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My Jobless Life

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WRITING

Thinking as a Profession

A good window to stare through
A good window to stare through

As I child I could never quite explain what I wanted to be when I got older. Nothing really seemed good enough or interesting enough, but I knew there was something I was made for. If I had to put it into adult words now, I would say I want to Think for a living.

I wanted to know everything as a child. I remember looking at the covers of the stacks and stacks of books my father owned and wishing deeply to know what was on the inside. I taught myself how to read better English than that taught at school and set off on a journey to find the things my mind was hungry for.

I don’t remember many of the books I read as I child because I don’t think I need to. Those words, those stories, those ideas, journeys, fantasies are written on the inside of my skin and I take them with me wherever I go. So when you ask me about I about a book I own I might not always be able to give you an insightful answer. But I know that if you stare deeply into my eyes you’d see a page being turned each time I blink. I become my books.

There are only two things I believe I can do well enough to make the world a better place. One is being myself and the other is to Think. Thinking requires that all other things be put aside to focus on the Mind and I believe that every society needs those who do the Thinking. Thinking doesn’t produce many tangible results, and when ideas are your end-product the shelves in the shop will remain empty. The highest payment a Thinker receives is a remark like: “I’ve never thought of it like that”, when offering a new point of view. To apprehend an idea, however old or new it might be, is the work of those who are willing to be quiet, keep still and send homing pigeons into the realm of Mind.

I don’t need much to do my work well. Give me book, a comfy seat, a pen and paper and good window to stare through and it’s another productive day at the office.

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How I Created The Life of My Dreams

There are some areas of my life that remain a work in progress, but for the most part I’m living my dream. Through trail and error and a lot of reading and experimenting I have come to learn a few things that have made my journey much easier. Here is what I have learnt during my journey

Know what you want.

I know that one seems too obvious and everyone has heard that before, but it took me almost 40 years to finally admit that writing is where I belong. As soon as I did doors were flung open that I could not have entered otherwise. Knowing what you want is so powerful that I think the +- 40 years I spent fumbling about was not a waste of time but a huge boost in the right direction.

Commit to yourself first.

As a woman and a mother it is accepted that I would always put others ahead of myself, but I have learnt that the best thing I can do for those I love is to love myself first. In this context it means not shelving my dreams, plans and desires for my own life in order to make room for someone else’s. I’m a far more pleasant person to deal with when I prioritise all the things that keep me happy.

Dreams are built one brick at a time.

What has tripped me up in the past has been the idea that success should come quickly or else it might never arrive. I now realise that there is something big or small (but mostly small) that I can do every day to build my dream. Failure to do the little that is required right now is tantamount to self-sabotage.

Dream as big as you want, and then LET GO.

This is the single biggest lesson I have ever learnt. As a driven, determined, self-reliant woman I always wanted to control every step of making my life as I envision it to be. I am learning now that knowing what you want and being steadfast in that while doing what you can is all the effort you need. The quicker you can set a dream free the quicker it will materialise.

Every opportunity to doubt is an opportunity to increase in belief.

Nothing in life is all sun-shine and roses, but your private world – the world as you experience it –  is shaped by the spirit in which you act. There inevitably will be things that don’t work out and days where all efforts seem futile (yesterday was such a day for me) and doubting seems the only logical response. I have learnt that doubt is a habit like any other. It’s a habit that we cling to because we believe fear and worry are sensible. To be doubtful but take no action is just plain dumb. Yes! If you truly are concerned about something just take action instead of sitting around worrying. Acting will already remove most doubt and worry. And any successful outcome that flows from your action will increase your belief in your ability to deal with your life.

All battles are lost or won in the Mind first.

Having a strong mind just makes life so much easier. I have learnt that my Mind can only produce fruits based on what I feed it. In general I think we are much to nonchalant about what we expose our awareness to. Whether it is the right entertainment, the right people, constructive thoughts or even the right food, the mind is too precious to be negligent with. I refuse to let any random thing sully the mind I have been working on to strengthen for all these years. A strong mind allows one to choose your actions consciously, to observe yourself objectively, to experience your feelings authentically to make your decisions with certainty and conviction.

I can’t say that I have the keys to a wonderful life for everyone, but these things surely have made my life much more peaceful, satisfying and purposeful. All those I believe are core requirements for the life of one’s dreams

I’ve Given Up On Life As A Non-Writer

non writerAt this point I’ve completely given up on live as a non-writer because I am finally ready to admit that I’m anything but a non-writer.

I’m a semi-recluse who needs the whole world to leave me the hell alone, so I can think and listen to the voice inside my head telling me things I’d be better off not knowing.

I can’t feel my experiences unless I write them down. I don’t know what I know until it’s shaped into words. I can’t make sense of life unless I my eyes can tell it to my mind. I don’t know how other people know their lives while it remains unshaped and unarticulated. If I don’t write I’ll end up having conversations with myself in the mirror all day. That’ll bring the crazy-police knocking at my door. Can’t have that.

