Go to sleep, brain.

I often want to blog when I’m sad, but then I almost never know what to write and, if I write anything, I’m usually quite reluctant to post it. I just want it to be articulated, so I can identify what it is and then stamp it flat and go back to being fine again.

I think it has something to do with feeling torn in half by emigration, and lonely in the sense that I want to confide in someone, but I don’t know what to say or who to speak to. I’m a bit unmoored today. Tonight. Shit, it’s late. Why am I awake?

Last year, these things would’ve reduced me to a grey saline gloop, but now I’m just a bit… numb? and that weirds me out. I’m abstractly sad, in the same way I’m abstractly excited for upcoming events and abstractly hopeful about the future and also abstractly pessimistic about everything. I feel a bit floaty and disconnected. Lack of sleep, perhaps.

I just need to get out and socialise and try not to think about how fast time goes and how nothing stays the same and everything ends. Is there a pill I can take to purge myself of sentimentality? A vaccine against homesickness? Something to patch up self-doubt and stimulate productivity and social bravery? No? Well, shit.

Oh, brain. Why do you do this?

Things will be better when the sun comes up. Positive thinking. Sunshine. Bananas. Meditation. Family. Home-cooking. Living in the moment. Lucky, lucky, lucky. Yesss. Ok. Onward.

“Ahh, shit. Life…” Homesickness, mindfulness, rumination, question marks.

My mom called me on the weekend and I didn’t return the call until days later because I was too homesick to talk to her. We chatted about it and agreed that “homesick” is not necessarily the most accurate term. It’s not just about missing home; it’s broader than that; it’s when you suddenly stop and think “Ahh, shit. Life…”, and for a moment, everything seems a little bit too much to handle. It’s the yearning for a place or a time or a feeling, an emotional “home” that maybe doesn’t even exist any more. I call it homesickness because that word captures the feelings of disconnectedness and hollowness better than any other concept I’m aware of, and because people understand it.

This morning, I felt good. I did some laundry and some totally out-of-character cooking, which was fun and successful and I even emailed Luc about it because I was very pleased with myself. I got stuck into my work for the day. I procrastinated a bit. And then I nosedived. And now I’m here. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know where I want to be. I feel like I’m at a T-junction, but I don’t have a steering wheel, so I’m just grinding my number plate against the wall, failing to go either left or right and not knowing which one I’d choose even if I was able to make a turn. I fluctuate between being able to mentally slap myself into “getting over it” and slumping back into a sludge-like despair, where I feel like I’ve made too many wrong choices and now it’s over, and I don’t even know what “it” is.

My brother recently discovered Sam Harris and sent me the link to a video that he found interesting. The timing of his email was almost spooky because of how much the video resonated with me at that particular moment. (We don’t keep in touch as much as I’d like, but my brother and I weirdly understand each other in a way that he might not be sentimental enough to admit to!) I went and found the complete Sam Harris talk and tried his mindfulness meditation technique; it aligned quite neatly with the ideas and practices I’ve been introduced to through cognitive behavioural therapy, and for a few hours I felt pretty great, like this might be a way out of my own head. Maybe I just need to practice it more, but so far… I’m failing. I’m ruminating all the time about stupid things that I can’t change. I’ve been vaguely contemplating deactivating my Facebook account because of how low I can get looking at people doing totally normal things that I barely feel capable of handling half the time (and if I’m not incapable, then I’m lacking opportunities because of other personal failings), but I know I can’t deactivate it because it’s my main source of connection to others, and if I cut off that channel I’ll probably just go further into my own head, and that’s not where I want to be.

I am fortunate in so many ways. I have a really great partner who puts up with this bullshit on a daily basis. I have a wonderful opportunity to see a part of the world far removed from the place I grew up in, and I also have the option to return to my birthplace one day, if I want to. As far as I know, I am quite healthy. Everything is fine. Except it’s not; not all the time. Why is my brain doing this? What do I do about it?

I don’t know.

Onward.

Reading (definitely) and Reviewing (maybe).

