Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: writing (Page 1 of 13)

The Woman Next Door

I have broken a reading dry spell by devouring The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso in just under a week.

This extraordinary novel is set in a terribly familiar Cape Town, but its angle on the issues of land restitution, racism, culture and aging are so original and thought provoking I will never think about these things in the old way again.

The protagonists are two old ladies, next door neighbours, who live in a sheltered, gated community in Constantia. They hate each other vehemently, but are forced, by circumstances both beyond and in their control to negotiate a relationship.

Through their backstories we get to know each of them and their secrets, lies, and special shames, and then they are brought forward and thrown together, exposing their relationship to a post-Apartheid Cape Town that challenges them in different ways.

I think that there is something so brave in choosing two eighty year olds to be the leads in a story. It is a high risk that pays off though. I was drawn into Hortensia’s stuck ways, and grumpy oldness from the beginning. Marion was also deeply familiar to me, with her broken Jewish background and dysfunctional family.

Mostly, what hooked me and kept me attached to every page, paragraph, sentence and word was Omotoso’s writing. It is beautiful, simple, direct, haunting, deliberate, light, clever, funny and achingly moving.

It is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and I will turn the words and ideas, about loss, and love, and being a stranger, over and over in my mind and heart.

Reimagining Meganshead

I hate the idea of this blog fizzling out, but lately I have been struggling to commit to writing the thoughts in my head out, and down.

I don’t know why the world has become a ‘less to write about place’ for me, especially since there is so much going on, and I have such strong opinions about everything. I guess it’s because I am irritated by the strong and contentious opinions I see around me, from people who, in general, know very little about the topic at hand. So much so, I have become suspicious of every Facebum status update, and I keep checking the hoax sites for proof that the latest crime warning scam, or water purity concern, or WhatsApp neighbourhood watch group freak out (did you read the one about plastic bags tied in trees FFS?) are all bullshit.

Somehow this tiny form of the bigger picture of fake news has left me a little fearful of my own voice in a ‘do I dare?’ kind of way. I feel safer amongst the words of others.

But, I miss writing here. I love the space I have created here. I love this particular sound of my own voice. So, bear with me. I am busy reimagining the space. I think it is about to become a creative space again, and I am going to start with the challenge of writing something, even if it is just a tiny poem or paragraph or single thought, every single day for a month. I might also go back to some video stuff. Funny stuff. See you soon.

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.

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