2020: The Year of the Novel

I am officially declaring 2020 the year of the novel – come what may. By the 31st of December 2020 my novel will have been rejected / accepted by a publisher and on its way to some form of publication, even if I have to do it myself. Come what may. No more writing courses, no more “How to” books; I shall live by the words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, which went something along the lines of ‘Writers write. So, if you want to be a writer, then write.’

I would like to thank K.W. Weiland, whose article on finding creativity in the new year has buoyed me on and injected a new sense of inspiration and muchness that I can only hope will stay with me past January. (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/find-writing-inspiration/) I, like her, was a child with an insatiable imagination. But unlike her, I don’t feel mine has dried up as I’ve gotten older. I still create storylines in my head when I wash the dishes, I still converse with characters on road trips, and I still daydream myself into impossible scenarios. I guess my problem is, they stay in my head and never make it to the page.

She begins her list of tips with finding the best time of the day to write. Oh, how this pains me. You see, I am a night owl by nature, my soul wants to type into the early hours of the morning. But since rejoining the workforce in the latter stages of last year I have been forced to fake being a ‘morning person’. I wake up at 5:30 every morning. So, I have to go to bed at 9:30 every night to avoid falling asleep at my desk. Be a night owl on the weekends you might say? Well I would attempt that except I am currently trying to shake a sleeping disorder by rectifying my circadian rhythm, which requires me to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends. Write in the evenings when you get home you might say? After a full day at the office I can barely write my own name, never mind work on a novel. Plus, I want to spend time with hubby, and our cats, and the couch. And so, I am forced to carve out a time during the workday when things are slow – which is never predictable. Me, the incessant planner, gets anxious just thinking about it.

And so we move on to tip two: “Find time for “Pointless’ Creativity”. Wait now, I’m already struggling to find time for the pointy creativity. But fortunately, this is something I don’t really struggle with. It’s all about separating “work” writing from “fun” writing. As I don’t do much writing for work, most of my writing qualifies as “fun”. And as soon as it starts to feel like work, I have a gazillion other ideas I can bounce around in just for fun. One of her suggestions that I refuse to get on board with is journaling. It’s just not happening. I have managed to avoid it thus far in my life, no way it’s getting me now. I will talk to my subconscious, I will go for a ‘walk’ with my characters, but I will not journal.

At last we arrive at tip number 3 and I think it’s one I need for my life in general – not just for my writing: “Make time each day to fill your well.” The argument goes that we cannot sustain a high level of creativity without nurturing our whole body and soul. She argues that if you are stressed, unhealthy or unhappy, it will become that much harder to foster a nurturing space for your creativity. So how do you nurture your creative space? These are just are just a few examples: Don’t put junk in your body; read; rest; and exercise. Sounds simple enough right? It’s basically a list of New Year’s Resolutions – and we all know how I feel about those.

I guess ultimately at the crux of it all there are no real rules for creativity. The words could be flowing like the Jukskei during a thunderstorm, when a project comes in and you have to set your novel aside, creative juices be damned. You might set aside an entire weekend for just you and your keyboard but end up staring at a blank screen for two days. The point is, don’t throw in the towel. Keep conversing with your characters, keep dreaming up scenarios and keep coming up with impossible storylines. I have a finished manuscript and I am going to edit the crap out of it this year. Come what may. Why not join me in a creative project of your own?

New Year New Blog

So, it would appear the WordPress powers that be punished me for not blogging enough last year, and shut me down, almost forcing me to start a new blog. I guess that would make one of my new year’s resolutions be to blog more, but if you’re at all familiar with me or my work, you’ll know my feelings on new year’s resolutions and my belief and that they are an evitable path to failure. Generally speaking, they are just grand, vague empty promises you make to yourself about the better person you’re going to become in the new year. But the problem is, you have no idea how to become that person. You’ve identified the destination, but you have no road map for how to get there.   

