As of Monday this week, I have been in London for six months. It has gone astoundingly fast and astonishingly slowly at the same time. This is how change works. If I found myself in my family’s living room this evening, sitting on the couch, watching TV, eating bobotie and drinking red wine, with my mom, dad, brother, grandfather and fluffy old cat somewhere in the scene, I don’t think it would be hard to imagine that this entire London episode has been nothing but a strange dream. And yet… I heard that Sun Valley mall got knocked down a few months back. I know my mom swapped the contents of two rooms in the house after I left. People must have longer hair by now, or new haircuts. How much can a person age in six months? I still picture everything as it was, but how many things (little things and big things, insignificant things and important things) have changed? Would I be able to assemble all the old friends in the old places and have everything be as it was before I left? I doubt it. Am I the same as I was? I think I am, mostly, but with additions. And subtractions.
When I am asked anything about my life in South Africa by Londoners, I find myself feeling as though I’m speaking about something I’ve made up. It’s already abstract. If I want to, I can imagine myself walking up and down the aisles in the old local shopping centres; I can mentally go through the contents of the bottom drawer that used to stand beside my bed, or following the route from Fish Hoek, over the mountain, all the way to UCT and then walk around the Arts Block where I spent most of my days as a student; I remember the feel and function of each door handle in my old house… But when I think of my life in South Africa as a whole, it dissipates; it’s like trying to nail down a ghost. And it terrifies me to realise that this is only going to get worse. Or better? I acknowledge that in many ways, forgetting is healthy. This is a lesson I’ve learned well. I don’t keep old emails, chat logs or text messages from other people, because reading people’s words from the past bring them right back into the present, and that’s not always a good thing. I only make an exception for some special sentimental correspondence that is unambiguously positive. I generally prefer impressions to persist alone, open to remoulding and natural evolution without the influence of the unchanging pieces that originally created them. But does this lesson even apply here? I don’t know.
Do I miss South Africa?
It’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. I miss my family. The fact that I haven’t seen them since April has been very difficult. I have a close-knit family, and sometimes, realising how far away they are seems to take all the air out of the room and make me feel quite dizzy and sick. I miss my friends and the easy, casual comfort of a social circle I worked myself into over many years. I’m not good at making friends and I’m terrified I’ll never have a circle like that again. I miss being a local; having my accent blend in and knowing all the details that locals know about the place where they’ve grown up. I miss the cultures and the languages and the geography and the climate and all of those things too, but they’re less pressing. And there are lots of things I don’t miss at all. I can live without South Africa because I feel like I’m lugging chunks of it around with me all the time anyway. I don’t yet know if I can live without some of the people I’ve left behind. Time will tell. Life goes on in my absence; events are going to happen that I want to be a part of, but I can’t. And my parents are going to get old. And people I know and love are going to get sick, and die, and I might not be there. It makes me feel cold. Nobody said it would be easy, and I can confirm that it fucking isn’t.
What is the best thing about being in London?
It’s London! It’s amazing. So much to do and see, so much history, so many beautiful buildings and parks, so much happening. In practical terms, the public transport is right up at the top of the list of awesome things about London. The feeling of freedom (at least within zones 1 to 3 covered by my Oyster card) is fantastic and I love not having to drive. The obligation to drive was an enormous source of stress and fear for me in Cape Town and it’s wonderful having that out of my life. Also, there’s something exciting about the tubes… When I’m not in auto-commuter mode and I actually flick my brain on and think about it, I feel incredibly inspired and proud and amazed by the whole business. I’m in London, under the ground, hurtling down a tunnel in a metal tube with hundreds of other people, people from everywhere, going places… There is history in these filthy tunnels, and you can see it and feel it (and smell it). Humanity in transit, humanity on the move, humanity at its most interesting. I won’t go into my occasional experiences of tube rage, because it would totally spoil the tone of this paragraph. *ahem*
What aspect of the immigration has been the most difficult?
My first instinct is to say ‘homesickness’, but in all honesty I think ‘unemployment’ has been just as difficult. The internship has eased the feelings of uselessness, idleness and frustration at a lack of personal enrichment, but having no income is a massive pain in the bum. If I had an income, I could plan regular trips to visit my family, which would ease the homesickness considerably, but I can’t. Luc’s income is paying off emigration debts, feeding us, clothing us, putting the roof over our heads and even allowing for some luxuries (including a nice pair of boots to get me through the winter), so of course it could be far, far worse, but without me earning, we can rarely experience anything in London that comes with a fee, at least not without a healthy side-portion of guilt and stress; and we can’t leave London at all. I’m eager to explore the rest of England (and the UK, Europe, and the world, for that matter), but it will all just have to wait. My impatience gets me down from time to time, but I just need to keep reminding myself about how lucky I am to be here at all. These are all experiences worth having, even if they’re not exactly the ones I planned to have.
Am I happy?
Yes, overall. I’m not always happy, but who can honestly say they are? I have bad days and sad days and days where I wake up thinking up I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life and I want to go home immediately, but most of the time I’m happy and excited for the future. My relationship with Luc is as good as it ever was. He deserves a trophy for his patience with me, and his willingness to put up with my emotional volatility when he’s going through the same adjustments as I am, but with such calm and control. I tell him everything and we’re the best of friends and I would never have been able to do this without him (emotionally or practically).
What’s the plan?
Apply for more publishing (or literary agency) internships. Get more publishing (or literary agency) internships. Get a good CV and develop my skills. Become extremely employable. Get a job (in publishing or at a literary agency). Win at life. (?) That’s it, basically. I’ve chosen an extremely competitive job within an extremely competitive industry in an extremely competitive city. I don’t know what the timeline is here. Sometimes I fear it’s too long and I won’t be able to hold myself together (financially or mentally) until I manage to find work. I know that many other people looking for the jobs I’m after have done multiple internships and have much more experience than I do (and also usually happen to be a few years younger than me because they didn’t spend two years doing an MA in creative writing and another year copywriting and another chunk of a year sitting at home, jobless and internshipless, bawling their eyes out) so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It stresses me out and gets me down sometimes, but all I can really do is keep plodding on and hoping that someone, somewhere will give me a chance to prove myself. I’m trying to stay calm. It doesn’t always work, but I’m trying. That’s the career plan. As for the everything-else plan? Well, most of it hinges on the career plan working out. Watch this space.
Then there’s writing. I went to another creative writing workshop on Monday (the first since starting my internship in September) and it was good! I feel inspired and I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been struggling to find the energy to write as much as I’d like to lately, and this has made me incredibly frustrated with myself. I don’t have an excuse. I just need to get my shit together and make it happen. I’m hoping that NaNoWriMo will be the motivation I need to end the writing slump. I’ve been reading so many amazing books lately, and the desire to write something that I’m at least half proud of has become incredibly intense. I have so many ideas for my WIP, I just need to get them into my laptop and mangle them until they make sense!
I thought I had a grand and poetic point to make in this post, but it turns out I don’t, so I’ll just leave it there and add ‘blog more’ to my ever-growing list of things I should do.
Love to everyone, near and far.
(All pictures are from my Instagram.)