Saturday, 4 February 2017

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Fangirl's dream come true

How many times have you read a story and have it leave you with endless, nagging questions when it finished? Too many times to count, for me. (I am always amazed at literature's ability to completely engage and transport me - I live in the character's skins, I feel their emotions as keenly as though they were my own - because this rarely happens for me with movies). 

When people ask the question, "Who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive, if you could choose absolutely anyone" my list would be mostly literary (mind you, I would invite Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans for laughs, and Tom Hiddleston and Jared Leto for eye-candy and controversy). I would love to have a conversation with Jane Austen about our shared penchant for writing strong women who always get their happy ending. I'd thank Charlotte Bronte for writing my favourite literary heroine of all time, and for writing a story that is pretty real (as far as novels go). I want to ask Stephenie Meyer whether Renesmee and Jacob are able to have kids. I want to know whether St John Rivers ever gets married after Jane Eyre rejects his proposal.

The fan fiction literary world evokes pretty much the same feelings and questions. 
I came across a particular writer, who had a few couples she always wrote about, one of them being my favourite as well. I love EVERYTHING she writes. And then about two years ago, she disappeared...and left my favourite story incomplete. I read the story every so often, and each time my longing to know how things end would just grow, this perpetual itch in my head and heart that I couldn't scratch (and might never be able to). I even thought about continuing the story myself, just for myself. But that would be intellectual theft and even if I could relax my conscience, I'm nowhere near as good with words as she is. I was preparing to die with this itch.

And then a few weeks ago, I come across her name again and discover that she has kind of resurfaced. On a lark, I commented on one her recent stories to express my elation at her return. To my astonishment, she not only responded to my comment, we basically had a whole conversation (this is the one thing the internet is good for - it enables us to connect with people that inspire us and make us happy), and then she went and did something even more amazing... She scratched my itch and got rid of it completely.

To Startraveller776:
There are no words to appropriately express what I am still feeling after your email. You literally made my dream come true. And I completely understand your reasons for not wanting to go back to your old work - I mean, you did not have to do this for a complete stranger, and the fact that you did this for me...only by reaching into my chest and feeling my heart might be able to convey the extent of my happiness.
As a fellow writer, I know there are days where you feel like you are a complete failure at your craft. When those days hit, I hope you will come back here and read this again, to encourage you to push through those moments and to remind yourself that you have an extraordinary skill with words and that you have, at the very least, one loyal reader, who is looking forward (with bated breath and the greatest of anticipation) to what you produce next.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Illness: always a difficulty, but if you look closely, also a blessing

Yes, I know the new year has come and gone. I know that we are two weeks into 2017. But real life did not allow me to complete this challenge in its time, and I hate leaving things unfinished, so my aim is to finish it before the end of January. It is, after all, closer to 2016 than February or any month after...

After work yesterday, a colleague was telling me about her stint in hospital for an emergency procedure that she had done before the start of the school year, and inevitably, the conversation ended up as an exchange of family medical stories.

My family has been through the mill with illness. Cancer, heart surgery, kidney surgery, gastric surgery...these are but a few. Recently, over the last 10 years or so, it feels like we've had a medical emergency every year, and in a close-knit family like mine, illness can take over everyone's lives. When it happens, everything in your life seems to take a backseat, and your focus is concentrated on navigating the recovery. But, illness is something that I'd prefer to endure, over other crises or afflictions.

I've seen what drug addictions can do to families. I have seen families break up over the pettiest of disagreements. And as hard as it is to watch someone you love have to suffer through a medical crisis, in my experience, many good things can and have come from it. Illness has brought my family closer each time. It has unearthed strength I didn't know I had. It forced my father, a control freak who refuses to retire with no concern for his own health, to take better care of himself. I witnessed the amazing resilience of children as I watched my 4-year old niece battle leukemia like a pro, and my one month old nephew survive an operation that was supposed to kill him.

Illness can be nightmarish for families. But, it is the one difficulty that always has some kind of positive consequence, even if it is only a bigger appreciation for your own health.
For my family, the positive spin offs and blessings have been plenty indeed.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Whispers

When I took my writing class three years ago, we did this exercise once a week, where we were given a verb and asked to come up with as many synonyms for it as possible. The aim was to train us to use the most appropriate verb within a sentence, as opposed to using too many adverbs or adjectives.
For example, the word "talk" has so many synonyms, and yet, they do not all simply mean to "communicate using your mouth, voice and words" - you could talk slowly (drawl), or quickly (ramble), or with difficulty (stutter). There were times where this particular exercise frustrated the hell out of us, but was usually accompanied with quite a few laughs. In the end it expanded our vocabulary as writers, and enabled us to paint a picture with words, rather than just relate details.