I wish it didn’t hurt so much to write. I wish that I was confident enough not to want to snatch back every word I’ve ever written and return it to that place deep inside of myself where it came from.

I say fuck, shit and hell, and take the lords name in vain when I write. I know that unless I do, I won’t be writing me. So I count on those who read what I write to not be too precious about politeness and instead be more interested in feeling what I try to convey.

I don’t know if I post too often or not, use too few words, use too many words, choose the right topic or get my point across. I don’t know whether I’m too shallow, too deep, too personal or too detached. I don’t know much I just know that I cannot stop writing. I want to go back to writing in my journal and hiding everything away from the world, but it’s too late. Writing is an illness.

I’ve given up on life as a non-writer because writing leaves me no choice. I’m learning to tone down expectation and I’m learning to throw hundreds of words at unresponsive audiences.

Unresponsive is so much better than non-existent.

My Town, A Small Town

IMG_0826 My town used to be considered a barometer for white sentiment in the old South Africa. It used to be judged as being very “verkramp”, meaning bigoted, and some of its past glory still remains. But like most other things in life the view from the outside differs from what insiders see.

Being Black/Coloured in South Africa meant that we were allocated our own little portion of each town. Even if the lines that separated one portion from another were only in the imaginations and town planning maps of those who wanted it to be that way, each portion developed its own identity over the years and my town actually refers to the portion where I live.

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What stands out about my town is the two main activities my co-habitants engage in. One is religion and the other liquor. The contradiction is lost on my fellow townsmen because it has always been this way. It’s hard for the people in my town to believe that a person could choose not to drink and still have no desire to partake in any religion. I just love the way life is so cut and dried in the minds of those I live with.

My town is a place where your character is mostly determined by what your surname is. Great for those with upstanding pedigrees, crappy for those who come from less decent stock. People assume to know the content of your character, your future prospects and your status in societal hierarchy based on what they know of your family. For some it’s hard to break free from history. For others an undeserved bump-up which they struggle to live up to.

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Like most small towns we pride ourselves on our communal spirit. We are always there for each other we say; and it’s true. “There” might be as support in your time of need, or it might be in your private business. That is after all what small towns are best known for, nosy neighbours. Oh we might donate money, or time, or effort when you need us, but we will whisper about you before you’re out of earshot. Mostly because we want you to know that you have done something scandalous and gossip-worthy.

The people of my town love pretending that they just live here, but actually belong in better towns. Everyone actually belongs in Johannesburg, the City of Gold, but by some fluke of circumstance they just can’t get the dust of this horrid little place shaken off their shoes. Having left my town, lived in Johannesburg for 13 years, and had a good life there by any standard, I think a reality check is in order.

Being known in my town is like having money in the bank when living in Jo’burg. “Small-town Famous” is a term that was coined after a visit to my town, I’m sure. The assumption that everyone wants to be known gives my fellow citizens the right to question anyone in depth. The answers of which couldn’t possibly have any relevance in their day to day life, but if you want to be well-known you have to spill your guts.

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My town has long established a way to walk, to talk, to dress, to think, where to appear and when to appear there. Everyone knows what our sentiments and opinions should be, who we should side with, what our ambitions should be and how we must go about conducting our private affairs. It might be many stipulations but the answer to all of these is the same: whatever everyone else is doing.

A burning desire of those in my town is to have a big funeral. You pay for this by attending as many funerals as you can while alive. The question: “Who will attend your funeral if you don’t support the funerals of others?” is meant to strike fear into the heart of any dissident member of my community.

Those who love this burg act as if every feather on every bird flying over the town has been placed in their custody. Sometimes this custodianship extends itself to the grocery cupboards, garden implements, toolboxes, cars, and children of fellow inhabitants. Don’t be surprised if someone you barely know comes and knocks on your door at any time of day asking to use/borrow your lawnmower, mayonnaise, child (to send on an errand) or baking trays. You have very little room to refuse. Remember, you want to build up goodwill for your funeral and not be gossiped about as being stingy. Anyone living near you has unlimited emergency rides booked in your car. Please take note and act accordingly. My neighbour asked the other day what my pottering in the garden was all about. I explained it’s a food garden where I’m growing vegetables. Her response was: “Ooh great! Now I can borrow spinach from you.” Wow!

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The part I have most difficulty with in my town is the unsolicited visit. The drop-in. The head poking through the doorway. The knock when you least want to hear one. And if you don’t answer, the people of my town start calling your name. If you still don’t respond they ask your neighbour where you are. Both the unwanted visitor and neighbour might start calling your name. All that noise to force you out of your unsociable behaviour. The rule now is, always keep the dishes washed because you never know who might come to ask/lend something. Always keep the sitting room in perfect order so you can let your guest in without shame. In fact, make sure your whole house is spic and span by 11 o’clock because anyone might drop in from then on. I can do without uninvited guests; they’re the ones who stay the longest because they have nothing better to do.

