Looking back at November 2014

In November I took up Blogging U.’s Blogging 101 course as well as NaBloPoMo in an attempt to kick-start my renewed blogging venture. Was it a success or a failure? What did I learn in the process?

As happens so frequently with new hobbies, it started out well, with lots of enthusiasm and commitment.  Then more pressing tasks like work (the kind that actually produces a pay check), household chores and year-end social functions demanded a lot of my time and distracted me.  Then I missed a day of posting and started to fall behind on assignments.  And once you lose momentum, it becomes easier to put things off until the next day, and then the day after, and the day after that…  You know how it is.

I completed about 50% of the Blogging 101 assignments.  NaBloPoMo count: 12 out of 30 days of posting.

What I’ve gained:

  • I visually improved my blog with a new header photo as well as a new background.  Some advice and suggestions from bloggers at the Blogging 101 Commons were a big help in this regard.
  • I discovered some new blogs, interacted with other bloggers more than ever before and, in the process, passed the 50 follower mark to end up with 78 followers today.
  • 167 visitors and 445 views during November.
  • I have a small collection of draft posts and outlines that will (hopefully) soon be ready for posting.

What I’ve learned:

  • Writing takes time.  You don’t always have it.  You need to put in effort to make the time you need to meet your writing goals.
  • Other aspects of blogging (reading and commenting on other blogs, fine tuning the look of your blog, finding images for your posts…) also takes time.  You don’t always have it.
  • It is hard to “write on demand”.  Sometimes you just have nothing to say.  Or at least, at that moment, you can’t think of anything.
  • Writing prompts can be very useful.  It can assist getting past the blank stare at the screen.
  • Once you have an idea in your head it is easy to start writing a post and get a decent outline or even a rough draft done.  It is not so easy to finish it and get it ready for posting.  Through November I started various posts and wrote the gist of it but quite a few of them are still sitting in drafts folders waiting to be finalised and polished.  It’s a bit like crochet: it is easy and fun to start a project and do the actual crocheting, but tying off the yarn ends, working them away and stitching together the pieces of the work is a chore that most will like to be able to avoid.

So, success or failure?  Success, I would say, or at least decent progress, despite not having completed the course assignments or published a post every day of November.

Now to tackle 2015.


An early Christmas wish

This post of Harsh Reality reminded me that there are people out there who are not constantly, as an everyday part of their lives, thinking about the dangers lurking around every corner due to crime.*  What a fortunate position to be in.

The post reminds people to be safe during the holiday season, as there are many people who are going through tough times and, consequently, may turn to crime to ease their plight.  So true, I thought.  This time of year we are all manic: trying to finish up work before going on leave, organising and attending Christmas parties, dealing with family, attempting marathon gift buying sessions on the 24th of December at Sandton City (attempted suicide, I tell you) and getting the family packed and off to the coast, the bush or some exotic overseas destination.  If ever there is a time of mass distraction, it is the silly season.

Christmas time is also in South Africa known for an increase in crime rates.  A lot of people are walking about with big wads of cash for Christmas shopping or after receiving year-end bonuses.  Homes are left unoccupied while people are on vacation, leaving them vulnerable to break-ins. The more liberal use of alcohol during the season also adds to the general lawlessness that ensues.

It struck me that the constant reality of crime in South Africa (not just in Johannesburg) is such that people here generally don’t need such a reminder. It has become such an integral part of our lives that we are wary, watchful and, sometimes, downright paranoid without having to think about it.  If someone were to tell me to watch out for suspicious looking people hanging around near ATMs, I’d laugh and say, “Of course, do you think I’m stupid? What country do you think we live in?”.

In South Africa, it is pretty much standard practice to:

  • check the rear view mirror when arriving at our front gates for cars following us or would-be attackers hiding behind the bushes on the sidewalk (said bushes being, of course, sufficiently trimmed to reduce the possibility of a nasty surprise)
  • do 360 degree visual checks when stopping at traffic lights after dark to make sure there aren’t any tsotsi’s approaching your car for a smash-and-grab (that is if we stop at all)
  • pay thousands of Rands each month for security companies with armed response (just to have the crap scared out of you when a guard unexpectedly appears on your door step with a big gun)
  • have a collection of security cameras, iron bars, beams, motion detectors, electric fencing, attack dogs, pepper spray, guns and security company signs that would make Fort Knox green with envy
  • be as suspicious of the police as of a person skulking around at night wearing a balaclava.

This Christmas, I wish that we can start to turn the tide against the flood of crime in this country, so that we can also live in a place where we need to be reminded to watch out for muggers at ATMs.  Can you imagine that…?

* To qualify this statement, I am referring to people also living in more or less “normal” places.  I realise that there are people who spend every day of their lives in horrendous and dangerous circumstances, like war zones in Africa or the Middle East.  That is, of course, much worse than anything we experience in South Africa.  There is always something to be thankful for.