2018 was by no means an easy year for me. Perhaps marginally better than 2017, I only had one hospital stay, but just as many doctors’ visits. I went through shoulder rehab, fell off the shoulder rehab wagon, and then climbed back on the wagon late in the year. I went through a serious bout of seasonal depression, found out my inner child was still really angry about a lot of stuff and I lost my last remaining grandparent. However, I also went on an amazing holiday to a Greek Island. I saw Ed Sheeran live. I welcomed a nephew into this world and I saw my beloved Seahawks kick some serious ass live, with my Big Bruv. Hubby and I went on an incredible trip to the Kruger and watched an unforgettable lunar eclipse together. And even though I no longer have grandparents, for most of my life I had the best grandparents, and that’s more than most people ever get.

I know undoubtedly that part of what made 2018 marginally easier was that I had a road map. No more vague destinations in mind, but clearly defined landing points. Perhaps not exact GPS coordinates, but definitely instructions on how to get there. I also learnt (and am still learning) that change is a skill that requires practice. You can’t change overnight, it requires deliberate and consistent action in the right way and the right order, over time. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. As you would build on any skill, if you want to make a change, you have to practice getting better at making changes.

I still need to lose a significant amount of weight. I still need to get fitter and healthier. I still need to read and write more. However, I am currently following a healthy eating plan and have cut down significantly on my junk food intake (no small feat for me). I am exercising every day – almost miraculous considering where I was in the middle of the year. I have done a full edit of my first draft of the first novel I ever completed and plan to continue working on it in the new year, and I am ready to tackle the 52-book reading challenge this year. I have a schedule of when I write and I already know most of the books I will be reading to fulfil each category of the book challenge. See. Roadmap.

These sound a lot like resolutions and I guess they are, although I prefer to call them goals as they are long-term changes in mindset and not whimsical, vague ideas of transformation. To anyone looking to make genuine resolutions for 2019 I would recommend picking low hanging fruit. Pick something small, simple, and repeatable that you’re guaranteed to succeed at. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you succeed with it. This will help you to practice change. Master change first and then up the ante on what you’re trying to change.

My commitments for the year are as follows:

  • Treat days on Wednesdays and Sundays only.
  • Follow exercise programme from biokineticist.
  • Work on novel every day.
  • Work on blog Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Read an average of one book per week.

I plan to post throughout the year on my goals and their progress. Please follow me on my journey – I welcome encouragement – and share yours with me. A prosperous 2019 to you and yours!

New Year New Me – Bleh!

I think it would be pretty fair to say last year was a tough year for myself and Hubby. In many ways I came full circle. I started the year in a mental health clinic, balancing my epileptic medication as side-effects from my seizures were causing crippling depression, and I finished the year in hospital having a shoulder operation to fix a debridgement of my rotator cuff – something that took over six months to diagnose. I spent much of the year in doctors’ rooms, including two other hospital stays, I went for many scans and x-rays and swallowed a lot of pills. I lost my best friend to suicide. I felt like joining him more than once. I cried. A lot.

But I also had an amazing 30th birthday party with all my best friends, a jumping castle and a homemade birthday cake with mirror glaze icing and a ninja turtle on top – courtesy of Hubby’s hard work. We had an amazing overseas holiday for my Big Bruv’s wedding in Glasgow where we also managed to squeeze in an Emeli Sande concert, a Russell Kane standup show and a stay in a five-star hotel in the heart of London (generous belated wedding gift courtesy of my Aunt). We welcomed two beautiful kittens into our family, Gazza and Seba, and have watched their individual personalities develop with amazement and amusement. I tasted the most amazing cheesecake ever. We finally finished the 150-metre “buy in bulk and save” tin foil that we bought about two and a half years ago (a proud moment). We got to visit the in-laws twice, which always involves sand between my toes and a special feeling in my soul that only the sea can awaken. I strengthened the friendships worth keeping and loosened ties that were weighing me down.