Another synonym for this word is "whisper". The first definition of the word whisper that I come across is "to speak with soft, hushed sounds, using only the lips and breath, without vibration of the vocal cords". What a beautiful description! And being the incurable romantic that I am, I always associate this word with gentleness (trees, water, a breeze making a soft, rustling sound) or romance (to talk softly or privately).

However, this beautiful word can have an ugly connotation - " talk softly or privately (often implying gossip, slander, plotting or the like); a rumour or insinuation..." - as I've discovered these past few weeks. I have been...heartbroken and angry because of some ugly things that have been whispered about me - angry at their inaccuracies and the physical effects that their negativity has had on me, and heartbroken because it revealed people's true colours (as well as their cowardice and the very bad opinion they seem to have of me).

But with difficulty comes introspection. I am not perfect, and while I try to stay away from gossip and try to refrain from badmouthing people (particularly when they are not present to defend themselves) I am human, and I have slipped up many times in my life in this regard. And it made me wonder whether I was being punished for doing the same to others.

While this whole ordeal was a good reminder for me to mind my mouth, and to reserve my judgement, it has made me a lot more distrustful of people in general (and of some in particular).
Whispers born of resentment, envy and assumptions can have some damaging effects, even when you don't hear them. And if I've learnt anything, it's that only the Almighty can protect you against them.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Rejection

I entered my very first online writing competition a few months ago. The prize for this competition was some money but more importantly, having your submission published online. I didn't expect to win, but eternal optimist that I am, I hoped. Stranger things have happened.

Today is the day the winner was announced, and sadly, my inbox remains empty.
I went online to check, and the winner's story was published.

It's not mine.

And yes, although I did not expect to win, I am still sad and disappointed that I didn't.

Monday, 8 August 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - There is no Team without Trust

I am a very different sort of character at work.
My methods, while very efficient most of the time, seem to rub my colleagues up the wrong way (all the time). But apart from me, one of the biggest challenges I think we face as a staff is a serious lack of unity.

When I started this job, almost seven years ago, I was the second youngest staff member - not only in age, but in experience, both in years at the school, and in working years in general. Whenever I tried to implement a new idea or tried to go about my duties in a different way, it was met with resistance. It was here that I experienced how averse people were to change. "She just started here yesterday, who does she think she is?" This is a comment that was passed almost every week, and one I still here whispers of now and again.

It saddens me to have to say that not everyone shares the same vision for the school or its learners; not everyone is supportive when their colleagues wish to do anything that would benefit the school or the learners we are supposed to serve. And in some extreme occurrences, some have even gone so far as to sabotage the efforts of others.
For as long as I can remember, it has been drilled into me to do things without expectation of recognition. But I'm not Jesus. I don't necessarily want recognition, but I feel it when the things that I do go unappreciated (especially when they've yielded results). It makes me want to quit my job and take my skills elsewhere.
It is one of the most demoralizing kinds of atmospheres to work in, and during the last six and a half years it has prevented me from taking on more challenges. I've never really felt part of a team.

This year, due to one of our senior colleagues falling ill, some of the newer and younger colleagues and I were forced into taking charge of a project. We were very apprehensive about taking it on - we don't enjoy the support of our senior colleagues, and we have to contend with a counter-productive vibe (from them) that feels like they're waiting for us to fail.

Despite this, I have every confidence that we'll make a success of it. All of the people involved are on the same page, we all want this to succeed and we are all willing to do what we can, and what is necessary. Yes, we don't agree on everything, but we can do it in adult manner, and we trust that we all have the school's best interests at heart. We are able to recognise and appreciate each other's talents, and for the first time ever, I feel like a valued team member.

"Without trust, we don't truly collaborate; we merely co-ordinate or, at best, co-operate." The trust we have shown with each other so far really has transformed an unlikely group of people into a team. And though we will face some challenges, I am certain that we will make a success of our collaboration in the end.

Monday, 30 May 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Emotional Security

As far as embarrassing stories go, there is one my mother loves to tell about me, one we’ve heard so many times I’ve lost count.

When I was about three years old, I apparently had this habit of walking around – I used to randomly visit the neighbours, and sometimes the people we knew who lived in the next road.
One evening, it was way after sunset, and my family couldn’t find me. My brother and sisters had checked all of my usual haunts (yes, I had these at three) and at all of the neighbouring homes, and still no one could find me. It was raining that evening, and when my mom checked, my raincoat was gone too.
After a while, I came waltzing in the door, and my mom started scolding. Even after explaining that I was at the new neighbour’s house (one they did not check), I got the spanking of my life and was told I could go to bed without supper.
My family was sitting in the living room watching TV and after a few minutes, I walked in with a plate of food I’d dished myself (from the pot on the stove – my mom had made my favourite that evening), and when they looked again, my brother burst out laughing because I’d fallen fast asleep on the coffee table, my empty plate next to me.