Holiday reading

IMG_8841.JPGI love books.  I’ve been a keen reader since I can remember.  According to my mother I had been very frustrated as a little kid by the fact that I could, at that time, not yet read.  Once I remedied that problem, I read just about every book I could lay my hands on.  Trips to the public library were a highlight of my childhood.  I used to take not only my own but also my parents’ library cards and would borrow huge stacks of books.  The hunt for interesting and intriguing books in the library was, in itself, an adventure.  But the best part is the new friends you make and the worlds you explore once you start reading.

These days I struggle to find time to read. Since I started working, life got busier and precious reading time got less.  When I get into bed in the evening I am usually lucky to stay awake long enough to read a magazine article, never mind a decent length chapter of a novel.

A great discovery I made a few years ago is the wonderful world of audio books.  This way I can listen to books whilst getting dressed, driving or doing household chores.  Most of the books I’ve “read” in the last five years or so were in this format.  I find that, once you get used to listening to books, instead of reading them yourself, you can follow the story quite easily.  Only if something out of the ordinary distracts me, I may need to rewind a bit to catch a section where I was not paying enough attention.  And a good narrator is an absolute treat to listen to.  I think that, sometimes, books can be better experienced by listening to a great narrator than by reading it yourself.

When I get the opportunity to spend some quality time reading, I grab it with both hands.  This usually happens when we go on vacation.  During December and January (being summer vacation time for South Africans) I overdose on reading, getting through as many as I can.  The great thing about living in the 21st century is that we can transport a whole libraries on our phones and tablets and, in most instances, we can buy books anytime, anywhere.  If you run out of books in the Lesotho mountains or on a tiny Thai island with no book shop anywhere nearby, no problem!  If you go to a destination without WiFi or some other form of data connection, though, you better go prepared with enough of the real thing.

Throughout the year I gather a stack of books (bought, borrowed and received as gifts) on my bedside table, where they patiently lie and wait for holiday time to arrive.  This stack sometimes ends up resembling a literary Tower of Pisa as year-end draws near.

In anticipation of a road trip to Namibia this coming December, I inspected the book stash and identified the reading list for the trip’s reading extravaganza.  The selection is quite out of the ordinary for me, containing two non-fiction works and two Afrikaans books (English fiction being my usual staple).

1. On Writing – Stephen King
This book frequently features on lists of essential reading for aspiring writers.  Who better to teach you something about writing than one of the greatest storytellers of our time?

2. Agaat – Marlene van Niekerk
This is a serious novel, not the type of book I read as a general rule. I like light entertainment, an escape from all the crap that we have to deal with every day in the real world.  I suppose you can call me a bit of a lazy reader in this respect.  But sometimes we have to confront more serious matters, also in our reading.  Agaat is set in apartheid South Africa and explores the relationship between a white woman and her black domestic/care-taker.  I saw this book on a friend’s bookshelf and promptly borrowed it, as I have been meaning to read Marlene van Niekerk’s work for some time.

3. Beseringstyd – FJ Labuschagne
This is quite an interesting addition to the holiday reading list.  This is the debut work of a fellow South African lawyer (we know each other from varsity days).  When I heard that he published a novel I was intrigued, as this is something that I would love to do one day.  The subject matter (varsity rugby) is not something that would normally attract my attention.  I am just really curious to see what he came up with.

4. My Brief History – Stephen Hawking
An autobiography by (arguably) the world’s smartest man.  Once I’ve read this, I’ll give A Brief History Of Time another go.  Never managed to get past the first few chapters.

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Works – Oscar Wilde

My brother-in-law bought me a hardcover collection of Oscar Wilde’s works some time ago.  It has an old-fashioned, gold and silver embossed cover with gold page edges – so pretty that I am afraid I’ll damage it when reading.  But I’ve decided it is now time to read this book.  Maybe a bit of Oscar Wilde will do me good.

What do you read when you’re on vacation?  Anything interesting on your reading list for an upcoming holiday?

The Ride

I was so angry and disappointed that morning. So very disappointed.

I felt trapped, wanting, needing to break out and be free of the frustration and worry. I wanted to argue and shout and beg and cry (some more).

Instead I went cycling in the city of gold.

I fought the hills. I fought with you. I fought with God. And I fought myself.

Who won?

I’m not sure. But it was good.

In the brisk morning air the grey clouds yielded to the sun.

Who I am and why I’m here: An attempt at writing

Since childhood I’ve enjoyed writing.  When we were kids, a friend and I used to co-write crazy monster stories, each taking a turn with a chapter. It was always a surprise to see where the other one would take the story. The creative process fascinated me.  I even once won an essay writing competition when I was in primary school (I grew up in a small town, so it is actually a case of having been a big-ish fish in a grubby little pond, but still).

