My sordid past

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A few years before I had this blog, I had a taste of online publishing when a fellow South African employed me to write a weekly column for an online newsletter.

Don't be too impressed! (Oh, right. You weren't.) Anyway, he only picked me because nobody with actual writing talent and ability was willing to do the work for free.

Our intended audience was other expat South Africans living in various locales around the globe, but since we didn't have a comments feature on the site, I didn't know if anyone ever actually read it!

But readers or not, I found that I really enjoyed writing columns and miraculously, I managed to come up with a new one almost every week for two years.

Sadly, the newsletter (and my little column) eventually became part of the world wide cobweb when our editor/webmaster ran out of the energy and enthusiasm to keep the site going.

And so my career as an amateur columnist came to a rather abrupt halt. I briefly mourned it, missed it a surprising amount for a while, and then, eventually, moved it to the most hidden corners of my memory, only dusting it off and recalling it whenever I needed to milk my past for anything remotely resembling productivity to put on a resumé.

Until recently, when my column-writing past caught up with me rather unexpectedly and in a most surprising way.

In addition to his full-time career as a creative type, the boy also sings in a local a cappella group. They are very good, and this isn't just my biased opinion. People actually pay them rather good money to perform all across the United States!

At one such gig, an audience member approached the group during their break to talk about their music, buy a CD, etc. He told them that he had driven especially to see their show from quite far out of state. They were very flattered and asked him how he had learned about them.

"Oh, a South African columnist wrote an online article about you some time ago, and ever since reading it, I've always wanted to attend one of your shows."

Imagine that! I had an actual READER!! And never mind that my lone reader wasn't even a South African. You see, we had rather hoped that our readers would be fellow expat South Africans, but really, with my horrible hand-eye coordination, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that I didn't hit the intended target audience!

Target or not, since finding out that I had AN ACTUAL READER (forgive the ALL-CAPS, it's just that I still can't believe it), I've been overcome by curiosity to see what exactly it might've been that inspired him to read my words. Who knows? Maybe I can apply whatever it was that he had found so compelling - or, then, compelling enough - and apply it to my blog composition?

You see, I couldn't even remember writing about the boy's a cappella group! So who knows what else I'd written? For all I know, I could've been so desperate for material that I may have simply written down our address and phone number!

So last night, I opened up the binder containing print-outs of all my old columns. In many ways, it was like reading an old, almost forgotten journal. All these memories came rushing back, and in many instances, I remembered exactly where I was when I wrote a particular column.

I'm afraid I still don't know why I even managed to have one reader, though. Some of the writing really made me cringe! I think this must be what actors feel like whenever a talk show host plays unearthed clips of their earliest work!

But I've decided to let you be the judge. Here's something I wrote for my column a few summers ago. (Read it, quick! Before I change my mind!)

It may be summer time in the States, but my living definitely ain't easy.

To blame for my distress are two tiny patches of land making up the front and back yard of my Baltimore abode. I say "land", because in its current state it can hardly be called a garden.

But of course, it has loads of potential. And that's exactly why I'm too guilt-ridden to leave it alone.

The rented rowhouse with its red brick façade (circa 1950) also needs all the help it can get. Make no mistake, it had a garden once, long ago. The evidence of it is still faintly visible beneath the weeds surrounding the trees.

The two Cedars in the front are the only trees in the entire street. I still don't know if this is something to be proud of or not, because they too have seen better days. They are facing an uncertain future, and Mr. and Mrs. Landlord have been in constant debate over whether they should be chopped off or not.

For the time being, they remain standing and I use them as a convenient excuse not to fall in with the garden gnome tradition going on in the rest of the street. What the neighbours lack in greens, they've made up for with bright (mostly pink), plastic garden "accessories". The result is front yards bedecked in an amusing array of frogs, chubby-cheeked gnomes, dwarves, pink flamingoes, flags-for-every-occasion-and-season, and even the odd plastic flower fan with leaves that happily spin around in the breeze. You get the picture…

At first I thought the gnomes were merely part of Baltimore's horticultural tradition, but now I'm starting to suspect that the neighbours are plotting together and using the gnomes in a desperate attempt to send me a message: "Limited edition trees or not, do something to your garden!"

The dilemma is that my fingers aren't even the faintest shade of green. In fact, I'm notorious for letting the toughest cactus shrivel up and die. Forget anything that needs water on a regular basis… I hardly glance at a flower and it wilts.

It's not intentional, honestly! I love flora as much as anyone and long for a lush little garden with a gurgling fountain, fragrant flowers and herbs and a wrought iron bench where I can stretch out to sip my morning coffee while being serenaded by the birds.

