the better--for them and for you. - Elizabeth Berg

I have said it before and I will say it again, she is my absolute fav author of all time. I have many that I love, but I think she is the one I can read again and again. Time slows down when I read her work. And I feel a sense of peace and presence which I don't often get when I read other writers, so this is one of many reasons I love her. Also, her work is very real and easy to read, but deep and meaningful too. 

Don't you just love the quote above? And oh my gosh - to have a reason to read so much! Joy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Let's get it done

Do you set yourself a daily or a weekly word count that you have to reach? I haven't but I think I must try. For as much as I write, I never get anything finished that is over a few pages long. My aim now is to finish.

On that note, here is a quote from the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) "Done is better than Good."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

People's stories

I love hearing other people's life stories. Their real stories. About how they ended up where they are. I love to hear why they do the work they do: whether it was by chance (vluk) or by design. I love to hear about how they ended up in the relationships they have. Why they stayed or left. How they feel about it all. I just LOVE it all. I could talk to people, both random strangers and friends, for hours, about their lives.

This was one of the things I really enjoyed about working in retail (a jewelery store), way back when. I got to hear people's stories.

I would hear the customer's stories of how they met and got engaged when selling them an engagement ring, or I heard about a long and happy marriage when they bought commemorative jewelery.

I also loved hearing my colleagues life-stories. Like the divorced single mom who worked these crazy retail hours to support her child when she was actually qualified to do better things, but those things didn't pay as well. And the store assistant, who, in her thirties, was working two jobs and studying law. Or the young single Afrikaans guy who had the sweetest and softest heart and was looking to make his way in the world.

We all eventually moved on to other jobs and parted ways, but I have also loved hearing how these people are doing now, what paths their lives have taken, and how they feel and how they are doing. It's not often you get a true glimpse inside someone's life, and even more rare when you get a glimpse of how they really feel about their lives, so when I get that, I am enraptured and enthralled. I like to compare their life to mine, not in a mean way, but just for interest sake and sometimes to take stock.

Other than that, I don't know why I love it so much, hearing life stories, but it explains my love for reading biographies and autobiographies, and the latest trend, memoirs. I really love it when someone is gut-wrenchingly honest in the telling of their tale, because I guess it helps me figure out how I feel about my own life and it's experiences.

I guess I love hearing other people's stories because it always helps put my own (seemingly lost and drifting) life story into perspective. I feel luckier and also less than. Some stories and people inspire me to do more and be more, others make me feel grateful for the small life I have led so far.

Like a lot of us, I too am plagued with questions like: what should I have done with my life? Should I have done more? Less? Taken a different path? Is this the right path I am on?

But the older I get, the less these questions mean to me. The older I get, the more I see that my path is fine, simply because I am on it. And at the risk of rhyming here, I will say that my path is fine because it's mine.

I am starting to think that it doesn't really matter whether I earn millions or not. Whether I married or not. Whether I even become the writer that I still dream of becoming or not. Because ultimately, what matters is who I am being, not what I am doing or achieving.

But it's still nice to swop life stories with old friends and new, just for interests' sake.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why I love to write

The quick answer is: I just do. I don't know why, but I just love to write.

The long answer would be: I just love putting words on paper. Writing helps me to clear my thoughts. It helps me to feel connected to myself. It makes my feelings real. It validates me. I adore words and I adore how one can paint a picture or a seen with words, just like an artist can do with paint (and I am also an artist too, by the way).

Since I was actually able to write, I did. From the age of seven I started writing little stories and I haven't stopped since. I don't personally know of any other seven year old that spends hours creating and writing stories. (I have read of other writers saying they did this, but I haven't met any of them.) So as a child I did feel a little different but I was oh so happy to write.

One of my first little stories was called "Myrtle the Turtle" which I wrote and illustrated in pencil. I still have the pages. I also have a fully colour-illustrated children's story called "Bonzo The Dog" which I wrote at the age of fourteen during the school holidays. This was my idea of a fun way to spend my school holidays. I got my mom to type it up and we sent it off to a few publishers. (It got rejected, of course, but I wasn't too fazed back then, thinking I had my whole life to pursue this love of mine.)

So, looking back, I can see that my love of writing has been with me since before I could question it, and I assume it is a pure desire that I have and not stemming from my ego. Naturally, as I became older, my ego did distort my passion. Fear crept in (as it tends to do) and I worried about what people would think and rejection and sounding silly on the page and having nothing valid to say. And the list of fears and worries goes on....