As embarrassing as it sometimes is for me to hear (particularly in front of strangers) I love this story because it shows two aspects of the personality I now have as an adult.

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’m a doer – I get shit done, and many times on my own, and from this memory I can see that I exhibited signs of self-sufficiency and independence from a very early age.

The second aspect I only realised today, and once I did, certain things in my life made sense – more specifically, my reactions to certain things. There were three instances in my life where I felt like I couldn’t handle the situation, like I wanted to crawl under the blanket and stay there indefinitely, and today I could put into words the thing that linked those three instances – lack of emotional security.

I’ve come to realise a few things:
Firstly, there are certain people in your life who have a direct effect on your emotional security; Secondly, when that emotional security becomes unstable or is ripped away, it feels worse than any physical injury (to me, at least);
And thirdly, sometimes the people you love the most make you feel very insecure.

Today I owned up to a truth I was avoiding for a long time – I need emotional security, and I need it from those that I love and who claim to love me. And for the first time, I can say this to myself and realise that it is not a weakness. It is me embracing who I am.
My three year old self fell peacefully asleep because she knew, on a subconscious level, even after a scolding and a spanking that she was in a secure environment.

I need a hug, or a kiss, or an “I miss you” text, or a “How did you wake up this morning” phone call. I need physical gestures of concern and love, because that is how I know that I am important to people, and that in turn gives me emotional security.

And now that I have acknowledged this need within myself, the next step is to be able to share this revelation with the people on whom my emotional security currently depends…and to brace myself for the possibility that they may no longer want to be the source of that security for me.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Kindness

The principal of my school conducts a ten minute briefing every morning before the siren sounds the beginning of the school day. A few years ago he said to me that the reason for this is to greet the entire staff, as well as set the tone for the day. Usually, only he or the Deputy will conduct these briefings, but this term, in the spirit of team-building and staff development, he decided to give every educator an opportunity to inspire his/her colleagues - everyone had to select a date, and prepare something for their morning.

I initially laughed at this idea, because of some of the negative reactions to it by my colleagues. But for the last few weeks, I've heard some really positive things about this exercise, and it may just be me, but on certain days I've noticed that people are nicer than on others.

Today, one of our Grade R (kindergarten) teachers had her turn. In addition to her words of inspiration, she also gave each of her colleagues a heart shaped chocolate cookie, wrapped with a cute/naughty label. Although my office colleague and I did not sit in the briefing (we have to man the phones and front gate at all times), she came into the office and gave us one also. We've all been giggling about it the whole day.

Of all the praiseworthy qualities people can possess, kindness is the one that affects me the most. Not only because it is such a rarity today, but also because when one does experience it, it comes with strings attached or an ulterior motive.

I love when people are randomly kind to one another. Something as small as cookie and a smile made me approach the day's challenges in a very different way...and it makes me regret those times where I've let the stress of a particular moment translate into meanness, and where I may have ruined someone's day because of it. It makes me appreciate the many times an unexpected act of kindness managed to change my entire day - be it a smile from a stranger, or a hug from a child, or a sweet text message from a friend.

I'd like to dedicate my post today to Nabu...
You are kindness itself. And your random act of kindness has echoed through my entire day so far...

Sunday, 8 May 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Better Half?

How often do we hear people refer to their significant others as “my better half”? It’s an expression many are quite fond of. Initially, this used to irritate me because it’s so cheesy, especially when done over social media, as is the norm today (ugh, can we please get over sharing every detail of our relationships with everybody).
However, petulance aside, when I really think about the phrase ‘better half’ two things come to mind: low self-esteem and danger.

It is wise to be aware of one’s own short-comings and quirks, and it is always good to have an awareness and sincere appreciation for the good in others. But it is necessary to also be aware of one’s own light, one’s own capacity for goodness, and the humanness of others. It is a very bad idea to compare yourself to others, particularly to the person you are supposed to love above everyone else.

There are, in my opinion, few things more dangerous than elevating someone to the mythical state of perfection, only to find out that they have clay feet like the rest of humanity. I don’t think any relationship can survive that level of disappointment.

I am surrounded by couples – all of my siblings are married, most of my friends are too. I have seen marriages that look good in theory, fail; I have seen couples who should, by societal expectation and ‘standards’, be compatible, and yet are unable to find common ground.

And then I’ve seen the most unlikely pairings succeed beyond expectation.