It is with this beautiful and very ambitious illusion in mind that I set out to destroy the stubborn weeds. It's not long before the situation turns into a full-fledged war and I realise that there are indeed some plant life (if you can define a weed as such) that even I am unable to kill…

In fact, I started finding it much easier to pull out my hair in frustration. A tad more painful and a lot less productive, yes, but at least something came out when I pulled.

But I'm South African. And we're tough (right?). So I flatly refuse to give up.

My stubborn resolve has paid off: A few daisies have made a miraculous appearance by sprouting through the barrier of weeds where I vaguely remember scattering some seeds a few weeks ago. As if that alone isn't enough to almost make me drop dead with surprise: all six of them actually flowered! Adding an unexpected but very welcome splash of colour to an otherwise rather drab looking yard. And it was good timing too, because I was rapidly running out of hair to pull.

The weeds… well… they are a different story. Let's just say they are still there. But only because I've given myself some time off to rethink my strategy. To be honest, I'm also so smug about having actual flowers in the garden that I don't really care about the weeds too much right now.

There is just one problem though: the flowers are in the back yard, which is far more secluded and private than the front. Therefore none of the neighbours can share in my feat!

And I don't know if it's merely my imagination, but it feels as if those garden gnomes are slowly closing in on me…

The literal moral of this story, fellow immigrants, is that the grass (or in this case, the weeds) is not necessarily greener in our new adopted countries.

But with some luck and resolve, you can indeed reap what you sow.

12 Comments

Natalie said:

You do have quite a clever way with words, don't you?!?!

And by the way, would you like a couple of Connie columns, in the flesh? Er, actually, um, in the newsprint, as opposed to online? I can send you a couple from the paper if you'd like...

Annika said:

You are fabulous.

deeleea said:

Very well done Red!

I understand the green grass thing.

Totally...

Red Dahling,
Maybe because I'm a native Baltimoron. But I don't get it.(Sorry) Please tell me more about the boy's singing group. I'd like to see them perform. Are they performing any time soon?

pylorns said:

its very shocking what comes back from our past.. i had a guy email me because he had read wetwired and recognized my nostalgia post about a gone out of business department store. Aparently his father had been the general manager there and was interested in my memories of the store... always curious whats going to happen next.

kat said:

oh, i adore your writing! you should really have a go at writing more columns (in my oh so humble opinion.) your article totally cracked me up and i share your unfortunate difficulty with plants. but i do enjoy weeding (go figure.)

i do believe you told me to go easy on myself recently, i want to say "back at ya!" you're so much more wonderful and talented than you give yourself credit for. pat yourself on the back darlin, you rock!

Chris said:

This is very good! Hopefully you will share more of your older writing!?

Red, that is so faboo!

Tertia said:

OMG, you are famous - you have a Reader. With a capital R.

deeleea said:

I have sojurned into the areas of online publishing myself!! Wanna read?

http://www.ccc.org.au/email/ew_ezine3/music.html

TimT said:

This is great! But ...
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There's something I need to know ...
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It's just ...
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Were those garden gnomes really on the move?

Stacy said:

Oh, dahling, you know I just love your way with words.

... and speaking of small worlds, how weird was it that there was some kind of a connection between your sax playing friend and Phyllis' mom when we got together at her house?

Oh, and I'll have you know that I recently met a South Afrikan and thanks to my listening to all of your S.A. trivia, I really impressed the hell out of him with as much as I claimed to know about your native land. Thanks!

(But too bad he was married. *sigh* ... such. is. my. life.)

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about
is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)

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comments
  • Stacy : Oh, dahling, you know I just love your way with words. ... and speaking of small worlds, how weird... [go]
  • TimT : This is great! But ... . . . . . . . There's something I need to know ... . . . . . . . . . It's jus... [go]
  • deeleea : I have sojurned into the areas of online publishing myself!! Wanna read? http://www.ccc.org.au/ema... [go]
  • Tertia : OMG, you are famous - you have a Reader. With a capital R.... [go]
  • :: jozjozjoz :: : Red, that is so faboo!... [go]
  • Chris : This is very good! Hopefully you will share more of your older writing!?... [go]
  • kat : oh, i adore your writing! you should really have a go at writing more columns (in my oh so humble op... [go]
  • pylorns : its very shocking what comes back from our past.. i had a guy email me because he had read wetwired... [go]
  • bookstorediva : Red Dahling, Maybe because I'm a native Baltimoron. But I don't get it.(Sorry) Please tell me more ... [go]
  • deeleea : Very well done Red! I understand the green grass thing. Totally...... [go]
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