I didn’t read enough fiction during my years at university. I read all the set work (except for Ulysses), loads of classics (mostly Dickens) and, obviously, mountains of academic stuff, but I didn’t read much else, and I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Before deciding that I wanted to get into publishing, which was only about a year ago, really, I tended to be ignorant of and indifferent to the hype around new books, perfectly at ease to read whatever was readily available, the Harry Potter books being the only notable exception. (I was there with the rest of the rabid Potterheads waiting in line in the early hours of the morning for every new release.) For the last little while, in between other reads I’ve stumbled upon or had presented to me, I’ve been picking my way through books previously long- and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, not because I think the Booker is necessarily indicative of brilliance or worthiness, but because I find infinite choice to be overwhelming, and picking from this pool narrows it down a bit.

I tend to be quite selective about what I read because I’m not a fast reader. It’s something I need to work on, particularly if I want to be successful in publishing, and I am getting better at it, but still… I’m not someone who can race through a thick book in a couple of days without a significant effort. I read intensely, deliberately, carefully. I take in each. and. every. word. If I miss something, I read it again. I flip back for refreshers. I pause to ponder. It’s a slow process, and yet, mere weeks and months after finishing the books, I generally can’t remember most of those details I agonised over. When I’m very stressed out about things, I sometimes find it difficult to keep my mind latched onto the text in front of me. I’ll be reading without comprehending and then I’ll have to mentally slap myself and reread all the pages I zoned out on. Awful things for a literary enthusiast to admit, but there they are.

Given all these things and that I am trying to write a novel and that I was/am/will be trying to get into publishing, I should probably start writing reviews from time to time, because that’s what the cool bloggers do (see my friend Jess Manim’s blog for loads of YA reviews) and because I have opinions! It would be good to channel all that reading intensity into an excuse for writing practice, and it would be useful to have my recollections on record, seeing as I forget things so easily. I wouldn’t care much about these reviews being useful to anyone and I wouldn’t structure them according to accepted formats, because I’m too lazy for that; I’d basically just ramble about my impressions. I know I’m going to have a lot to say when I’m done with my current read, The City & The City, by China Miéville, and perhaps that’s a good place to start.

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So,watch this space! But don’t watch it too closely, because I’m right on the cusp of a very busy and uncertain chunk of my life and also because I sometimes (often) give up on things before I’ve even started them. I need some sort of self-slapping device attached to my head that activates whenever I doubt myself or procrastinate or needlessly fail at life. I suppose that’s sort of the point in this post; it’s a self-slapping device. If I write my intentions here, perhaps I’ll be more likely to follow them through to avoid guilt and shame in the future. Yeah… Anyway.

Onwards!

Stuff I should do for myself this year. (Totally not resolutions.)

WRITE STUFF (preferably novel stuff)

WRITE MORE STUFF (preferably more novel stuff, but any stuff, even blog stuff, is better than no stuff)

EAT MORE VEGETABLES (without being too anal about it)

EAT LESS CHOCOLATE (but not too much less)

DRINK MORE BOOZE (because I’m basically teetotalling here, and that was never my intention)

BE MORE ACTIVE (because “getting fit” is too ambitious)

SIT PROPERLY (at least sometimes, because the constant slouching, legs-on-chair business is wrecking my back)

DO MORE HOUSEWORK (maybe, because gross, but probably not)

READ MORE STUFF (than I already do, and faster)

CARE LESS (about stuff that bothers me but has no wider consequences)

CARE MORE (actively, about stuff that I should actively care more about)

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH PEOPLE (but don’t force it if there’s no reciprocation)

SWEAR LESS (but not too much less, because I fucking love swearing)

USE FEWER EXCLAMATION MARKS AND EMOTICONS (maybe)

PAINT MY NAILS SOMETIMES (because I used to enjoy that, so why not?)

POLISH MY BOOTS MORE REGULARLY (because I love my boots and I appreciate their tireless service)

WEAR MY NEGLECTED CLOTHES (instead of opting for the same jeans and t-shirts every day)

GET BETTER AT MESSAGING WITH A TOUCHSCREEN (because hop your are dong wheel)

BE MORE HONEST (mostly with myself)

DON’T PUT MYSELF LAST (because that leads to unhappiness)

DON’T PUT MYSELF FIRST (because that makes me an asshole)

DISENTANGLE MY SELF-WORTH FROM MY EMPLOYMENT AND POPULARITY AND ARTICULATENESS (because mental health depends on it)

BE AT PEACE WITH HOW I LOOK, EVEN IF MY SKIN AND HAIR AREN’T COOPERATING (but allow for lapses in the peace, because I’m a human being)

ALLOW FOR LAPSES IN EVERYTHING (because they’re inevitable)

LIKE MYSELF (because “loving” myself sounds barf-worthy, but liking myself is probably a good idea)

BE HAPPY (when I can and without forcing it)

MIND THE GAP. Beggars on the Tube.