My town is a gem and a soft place to fall when the big, big world stops treating us nicely. My town is a family town because most of us stem from a few core lines going back generation before generation. My town will make a space for you even when your ancestry is foreign to us, there’s always room for one more branch on the family tree.

My town is a study in the best and worst of human nature and especially its paradoxes. My town is a concentrated dose of the whole, wide world.

Don’t Be Stumped by the Obvious

Isn't it obvious?
Isn’t it obvious?

When writers aren’t lamenting the lack of readers or the meagre rewards they receive for their work, when they aren’t explaining to the world why readers and writers are superior to the rest of humanity, they’re bashing the writer who is most successful at the time and criticizing that person’s work. Right now no self-respecting writer feels complete without having a go at EL James and ripping apart her books.

I couldn’t get through the first 20 pages of the first Grey book, but clearly there were many who lapped it up and begged for more; which they got. More power to her for striking gold and grabbing the world’s ear (eye?). I now think I should read that damn book to find out what attracted so many readers, and I think that every serious writer should too.

If you have written a great work of prose or poetry that no one seems to be interested in reading your criticisms of someone else’s work comes across as chomping away on a large portion of sour grapes. In fact I think every writer who has gained more followers, gotten their work noticed or met a pressing deadline by condemning the Grey series should send EL James a royalty payment. She saved some asses.

Hell, because of her I now know that BDSM doesn’t stand for Blood Drinking Slave Masters. Horizon broadened!

All the authors who were published merely to refute or affirm other books should be eternally grateful to all that is free and unoriginal. I failed to find “Da Vinci Code” on book-racks crammed with works about it. Books either back-slapping or bitch-slapping Dan Brown and his theories.

Dan Brown made some interesting leaps and imaginative associations and that’s what writers are supposed to do. Now quit fault-finding or riding his coat-tails and make up some of your own leaps and associations and Tom Hanks might be in the movie based on your book.

Writers make shit up, learn from the ones who do it well. The flip-side of having something to say as a writer, is having something to say that readers want to know. The authors whom other writers are hating on found the golden mean. Don’t be stumped by the obvious.

I’m gonna be frank when I write a book. The title will be “Crap She Wrote” (like Murder, She Wrote). I’ll have my book released after I get a British passport because one thing is obvious to me, you have to be an English woman (JK Rowling, EL James, hello!) if you want to sell millions in a book series. I will not allow myself to be stumped by what is blindingly obvious.

And when the inevitable haters get some air-time because of my shitty book, I’ll be somewhere counting my cash.

WRITING IS PAINFUL

To write is simple, but painful. Think of lifting weights; the concept is an easy one, but difficult to execute and painful to do repeatedly. That is what writing feels like to me. It hurts.

Everything I write, especially on my blogs, originate in my heart and finds its way to my head where my mind must clothe those things in words. I am going to stick to describing them as things, because feelings they are not and they become thoughts only near the end of the whole process

Every word has a place, and though there may be several different ways to explain and describe things, my heart knows which word is the right one and only that word will do. On a good day I wake up with an opening line, a bridge (that’s what I call it) and part of a closing line. On a bad day, it’s many scrambled ideas that push for attention making me lose my train of thought.

No matter how simple or unimpressive my writing might be to whoever takes the time to read it, whatever they might think of my abilities, everything I put into words is who I am. If you could imagine taking a piece of your soul, shaping it into a word and then leaving it open to the scrutiny of the world, you would have an idea of how writing feels to me. Very melodramatic, hey? So what if I say that I cry because often I don’t want to write; I just can’t stand having to rip out another piece of myself and turning it into words? What if I say that every time I wrote a piece about a person, I carried them with me until I started the writing process; and they felt physically heavy? What if I say that to write about them, I had to stop being me for a while and become them a little bit? What if I say that things I could not possibly know are whispered into my heart and turned into words, things that eventually prove themselves true. I would be a nut, probably. So when that thing says: “You didn’t use the word I wanted you to in this sentence”, I just change it to the word it wants to shut it up.

Writing, even as I am doing it now, is painful. But writing has a reward like nothing else I have ever experienced in my life. That painful process of having to express what sits inside me, gives me a sense of accomplishment that nothing else can measure up to. I summit the Himalayas every time I hit that last full stop. And where it would seem that repeatedly taking something out of myself would deplete me, the process grows my inner territory regardless of what I write about or how many words I use. Like weight lifting, it is the tiny tear in the muscle from the strain of the weight that encourages the body to repair and make itself stronger.

So I write and by the time you read this, the pain is over and it’s been replaced by the sweet sensation of victory. And as much as I want everything I write to be favourably received, outside opinion is secondary. Going from a blank page to 500+ words in 24 minutes and getting the words exactly as they should be is the primary goal.

I am Fortunata, and I write because I must.

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