Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: writing (Page 1 of 12)

White

It has been a hard and ugly time out there. Racists like Matthew Theunissen and his defenders make it challenging for lesser known racists and polite bigots to get away with their usual anxious whine, asking someone (read black someone) to tell them what it is they need to do to fix things and to make up for their lives of white privilege. I have watched and listened on social media, our single ‘independent’ option of talk radio in the Cape, Cape Talk, and in comments and on blogs, how white people have started tying themselves in over complicated knots trying to work this stuff out. It is hard. It is hard and sometimes even paralysing. Nobody knows what to do or say, or write, without sounding like something they aren’t, or don’t mean. And it is tiring, thinking about this stuff all the time, and trying to work it out, and trying to find one’s place on the spectrum of racism, because it is virtually impossible to be a white South African and not have a smallanyana white racist skeleton in our cupboards.  These skeletons can be anything, like me not opening my mouth when witnessing an undercurrent of ignorant race shaming while facilitating a workshop, because it was ‘not my place’ to, to walking past when a white employer spoke to his employee in public as if he were a retard. Yes, these moments count.

I am on a steep learning curve about my own racism. I have to check in daily with what I grew up believing, how it manifests in my impulse behaviour, and the conscious effort I must make to be different. This makes me a racist. I was once hurt when I proudly announced that learning to speak isiXhosa had changed my place in my world (even though that is true) and someone pointed out that my pride was an arrogant, ill gotten pride; one that could be equated to the charity-giver mentality of many subtle racists out there. Think of the Lindt cake giver. It was true. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but one I needed to swallow in order to become more self aware. It is fair to say that isiXhosa speakers are utterly delighted when I make an effort to communicate in isiXhosa and are overwhelmingly helpful and generous with me and my efforts, but does this not reinforce the status quo that I am a rare and wonderful thing; a white person trying to learn another of the official languages?

And here’s the thing. There is so much that is heartbreaking and hellish and agonising about the process of learning how to un-racist your life and your deep inner self. But, it is never ever as heartbreaking and hellish and agonising as being on the receiving end of racism, daily, in big and small ways, in ways that cannot be explained or articulated. This is why it is such a grave offence to ask what black people want you to do.

White people (and please hear me when I say that that includes me) are loud at making their opinions heard. This, I am certain, is a left over from being the voice of authority. Even ‘woke’ whites are very comfortable with expressing themselves, in blogs (yes, the irony is totally noted here) and in phone-ins with talk show hosts, and letters to the editor, and in the comments section, and on those absolutely dangerous Facebook status updates. I have been in rooms, running workshops, where a white person has comfortably uttered the words, “Apartheid is over, get over it.”, to black people who remain brain numbingly silent. Honestly, how do they even begin? So, when there are blanket statements made about whites I sometimes do gasp, before going back to breathing, because of course there are those opinions, constantly reinforced by whites. And if there is only one thing I have learned it is to separate out what I need to take personally and what I am comfortable with saying, no, that isn’t me.

I know too, that writing this piece is its own special brand of navel gazing. I have been unable to write anything for a while now because this stuff has made me writing stuck. This is not writer’s block, when there are no ideas, but writer’s paralysis, where my many ideas seem irrelevant and trivial. it also means that I am deeply critical of others and their opinions, which in turn makes it difficult to express myself unselfconsciously.

A light in my tunnel at the moment is Eusebius McKaiser‘s Run Racist Run. It is a collection of essays, deeply personal, ideological, philosophical and intelligent, all about journeying to the heart of racism. He is very clever. He is able to put all of this hard stuff into gorgeous writing. He is able to make a rational argument for the racist in every white person, without us feeling personally attacked. This is huge. I am only half way through, but the biggest re-affirmation I am getting is that we white people need to stop making a noise and start listening. Proper listening. Not waiting for our turn to speak. We have had that, in spades. “The first test of one’s commitment to be in dialogue with someone else is an ability and willingness to hear them, truly, as opposed to simply waiting to speak and tell them they are wrong.” This is the first huge step in resisting the desire to tell people what to do, feel and say. Hard, especially for super opinionated me.