Today I caught a District Line train. I didn’t have anywhere to go, I just needed to activate my monthly Oyster card bundle and get out of the house, so I packed my Kindle and went on a pointless tube ride. Something weird happened on that tube. It might not have seemed weird to anyone else there, but it was weird to me. There’s that prerecorded woman’s voice that informs you of upcoming stations and tells you to mind the gap. That voice came on and said “There are beggars and buskers operating on this train. Please do not encourage their presence by supporting them.” Calm, even, sanitised, as always. A neutral voice. It then proceeded to repeat the message over and over, like a stuck record. The same message also scrolled repeatedly across the LED tickers and after a while, the speaker crackled on and the train driver chimed in, warning all passengers not to part with their money.

I was taken aback. Imagine being a beggar on a moving train and having that happen while you’re in the process of asking strangers for small change. You’re already vulnerable and desperate, you can’t get off and slink away, you can’t do anything. The beggars and/or buskers weren’t on my carriage, so I couldn’t see their reactions or how they had been begging. You do get chancers, obviously – entitled kids wanting free cigarettes – but I wasn’t imagining those sorts of beggars and I couldn’t help feeling incredibly uncomfortable. It was dehumanising. Announcing it once would be awkward enough, but repeatedly forcing the message using all possible channels made it seem like there was a war going on; the commuters against the beggars.

Begging on Cape Town’s trains is common. I caught those trains to and from University for years and experienced begging in a number of forms. If you want to give, you give. If you don’t want to, or you can’t, you don’t. Most of the time, the beggars aren’t aggressive. They’re just people in need. I’ve experienced begging on the London underground only once before. The woman wasn’t disruptive or rude. She put small paper notes and packs of scented tissues on the armrests as she made her way down the carriage. The notes explained her situation and asked anyone who was willing to help her to buy the tissues. Then she walked back up the carriage, collecting the things and trading some of the tissues for small change as she went. I was imagining her when that announcement started looping.

Of course there’s another side to this story, and of course these things can get out of hand and become a problem, and of course I understand all of that, but the experience left me feeling a bit cold nonetheless, and the iconic phrase “MIND THE GAP” took on a new meaning.

[Also posted on The Uncooperative Umbrella.]

Weekend Revelations: Holy shit, I’m in London.

My weekend was quite special. I was the ridiculously fortunate recipient of a ticket to a Summer Stampede outdoor music festival at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (thank you, Kasha!), headlined by Mumford & Sons, with five other great acts (Vampire Weekend, Ben Howard, Edward Sharp & the Magnetic Zeros, Haim, and Bear’s Den) performing under the sunniest skies I’ve ever experienced in London. As the sun started to set on the crowd of 60,000 people listening to the music, I looked up at the sky and it was all pretty and there was an plane flying over (there’s always a plane flying over) and I thought “Holy shit, I’m in London”. It was more than that though. This is sort of what I was thinking:

I am a 25-year-old living, breathing, sentient meat blob, one of billions living on this spinning rock, and there are big things going on; terrible things, wonderful things… I’ve been quite absorbed in feelings of guilt and shame and failure because of my inability to find a job quickly and easily, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my past and how much potential I used to believe I had and how much I feel like I’ve been letting myself and everyone else down and where I should’ve been by now and what people think about me. Blah blah and blah. Here are the facts. The world is massive and amazing. I am small, and my problems are even smaller. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I’m one of the extreme minority of people who can have no job, but still have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a lot of luxuries that other people don’t have. I’m part of a massive, energetic crowd of people at a music festival, with a great friend on a beautiful day. I just ate some pizza. I have a partner who I love to bits and who loves me back, even when I fall sideways off the tracks. I am so, so lucky. And I’m in London.

HOLY SHIT. I’m in London.

Hufflepuff!

The following post might seem childish to anyone who isn’t a Harry Potter fan. To them I say: I don’t care and you’re wrong!