Two very good friends of mine have been married now for nine years. I was sick with anxiety when they first started dating, because of certain circumstances and because they were such different people.
I was terribly naïve, and for a long time I thought the one was better than the other one. But as the years went on, I saw two opposites complement each other in the best way. Despite the challenges that they face as husband and wife, as father and mother, they're happy. And they love each other so much, it is clear for all to see (in a non-sickening kind of way, thank goodness).

I saw them both forgive and cover the other’s flaws, and support each other in a way that not only strengthened their union, but made them grow as individuals into the epitome of what should be the foundation of all relationships:

The dictionary defines complementary as “combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another”. I quite like this explanation and it sums up what I’ve seen from successful marriages.
But I think the best partnerships are the ones who are made up of two wholes, instead of two halves.

Friday, 15 April 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Judgment

How many times have you judged a person based on an inopportune first impression or an incorrect assumption? Or for something that secretly makes you uncomfortable or sheds a fluorescent light on your dark side? For me, too many times to count. And I’ve often discovered (to my unending embarrassment) that my judgement had no foundation at all.

Certain events in my life alerted me to this terrible quality within myself. One in particular occurred during my first year at college.
I became very good friends with someone after a break-up with his girlfriend. Many of our classmates thought we were dating (for a long while I had hoped his feelings for me would develop in that way) but we were just two people with similar interests and a similar approach to many things.
We did differ, when it came to academic ability, and I am, to this day, ashamed to admit that my arrogance over this fact, and my opinions on some of his more questionable life decisions, caused a rift – which led to us not speaking to each other for 18 months. We did reconcile eventually, and are still good friends (he and his wife are like family to me) but I will never be able to take back the way I made him feel, nor can we ever get back those 18 months.

A friend paid me the greatest compliment I could ever hope for as a writer – she said, in response to a recent post, that what she loves best about my writing is that it is not judgmental. My initial reaction to this was one of disbelief, because I know myself to be terribly judgmental. Another mistaken assumption that many live under is that if I don’t say things, I don’t judge, but in many cases tone, facial expressions, body language, actions, and even silence convey judgement more than words ever could. I have hurt people, and have been hurt by people in this way. And sadly, it has cost me dearly, in the relationships with people I care about.

The second reaction was that of hope – hope that I may finally be on the path to ridding myself of this destructive habit.

Every chapter of my life, whether it was work related or personal, has brought with it a particular lesson on judgment. One that has stayed with me (since the Almighty saw it fit to bless me with this bit of wisdom) is this: no person is too good to sin, and no sinner is beyond redemption. These words act as my daily reminder that tomorrow, I may be worse off than the person I judged today.

Some food for thought (and comment, if you like):

Saturday, 26 March 2016

A-Z Blogger Challenge 2016 - Lies

Some may find this odd (or disturbing) but I do not trust a person who claims to be 100% truthful all the time (that is the biggest lie of all). We lie to deceive, we lie to impress, we lie to protect – ourselves and others. Some lies are harmless enough – when you tell a three-year old that their drawings are beautiful, your lie gives them confidence – and when, as in this case, the lie is used for unselfish reasons and harms no one, I can live with it. Most lies though, are dangerous, especially when they are borne from selfishness (as most lies are).
But the most dangerous…

The people we lie to the most are ourselves.
As humans, we all have opinions about each other, and it is a very human trait to want to be in control of what others think of us.

I read a post by a young author today, and he said something in particular reference to writers, but it is the paradox that applies to everyone: we all yearn to belong, and to be accepted, but we also want to stand out and be unique. And we end up lying to others and to ourselves to try and fulfil these needs.

But we are only in control of what we think of ourselves, of what resides between our ears and within our chests. And it may sound simple and easy, but the hardest thing a person can ever do, is to throw off the many layers of self-deception and stand, naked, in front of the proverbial mirror.

I’ve had to own up to a few lies I’ve told myself, about myself, about my life and the people in it. I’ve had to realise that these lies have had a very adverse effect on my personal growth and interpersonal relationships.
It takes more strength to show your vulnerability than to hide it. Loyalty is not a given with family. Being strong does not mean never asking for help. Friendships and relationships that are one-sided rarely cease to be so. I am never going to be skinny (I will always be curvy and soft, and that’s just another form of beauty).
Once I found the courage to admit certain truths, I opened myself up to a much better quality of life…I’ve weeded out the parasites in my life and transferred that energy into nurturing the people, thoughts and things that are good for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I still tell myself untruths (or rather, I still cannot admit certain truths to myself) – I am human, and very imperfect.
I am on a journey though, standing in front of the mirror, peeling back one layer at a time. And with each piece of self-deception I manage to discard, I continue to discover new depths to my potential.