I am grateful to Eusebius, who doesn’t let me off the hook, and probes the deep recesses of my consciousness, helping me explore my self. I have moved and shifted, from being a loud libtard (what a word) to a more introspective, on the spectrum but aware, recovering (I hope) racist. The biggest shift and the hardest work is going to be in the listening, and listening, and listening.

Like a Friendship

12108727_10153223922241008_7465013988944086042_nComing back here after a long absence is like picking up the phone to call a close friend after weeks of busy stuff has gotten in the way. I have missed being here, and I miss the particular headspace of writing my thoughts out and then sending them into the very public ethers.

I think what happens is that sometimes there is a natural flow between the kinds of writing I am doing and my blog, and sometimes there is a complete disconnect when I am engrossed in a particular writing project (like finishing my screenplay for example, yes, yes I finished a screenplay, and I am very excited). Mostly the writing on my blog reflects where I am in my other writing, and right now I am in a writing hiatus. I have three very strong ideas and only one committed to index cards. I am going to have to ramp it up a notch and start doing the words of it very, very soon.

So I distract myself with everything else that is not actual writing. Yes, there is other stuff, like directing the brand new (and very funny) Violet Online Rebooted (Love Me Tinder) which opens on 18 April, and working with some gorgeous AFDA honours students on a show.

I am in that interesting, illusive, in between world that is before committing and still dreaming and terribly frustrating, where brilliant ideas come to me while I am driving, or sleeping, or feeding the dogs, and they aren’t put down or remembered. Sometimes only the feeling of the idea remains, without anything to attach it to, and sometimes a character appears, fully formed, with absolutely nothing to do.

And I can do really, is wait. But I have decided to keep in practice here.

Too Much For You

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 5.44.37 AMArnold waited for the splashing, sloshing sounds to die down. His mother always fell asleep in the bath and he wanted to be confident she was out of it before he started. The Stilnox he had thrown into her glass of red box-wine had helped, and speeded it up.

He listened. Nothing except the rhythmic barking of Rex, locked outside and settling in to his single barked shout every two seconds. This would later be punctuated by the ‘shut the fuck up’ from Stan next door. The evening sounds of Queen Street.

Arnold turned on his computer. The light in his bedroom changed, swirling with the blues of start up. He typed in his password, wishing he had wiped his hands first; the Steers barbecue sauce he had smothered his chips with had made his fingers sticky and they spread over the letters, making his password wrong three times before finally getting it right. He went straight to his internet browser and straight to google.

He had everything ready. Slowly, he typed Russian Bride into the search box. The first one that came up was highlighted purple. That was the one he had been to before. Good. He clicked. Yes, that looked familiar. Now to find her.

The pictures of the sexy blonde girls had changed. “Your Russian Doll” wasn’t third from the left in the top row anymore. Arnold panicked. He had already made his choice. He didn’t want to have to start all over again. No, wait, there she was. He had just miscounted.

He clicked on her image. He remembered now. Belarus Beauty. Was Belarus even in Russia?, he thought. He read through her profile again. The funny feeling in his tummy started. It spread to his crotch and down his legs.

He clicked onto the order form. He remembered it too. He remembered where he had to type in everything. He only stopped once, to take his mother’s credit card out of his back pocket. He had to stand up to get it, and he almost knocked his Coke onto the keyboard. Imagine if that had happened, he thought.

He was ordering a whole person in the post. A mail order bride. How would she come? In a box? He typed in the credit card details, wondering what dollars would be in Rands. He was good at maths. It was quite a lot, he thought. But, was it too much for you, Belarus Beauty?

He came to his personal details. He knew that this was the one lie he would need to type. Instead of his real age, twelve, he typed twenty four. Double he thought. But not too much for you.

PS. This is the third tandem blog post in the series. 7 writers have all written on the same topic. To check out the next one, go to Ashley Visagie http://www.madeformore.co.za/2016/02/23/too-much-for-you/

The Imagined Child – my review of an audiobook

I have just finished listening to my first audiobook ever, and I am so lucky it was such an extraordinary introduction to the medium. I am an avid and fast reader, so an audiobook did seem like it was going to be a bit tedious. I was so totally wrong.