This is very old news, but it’s relevant to something in the present, so here it is: The official Pottermore website sorted me into Hufflepuff. I sort of secretly wanted to be a Ravenclaw because I’ve always been a thinky, bookish, academic sort of person, and the lasting (though very simplistic) impression I had of Ravenclaw was that it’s a house made up of thinky, bookish, academic sort of people, while Hufflepuff, well… isn’t. However, upon reading my welcome message, specially written by JK Rowling, I felt completely convinced that Hufflepuff was the house I wanted to be associated with. Her description of the common room was so appealing that it almost brought tears to my eyes and the principles that Hufflepuff seems to represent are things that I honestly wish to make central to my life; not as a result of being sorted into Hufflepuff, of course, but because they’re things that I’ve always known are important; more important than pride, more important than ambition*, more important than victory.

The Hufflepuff qualities that stand out the most for me are tenacity, humility and honesty. There is also a strong undercurrent of humour and decency, with an immovable strength when it comes to the defense and upholding of ideas and principles that should never be compromised. This is my brief interpretation of the core Hufflepuff ideology and I’m sticking with it.

Why is this relevant now? Well, in my last post I wrote a bit about how I’ve been feeling bleak, and today I was looking through some of the pictures we took on the amazing Harry Potter studio tour, and I had an idea. Back in my primary school days, a lot of Christian kids used to wear those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bangles. My idea is sort of like that, except a hundred times better and doesn’t involve any religion or tacky accessories. It’s very simple. Whenever I’m feeling like a total sack of shit, I’m going to try to remember to ask myself: ‘What would a Hufflepuff do?’ and I’m pretty sure the answer will never be ‘give up trying and stay in bed wearing yesterday’s t-shirt’. It probably won’t work most of the time,  but it definitely motivated me to stop moping this morning and to get some shit done. JK Rowling suffered from depression and endured poverty and she still managed to churn out one of the most wonderful and influential stories of our time, and I owe it to her to try harder, dammit!

So there we go. I’m a Hufflepuff and I’m going to try to take that a little bit more seriously from now on. The fact that I’m 25 years old is completely irrelevant. Don’t you dare laugh. My generation includes the original Harry Potter fans. We stood in the lines in the early hours of the morning waiting for the book releases and we grew up alongside the characters. You don’t just stop being a Harry Potter fan when you reach adulthood. (Not that I’ve reached adulthood or anything. When does one actually reach adulthood, anyway…?)

As a side note, I never liked the colour yellow before because I assumed that my pasty complexion would make me look terrible wearing it. My favourite colours are green and blue. That said, I dressed up in the Hufflepuff colours for the studio tour, and I think I pulled it off.

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To end the post, here’s a picture of me standing front of the Hufflepuff house table in the Great Hall, because that happened and it was totally awesome.

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*the unhealthy sort

Dysmenorrhea in the Krasarang Wilds

Apart from some very lovely evenings spent with my dear friend Kasha, my life over the last week has consisted of working, sleeping, and playing World of Warcraft. (The expansion only came out last week, ok?!) Because of this, a lot of my brainfarting blogging might be WoW-related until the expansion-excitement settles down. You have been warned.

I was off work sick yesterday. When I say sick, I mean crippled by the worst period pain in history. Yes, I just went there. This particular case came with a generous side-helping of nausea and a feeling of general wobbly, washed-out weakness. Not wonderful. After taking some ibuprofen (which failed to help), I got into the foetal position and tried to sleep it off… but I wasn’t tired, and I was bored in bed, and I needed something to distract me from my misery so, you guessed it, I got up and played World of Warcraft instead, occasionally almost falling off my chair and dying after being seized by a uterus-ripping cramp-spasm of doom. Yes, I just went there again.

World of Warcraft proved to be an effective distraction. It was my first time exploring Pandaria alone (I went in with my fierce dwarven shaman, Myriel) and it was lovely. Because of the ongoing construction work in the flat above ours, I used my little pink headset with the volume cranked up nice and loud and proceeded to conquer the Jade Forest (again) and then venture into the Krasarang Wilds for the first time. After a little collection of quests involving a village of sad pandas in the north east of the zone, the story led me into the jungle and it wasn’t long before I had decided that the Krasarang wilds is one of my new favourite zones in terms of the visuals, the music, and the ambience.