So, when people on social media are all about “Can’t wait to see the back of 2017!”, “2017 sucked, bring on 2018!”, I can’t help but think, “Did it really suck? All of it? Enough to be wishing time away?” Because the saying goes that life is short, but in truth, it’s the longest thing any of us will ever have (that we know of for sure) and it seems awfully tragic to wish any of it away, even the painful parts. There’s also this weird phenomenon that I’ll call New Year New Me, where people seem to think that when the clock strikes midnight and the date changes from December 31st to January 1st, everything will magically change and all that was wrong in 2017 will magically disappear. Everything they struggled with in 2017 will no longer be a challenge; any and all trials and tribulations will suddenly become completely avoidable. But the truth is, who you were yesterday, is exactly the same person you are today. Literally the only thing that’s changed is the date. And you probably have a hangover.

So, this is the point at which you start to talk about New Year’s Resolutions. Those grand, vague empty promises you make to yourself about the person you’re going to become this year, so that if 2018 turns out to be just as shit as 2017 was, at least you’ll be able to turn that shit into compost and grow some freaking flowers in it, cos that’s the kind of optimistic, proactive, energetic, go-getter you’re going to become. Problem is, you have no idea how to become that person. You’ve identified the destination, but you have no road map for how to get there. So, before you know it, it’s December 31st and your social media posts are looking oddly familiar: “Can’t wait to see the back of 2018!”, “2018 sucked, bring on 2019!” And you’re wishing even more of your limited time on this earth away.

Right, now let me step off this soap box before it crumbles under my considerable weight. I too have been that person, making my fair share of New Year’s Resolutions, usually revolving around wanting to lose weight and getting fitter and healthier. I’ll usually throw something extra in about wanting to read more and write more – pursue those things that make me more me. But I inevitably spend another year on the couch, watching series, eating healthier perhaps and going for the occasional walk, but also stuffing my face with junk food and before I know it another year has passed me by and I still feel uncomfortable in my clothes, I still can’t walk up the stairs without feeling out of breath, the first draft of my novel has still gone unedited and the pile of books I haven’t read has quadrupled in size.

But this year I’m determined to make things different. Because this year I’m going to have a road map. No more vague destinations in mind, but clearly defined landing points, right down to the GPS coordinates, with exact instructions on how to get there. I started off by signing up for the Sleek Geek 14-day challenge (it was free – yay!) and I have learnt quite a lot so far:

Shift in Mindset: Change is a skill and requires practice. You can’t change overnight, it requires deliberate and consistent action in the right way and the right order, over time. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. As you would build on any skill, if you want to make a change, you have to practice getting better at making changes. So, don’t start off huge with a “I’m going to lose 20kg”. That’s basically equivalent to someone who has never touched a piano in their lives saying I’m going to learn to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” flawlessly by Friday. Pick a low hanging fruit. Something small, simple, and repeatable that you’re guaranteed to succeed at. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you succeed with it. This will help you to practice change. I have chosen a few that I plan to build on once I have (hopefully) achieved success with these in the coming weeks:

  • Take my multi-vitamins and supplements every day (I have a tendency to forget).
  • Drink 2 litres of water every day.
  • Sit outside for at least fifteen minutes every day.

I think that’s a good place to start and a good place to leave it for today. I plan to post throughout the year on my lifestyle goals and their progress. Let’s see how well I do on that ‘resolution’. A prosperous 2018 to you and yours!

Why is Nkandla Still Standing?

“After all is said and done, more is said than done”

-Aesop

Nkandla

South Africans have a lot to complain about. As winter approaches, it is the lingering threat of Eskom’s load-shedding; for us Gautengers it is the haunting prospect that one day SANRAL’s e-tolls will catch up with us and we’ll all be sent to prison; and for anyone with a nature loving bone in their body, it is the tragic impending extinction of rhinos. And that’s not to mention the truly sombre state of affairs when it comes to violent crime rates, government corruption and the ever widening gap between rich and poor. And yet, that seems to be all we South Africans do: complain.