Audioshelf has produced The Imagined Child, written by Jo-Anne Richards and narrated by Terry Lloyd-Roberts, and it is a wonderful, intense and rich production. I couldn’t stop listening, and had to stop doing other stuff instead (I am a poor multi-tasker).

The Imagined Child tells the story of Odette, who at the start of the book has just relocated to a tiny town Nagelaten in the Free State from Johannesburg. We get to know her state of mind, and more about the town from her daily reflections and weekly trips back to Johannesburg, for therapy and for work; she writes for a local soap opera.

The story is told in first person via Odette’s reluctant journal entries, and in third person in the body of the story.  Odette is an edgy, blunt and difficult protagonist, who helps weave an intricate tale of failed relationships, children, South African politics, small town characters and conflicts, deep dark secrets, all while keeping Johannesburg totally alive and contemporary.

It is set just before the 2010 world cup, giving an amazing tapestry of South Africa to play on.

There is so much that is rich and layered about this book, with keen observations, detailed characters who manage to avoid the usual stereotyping, and an astounding and complicated personal story that left me reeling and in tatters at the very end. I went through the gamut of emotions; from irritation to being deeply moved, and even laughing out loud at some of the typical South Africanisms dotted through the narrative.

What made it even more haunting, intimate and stirring was having it read to me by Terry Lloyd-Roberts. Her voice is such a pleasure to listen to, and it adds colour, texture and integrity to the experience.

The Imagined Child is a deeply original, truly South African personal odyssey and it will stay with me for a very long time. I am so glad I listened to it.

To listen to a snippet go here http://audioshelf.co.za/shop/product/the-imagined-child/

Oh, and watch this space. My own audiobook of Green Margie and The Starlight, read by me will be available on Audioshelf very soon.

The Missing Voice

the_missing_voice_by_jax102-d6272d4This post is my first in this series of tandem blog posts with other bloggers. Brett Anderson gave seven of us this title about a week ago, and I have had a million distracting ideas about stories I wanted to write, moments I thought could be this post, things that happened to me that reminded me of the title (including losing my voice at a strange moment), but all of this has been my way of avoiding a deeply personal/political conversation I want to try and articulate here. I want to write about The Missing Voice in South Africa – How Blame has taken the space of Accountability. So, here goes.

One thing I have learned when running improv workshops in the corporate environment, with school kids or other learners, or even just with ordinary folk, is how difficult it is for people to say the words “it’s my fault”. There is a silly warm-up game called that, where people throw a plastic bottle around and if the bottle hits the floor the thrower and person who missed the catch have to lie down and shout “it’s my fault” before getting up and continuing the game. It is a no-risk, no-consequence game and still, people choke up. They struggle to say it. Into that gap comes everybody else, pointing fingers of blame and completely at ease with shouting, “Lie down. Say it. It’s your fault”. We always spend ages analysing this game after we play it. It’s ridiculous.

We live in a culture of blame. Social media is full of it; designed for it. We blame everything on everybody. It’s Kanye’s fault. It’s the Oscars. It’s Tim Noakes’ fault we thought he wanted that mother to feed her baby animal fat. It’s the plastic surgeons’ fault that people who have multiple plastic surgeries look like freaks. On Twitter you can play the blame game in 140 characters.

Our politicians (all politicians, regardless of party) deny all, blame all, point fingers, accuse. It is unheard of for anyone, ever to say “It’s my fault. I did it. I take responsibility.” I am amazed at how many committees, investigations, inquiries, commissions and reports have to be established, held, postponed and then appealed before someone is forced to be found guilty, responsible, accountable. Apologies always come only after there is total, undeniable proof that cannot be gotten away from. Apologies that look like last ditch excuses because there is nobody else on the list left to blame.

There are holocaust denialists, apartheid denialists, rape denialists, murder denialists. There are corporate denialists and NGO denialists. It is vile. And it is dangerous and immature and self-serving and time wasting. Everybody needs to get out of the terrible habit of defaulting to “it wasn’t me!”