But along with the fear, I started fantasizing about fame, and writing a "great" novel. (Don't we all?) That is a sure sign of the ego creeping in.

However, even with my fear and ego distracting me, I still had (and still have) this intense desire to write, no matter what. Over the years have started about seven blogs. (And deleted them because they were not focused on the "real" thing which is writing). I have also written pages and pages - some articles,some short stories and started on some book ideas.

Throughout my twenties I believed that I was still too young to write anything worth reading. Oddly enough at that time, I dated a guy (my first serious boyfriend) who also dreamt of writing a great novel, and his theory was that he could only write something "great" after the age of thirty, when he had collected some life experience. I tended to agree with him. After all, what could a twenty-something year old write that would be new or wise in any way?

However, I am now 35 years old with enough life experience and yet I still haven't written anything. And by written, I mean anything that is getting published. Except for one piece that got published in Odyssey Magazine years ago and a small children's book that was published when I was 18 by a tiny publisher called Umsinsi Press. (See how I discount my two small successes?) So let me re-phrase: I have written loads, I just haven't done anything with my writing and I have lots of work that remains unfinished.

So what now? Well, now I need to simply DO IT (and finish more stuff) and let go of the outcome. Easier said than written but definitely worth a shot.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Boredom leads to Creativity

Boredom is essential to creativity. I believe this fully.

We have to let our minds relax, empty and not be entertained by stuff outside. Then we will get bored. We may feel lonely, agitated, irritable and restless for a while - or in other words - BORED.

Then, when we realise there is no entertainment coming our way, our minds will settle again, and that is when the magic happens. We may think of a song, a poem, a painting or we may go outside and just notice. We will notice the flowers. The sunset. The clouds. This is all creativity.

I have seen this happen in my child. The restless-boredom-creative cycle. He will be irritable and whiny because he is at a loose end, but, if I don't step in and entertain him, I have noticed that after a while he settles into a wonderfully creative game with whatever is around him at home.

Which brings me to comment on our modern lives - we stuff ourselves full of entertainment all the time. This is killing our creativity. It is also fueling our sense that we are, always, somehow, missing out.

We need to allow boredom back in.  Boredom is not a bad thing. And parents need to allow children to feel bored too.

When I was 14 yrs old, I wrote and illustrated a whole 26 page children's book during a long school holiday just for fun! I still have the pages and the story. The drawings are intricate and detailed. The story is well thought out. It is such a wonderful work of fourteen year old art but it would never have happened had I been constantly entertained during the holidays. No. I had time and I filled it with my own creativity.

So let's get bored and let our creative minds create!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Car Guard

When I go to gym, I usually park in the same area of the parking lot every time if there is a spot. Creature of habit. Also, I like the car guard there.

He is an older man, I'd put him in his fifties or so, but it's hard to tell because his skin is weathered and brown from standing out in the sun and rain. Over the months we've gone from nodding, to smiling to greeting each other. I like him because he told me once to avoid parking under the tree (where I had just parked, for shade) because the birds would mess my car in no time. I also like him because once, when my four year old son slammed his finger in the car boot door by accident, the car guard didn't come running to see or make a fuss. He just stood at his usual respectful distance and let me deal with it.

I don't always have small change on me to give him, because I usually go to gym without my wallet. And in these days of plastic, I don't always carry cash anyway. So I don't always give this guy money, but then on occasion, to make up for it, I will give him a note.

Today was one of those days. I folded the R10 note and let my son give it to the car guard. I could see he was chuffed - shame - maybe it had been a slow day. He asked my son what his name was, and then he said that his name is Mark and then he told me "My grandkid's names are Kyle and Louwrens" and I suddenly stopped and looked properly at this car guard.  He has grandkids!

Of course he does! And yet, even though we greet each other almost daily, I never thought of him as a person with a life, possibly a wife, and grandchildren. I asked him how old his grandkids are, and he said four and two. He said the two year old, Kyle, is the clever one. I asked him if they live nearby, and he said no, they live in PE and that he is hoping to go see them, that he was just waiting for his son to bring him to PE and that his son is a Civil Engineer.

In that moment, I saw Mark, the car guard. And my heart was there too - feeling his longing to just go visit his grandchildren in PE.