Today I read and write for a living. Although the drafting of legal opinions and contracts teaches some important lessons that can be applied to other forms of writing (do not use more words than is necessary to convey the message, set out thoughts and principles in a logical manner, etc.), it does not really stimulate your creative side.

In the last few years I have become increasingly frustrated and bored with my work.  This lead to me exploring career options outside of the legal field.  I quickly realised that a career change requiring a formal qualification like a degree will be a tough one to manage.  There are only so many degrees that one can do part-time, and if I did that I will be the proud owner of a new bachelor degree when I’m around 40 (if I’m lucky).  And then I would still need to build up an actual career in that field.  I considered starting my own business.  I’ve always wanted to open a little bistro or café.  But that is risky.  It requires significant start-up capital that will not be easy to raise and the chance of success is slim given all the competition in the area and the fickleness of restaurant goers in Johannesburg.  Maybe a change inside the legal profession is the answer?  I don’t know.  But what I do know if that I need to either change careers or get into a hobby or part-time stint that entails something creative or at least more fulfilling than my current job.

Writing is something that came up during my explorations.  It is something I enjoy and have some form of experience in. It is also something that can be done on a part-time basis.  And that is why I am here. To get into writing. Not contracts, not legal notices, not circulars and not opinions. I want to be able to share my views, express my feelings, tell you about things that I actually find interesting and, eventually, get into the really creative things like fiction.

Why a blog?  Writing something that people will actually read can be a scary thing.  I remember how long it took me to first make my blog public and publish the first few posts.  Even now with more than 20 posts behind me it is still daunting to put my writing out there for people to see.  The post is silly, badly written, not meaningful enough, not funny enough…  I tend to be my own worst critic.  And most of all, I am afraid of making a fool of myself.  A blog seemed like a good place to build up confidence in writing for public readers.  The idea is, after all, to eventually write something that someone will pay to read.

My goal with this blog is, firstly, to keep posting regularly for the next year to really get into writing as a long-term hobby.  Secondly, I would like to build up a meaningful number of followers.  Once I have achieved that, I hope to be in a position to identify a niche to focus on, maybe in a separate blog.

Maybe I have a novel or two in me, who knows? I can only find out by trying, and this blog is the beginning of just that.


I said goodbye to a friend today

I said goodbye to a friend today who is moving to another city.

As we had dinner yesterday evening, I thought about all the other times we could have had dinners just like that. We lived around the corner from each other for more than two years. Why didn’t we have more dinners on the sidewalk of Fourth Avenue?

Watching our four-legged kids play last night before bedtime, I thought, “They get along so well”. Why didn’t we arrange more doggie play dates on Saturday afternoons while we chat over a glass of wine?

Having a last cappuccino this morning before you went to the airport, I was thinking how much we have to talk about despite seeing each other every day at the office for six years. Why didn’t we have more coffee dates, just you and I, talking about the important things, sharing our feelings and fears, and really connecting?

This friend is just moving to another city. Although this means that we will likely only see each other once a year, if we’re lucky, we can still call, email and message. But what about the friends that do not just move? We always think, “I’ll give her a call next week” or “I’m too busy to reply to this e-mail now” but what if there is no next time? This farewell reminded me that life is short and things change (sometimes quite unexpectedly). You need to make time and put in effort for the important people in your life, and you have to do so now. We are so quick to waste time on nonsense or on people that don’t add anything to our lives because career or family requires us to. Why does it seem like so much effort to call a friend for a quick catch-up or to spend quality face-to-face time with the people that matter?

To my friend, if you happen to read this, thank you for the chats at the office, about work and life and dogs and everything else. Thank you for sweating it out with me in the gim. Thank you for all the lunches at the office canteen with the other “outcasts”. Thank you for your support during difficult times.

To everyone else, call up that friend who you’ve been meaning to talk to but is always too busy to phone. Go out for coffee or lunch and have a good old fashioned face-to-face talk with him or her. No Facebook or Whatsapp. Have a real conversation while looking each other in the eye. You don’t know how long you will still have the opportunity to do that.

Approaching a new year with renewed inspiration and a new look

After two years of silence, I am back.

Lack of time and inspiration hit and I was distracted with training and… well… stuff.  I was reading some of my old posts this morning.  What was clear to me is that I started out with one idea for the general theme and content of the blog (a personal blog on life in Jo’burg) but along the way it morphed into someone quite different (focusing largely on my training, which was at the time what I was focusing all my energy on, so no wonder).  The title of my last post says it all, I suppose.

I have been thinking lately that I need to take up some form of (non-work related) writing again, as a hobby, a little bit of therapy and, maybe, one day (a long, long time from now) for gainful employment.

So, after having lost the plot a bit with this blog I have decided to revamp it with a new, clean look and start writing again.  The focus will be shifting back to what was originally intended, notes and pics on living in Johannesburg and the things we (and the people around us) get up to.

As I have now experienced first hand, sometimes these things take on a life of their own.  Let’s see where this blog ends up this time.