Media is as foul a culprit as the politicians it reports on, particularly when they get it glaringly, horribly wrong. They are almost unable to say so. Take this latest M&G joke of a lead story ‘accusing’ Mmusi Maimane of taking president lessons from FW de Klerk. It’s moronic. And yet it was defended so passionately by the editor. Why? Because she was utterly incapable of saying, “I made a horrible mistake.”

We witnessed some of the worst of this behaviour from Oscar Pistorius. At every step of his miserable and pathetic journey he looked for a way to absolve himself from all blame and responsibility. Instead he had a list of people he blamed. And the rest of South Africa bayed for his blood, screaming from the rooftops, “it’s him, he did it, he is to blame”, instead of acknowledging, or taking responsibility for, the monster we had all created; the hero/cripple who, because he was able to get away with other crimes so regularly, thought it would be possible, and likely he would get away with murder.

Our president is another example. He has been accused of so much, and is so used to getting away with things just by saying, “it wasn’t me,” or “I didn’t do it”, from being accused of rape and corruption in the arms deal before he even took office, to the legendary (and ongoing) Nkandla debacle, the unforgivable Marikana massacre, and the “it-wasn’t-the-reason-the-economy-plummeted” excuse for his terrible finance minister replacement scandal. This man seems to have never taken responsibility for anything, ever.

There is another terrible cousin to the “it wasn’t me” cry, that follows its heels, showing off its snotty nose and its bloody wounds to anyone who looks. It is the voice of offended victim. This is a cultivated voice. This is a different voice from the genuine victim. This is the voice of the Israeli government making the excuses for killing an unarmed granny, or defenceless children because of the threat they posed. This is the voice of offended whites who complain that they are being discriminated against and can’t get jobs. This is the voice of corporations whose profit margins decrease and are then ‘forced’ to pay people less than a living wage. And this voice can only exist in the world where blame is the currency and accountability is avoided at all cost.

We have to get used to the sound of our own voices owning up, taking responsibility, being accountable. We have to start this ourselves. It is hard. We need to be brave. We need to shift. It is the missing voice.

There are eight fantastic writers all writing on this topic this week. I am sure each post will be totally, outrageously different. Check out Trevor Black   swartdonkey.blogspot.com/ for his, and then he will have a link to the next person. Read as many as you can, and let us know what you think.

Where the Revolution Should Start

I went with friends to Kirstenbosch today, to see The Soil, and I came home and wrote a poem. The poem doesn’t really say how amazing The Soil are (totally, unbelievably amazing) but it is a follow on response to last year’s post after they played at Kirstenbosch last year. Here it is.

Where the Revolution Should Start

When there is a revolution let it start

At a The Soil concert

At Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Let it start as the people

In  their gorgeousnessandhighheels

With cooler boxes stuffed

And sun block and sun hats and lip gloss

And mirror shades

And torn jeans and huge gold bling

And shweshwe skirts and loose fitting pants

All arrive to take over the space

And the sun-red tourists

And old people in comfortable shoes and walking sticks

And parents pushing sleepy babies in complicated prams

Scurry from what has been a silent, almost holy white place

When the revolution starts let it be

As the gates open and we rush in to grab our spot

On the manicured lawn in the tiniest section

Of blessed shade because kushushu, I’m telling you

When it starts let it be

As we wait and check out our new neighbours

Even the ones who stand on our blankets

Spread tight and wide as possible

To hold our bodies.

Let it start as we cluck in disapproval

At that one, too much make up, and that

A white woman with a big doek on her head

And that one, it hasn’t started and already so drunk.

When there is a revolution let it start

As people turn in their spots

And see a sea of faces, a sea, and it’s there

Where black seas are foreign and white faces,

Like small sails, dot the ocean.

Let the revolution start in our bodies

As we jump up to dance

And pata pata ourselves, showing where we

Want to be touched

Even though it is our hearts, our hearts on the inside

That are being touched, squeezed, shaken, awoken

When the revolution starts let it start

With everyone who is there

Whose intention is shared

And where everybody is singing that same song

When the revolution starts

Let it be in the spontaneous singing

And the staying and holding

And dancing and loving

And owning, yes owning

That place.

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