Unless I know there’s going to be a lot of important spoken dialogue, I generally adjust my game sound so that the music and ambience are considerably louder than the “sound” setting (which includes explosions, aggro noises, grunts of pain etc.). I find that this allows me to become more immersed in the game. I disable music whenever it ever becomes overbearing or repetitive, but I never disable ambience. Ambience is really important and I don’t think it gets enough credit for what it contributes to virtual spaces.

A tinkling sound, magical, like glass wind chimes caught on a breeze, echoing between dark trees and across still waters… I. Want. To. Be. There. Now. Despite the tigers, despite the snakes, despite the Mogu lurking in the ruins. Meh. I need to get out and do more awesome stuff in the real world, because my boring office life really doesn’t have a patch on Azeroth at the moment and that makes me sad. Not that I’d be capable of real jungle adventures right now. It would be pretty shit, actually. I’d just curl up in the middle of a clearing and wait for the jungle cats to dismember me. What am I on about? I don’t even know. My brain is addled. ADDLED. (And shut up about time-of-the-month stereotypes. I go crazy at all times of the month.) Note to self: go for a walk in the mountains this weekend.

In other news… oh wait. I don’t have any other news. (“Other” implying that what I just wrote qualifies as news. Which it doesn’t. God.) Actually there’s loads I could write about, but I’m too lazy and I still feel like somebody is punching me in the ovaries (and the brain). My diet of chocolate and hot chocolate and digestive biscuits covered in chocolate is the only thing keeping me semi-functional at work today. Without all that, I’d be under my desk, getting the carpet imprinted onto my face.

Um. Ok bye.

Change.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately, and I tried to write a(nother) blog post about it, but it was shit, so I didn’t post it. Then I remembered that I had a whole brainfart about change in the “novel” I wrote for my MA. So… I’m posting that little extract instead. Context free.

***

I’m thinking about the world and about everything: big thoughts, like my mind is this giant, pulsating creeper plant, sending out runners, curling through the soil and through the sky, trying to touch everything and wind itself around everything. Trying to absorb everything. I can’t seem to reign it in. My fingers fiddle with my necklace. I made it myself. It’s a chipped blue and green glass bead on a thin wax cord.

Change is the weirdest thing for me because suddenly everything becomes meaningful. Earlier today, I ran my fingers over the oily marks on my bedroom wall from the Prestick that used to hold up my map of the world. It was there so long that the paint that was underneath it is slightly darker, slightly cleaner than the paint around it. A rectangular void with an oily spot in each corner; evidence that I was there. Fingerprints on the window panes, scuff marks on the kitchen floor, the crusty wax stain on the carpet from an unwatched candle melting over, years and years ago. When we first moved into the house, I found a few girly stickers inside the door of my built-in closet; a fairy and a butterfly and a ladybug on a daisy. I remember scratching them off and getting my mother to clean away the sticky marks with a strong detergent. It was my room and I didn’t want someone else’s memories lurking in it. I scrubbed that girl out as best I could and the room became mine.

Perhaps the next inhabitant would paint over my Prestick marks, change the carpet. Perhaps the room would be a study and nobody would dream in there or wake up looking at the notches in the wooden ceiling and seeing the notches look back at them with a hundred faces. Perhaps there would be another fire and the house wouldn’t be saved again and all the notch-faces on the ceiling would turn to ash and the paint would peel off the walls and the carpet would burn away completely…

“What are you thinking about?” Jason asks.

“Everything,” I say. “Change is weird. Don’t you think?”

He nods.

“Everything is weird, actually,” he says, and I know exactly what he means.

An apple and a gorilla.

Change is strange, I think, walking brick by brick between the cars as the leaves tumble and scuttle in the warm wind and I understand why some call it “Fall”. Something new almost never comes without the departure of something old, and sometimes the two pieces don’t match up. Often, the process leaves a big hole with a small plug and all sorts of things drain out around the sides. It’s not like that this time. It’s not the reverse either. This time, it’s not the switching of plugs, but the switching of two things that can’t be compared. An apple and a gorilla. A toenail-clipping and the sound of thunder.

The gorilla and I are starting to understand each other, but sometimes he throws mud at me, and when I ask him why, he doesn’t have an answer. We’ll get there.