Likes

We love to “like” activist groups on Facebook and to “share” their pictures to show our solidarity with the cause. We love to post angry comments on news24 and to phone in to 702 with our 2 cents worth. We love to “dialogue” and to boldly claim what we would do if we were in charge. But talk is easy. It makes us feel as though we have achieved something, when in actual fact everything is exactly as it was before the conversation started. Now, I am not saying that discussion cannot be productive, but it would seem that standing on the side-lines saying, “Someone should do something about that”, has become a destructive South African past-time.

The question plaguing me the most right now is, why is Nkandla still standing? Why haven’t we burnt it to the ground yet? We pulled down statues of Rhodes, and destroyed paintings that reminded us of the bad old days, yet the living embodiment and reminder of the corrupt leadership that is running our country into the ground still stands?! And don’t even get me started on how we’re still allowing a man who grossly violated the Constitution he was sworn to protect to maintain his position of leadership. Oh, sorry, my bad, he didn’t grossly violate it (even though the mere thought makes me sick) he only violated it a little bit. You know, like how you only robbed a house a little bit because you left the toaster. Since when did violations become excusable based on degree??

Winter on Fire

Revolutionaries marched on Versailles in 1789, while the Bolsheviks gunned downed and slaughtered the entire Russian royal family in 1918. In more recent times, over 100 Ukrainians sacrificed their lives in the revolution of February 2014, when peaceful demonstrations against a corrupt government turned violent. Yet torching Nkandla just feels like too much hard work? Are the roads too bumpy for our suburban SUVs to get us there? No one wants to bear witness to the destruction of public property, nor look at monuments that remind us of a fractured past. We’re very vocal about it, but when it comes to actually doing anything about it, we’re happy to sit back and watch it unfold in the press; as long as we can leave our angry comments at the foot of the page.

Now I don’t just want to pick on South Africans. Apathy seems to be a human condition. This is most clearly reflected in the phenomenon of New Year’s Resolutions. The most popular of these tend to revolve around self-improvement: “This year I will be more fit, more healthy, more outgoing, more assertive.” You start off well. You join a gym, stock the fridge with fresh fruit and vegetables and buy a book called “Personality Power” or “10 Steps to a Better You”. But somehow the fruit and vegetables get past their best before you’ve had a chance to eat them, you never make it past chapter 2 and you find yourself slipping into the gym just to use the bathroom so that you don’t fall short of your Vitality quota. You’ve liked all the right pages on Facebook, you’re following all of the health gurus on Twitter, yet somehow it’s May and you still weigh the same and still feel breathless after the short walk from the basement parking garage to your office.

Know Your Ward

Once again we are all talk and no action. We want the outcome but aren’t willing to put in meaningful effort. We want to talk about what is broken, but we want someone else to actually fix it. We won’t leave our comfy spot on the couch to go for a walk around the block because Game of Thrones is coming on and we won’t stop buying donuts because they’re trendy and they taste so damn good. We won’t sacrifice a day of leave to participate in a protest and we will moan about the government yet won’t even take the time to attend a local council meeting. How many of you even know who your ward councillor is?

Since the end of 2010 rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine; while civil uprisings continue across many African and Middle Eastern states. Yet JZ still has the seat at the head of the table and not a chicken coop in his kingdom has been so much as vandalised?

Mad so Mad

The part that makes my soul the most sore in all of this is the man standing next to our glorious president grinning ear to ear, making all sorts of promises that he has no intention of keeping. The man who worked tirelessly and broke down barriers to write the very Constitution that saved this country, is next in line to run it through the mud. Maybe that’s why he’s always looking so cheerful.

And so I ask again, why the fuck is Nkandla still standing? And why the fuck is that pugnacious douche bag still our president? Yes, I said pugnacious.

Perhaps it’s time we closed the laptop screens, started using our cellphones simply to make calls and rather than complaining, used our energy to initiate change, rather than just talk about it. Because as Dr Seuss says:

The Lorax