As National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) draws to a close today, I am following today's NaBloPoMo prompt to say what it was about blogging every day that I have been struggling with the most. For me, it was DEFINITELY the whole "quantity over quality" thing. That to me has even been MORE challenging than making the time to blog every day, or finding topics to write about.
Since I write for barely-a-living, I take it extremely seriously, no matter WHERE I do it. Sometimes, in fact, I take it so seriously, that I end up writing nothing at all. (That old perfectionist’s excuse that non-perfectionists find so hard to swallow.) Just as Gustave Flaubert so famously once described his writing process, I’ve also been known to spend “all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out”. My nitpicking can sometimes be crippling, making the task of even posting to my blog so daunting, I often just leave it altogether instead.
But I really wanted to participate in NaBloPoMo this year. With serious work-related writing deadlines hurtling towards me, I’ve had several legitimate excuses NOT to do it. I knew that I wouldn’t have time to sit here and carefully craft posts of epic proportions. (I would have loved to, but I wisely decided to rather save the internal squabbling over commas for my work writing, otherwise I’d still be stuck around day 2, which would have totally defeated the purpose of this exercise, no?)
This kind of free-styling scribbling that I’ve forced myself to do here has been liberating. Difficult, sure! (Hard to teach an old dog new tricks, after all.) But it definitely has been freeing – and more than a little refreshing - to just WRITE for a change.
Of course, if I were to go back and reread what I have posted on here this past month, I would probably cringe and then just delete the whole batch in one fell swoop. But I’m going to leave it up and proudly pin this badge to this here blog.
I don’t know if I’m going to be keeping up this daily blog revival. Probably not. But hopefully I will be blogging more than just twice a year in future.
Forward to me at age 14, when I heard that I had successfully passed my audition and that I was going to be attending the performing arts high school in Pretoria. The thing that thrilled me the second most was that I would finally be able to take French as a subject – never mind the fact that I was barely able to speak English then.
Unfortunately, my plans were soon foiled when one of the teachers advised my parents that, since I was starting school almost in the middle of the school year, I should rather take German, as it would be easier for a native Afrikaans speaker to catch up on.
Grateful to at least be in the school of my dreams, I heeded the advice and took German instead. Perhaps (and more likely) it was because I had no interest in it, but I did NOT find it easy to catch up on at all. Whenever I walked by the French class, I looked in with longing at all the lucky students as they “ecoute et répète” the flowery aural delights that so effortlessly flowed from the young, beret-wearing teacher’s mouth.
I finally had my chance in college, when we had to take a third language for a year. My choice was French, of course. It was basic, conversational French, but I totally immersed myself in it. The result is that I can now, almost 20 years later, say: “Pardon me, I can’t speak French. Do you speak English, please?” in French, with a perfect French accent.
I can do the same thing in Egyptian Arabic, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s a nifty and impressive party trick and especially with the Arabic, I managed to score a few free cab rides in D.C.
Last year, during a trip to Taiwan, I had the amazing privilege to stay with a host family in Taichung City for about a week and a half. The mother was unable to speak any English, and I was unable to speak any Mandarin (except for “good day”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “South Africa” - accompanied by a gesture of pointing towards myself - and enthusiastically shouting - because there’s really no other way to express it - “I love Taiwan!”). She would speak in Mandarin to her daughters, who sometimes translated, when it was necessary for me to be privy to what was being said. One day, during one of the non-translated conversations, I suddenly piped up and said: “Yes! I KNOW!” And then I added something that was completely relevant to the discussion.
I was met by incredulous stares and stunned silence. It almost seemed as if I had learned to understand snippets of Mandarin, here and there. But it wasn’t true comprehension, because honestly, I know NO other Mandarin except for those four things stated above. So it was more like somehow – possibly via osmosis - catching the basic gist of what they were talking about. Of course, they were far more sceptical about my continual denials that no, I REALLY could not understand Mandarin.
And sadly, I don’t think I would ever be able to.
I’m not done romancing French though. I desperately want to wrap my brain and tongue around that language and read and even possibly, one day, write in it.
For now, though, I have to focus on whipping L'Anglais into proper submission.]]>
When asked what is wrong, I would ordinarily be all tough and answer dismissively and airily (or as airily as one is able to be when half of one’s airways are obstructed), using the rasp in my voice to lend the toughness just that bit of a rockstar edge: “Oh, it’s just a cold.”
But this? This monster? Isn’t just a cold.
Oh, no. After careful consultation of my trusty and beloved, dog-eared edition of the Time/Life A-Z Medical Encyclopaedia, I have come to the alarming conclusion that I have… the Man Flu.
Why that particular strain, you ask? And how does this Man Flu differ from your run-of-the-mill cold and flu?
At first glance, all the symptoms are identical: scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing with such force that you can blow your neighbour's hair back from where you are curled up in a pathetic bundle in bed, feeling lousy, feverish, and achy. But in the trusty tome, it says that when you are feeling particularly SORRY for yourself on top of all of that, and act to your loved ones as if you are on the brink of death? It’s definitely the Man Flu.
Yes, it IS mostly just a male affliction. But in VERY rare instances, such as this, even the strongest women sometimes get weak enough to be overcome with it too. It’s horribly shameful, which is why I would never have admitted to it unless I WASN’T DYING AND FEELING ALL CONFESSIONAL DUE TO THE FACT THAT I'M DYING.
Was that my last breath? It sure felt like it should've been. Can't see anything, 'cause it blew the glasses right off my face.
Updated to say: No, I also have NO idea why and how the font managed to change colour halfway through this blog post. (Yeah, got my glasses back.) Unless... I have given it my highly contagious and fatal form of Man Flu too!?]]>
“And what’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Red,” I stammer.
“And what will you be singing for us today, Red?” By now I should’ve caught on that there is clearly something suspicious about this whole scenario, but unawares, I bravely push on.
“BlackBird/Bye Bye BlackBird.”
“Okay, let’s hear it. Good luck.”
I sing. Flawlessly. My voice oddly sounds JUST like that of Sara Gazarek, the amazing jazz songstress whose rendition of that very song happens to be one of my favourite tracks ever.
Since I don’t sound like me at all, it’s no wonder then that he lets me sing it the whole way through.
Afterwards, he looks towards the other judges, but I’m only waiting for HIS opinion. I think Randy Jackson is there too, which slightly niggles at me, since that wouldn’t be right.
Finally, Simon speaks again, about to hand down his career-altering verdict.
… And then I wake up from the dream.
Could it be time to axe all that obsessive X Factor viewing from my TV watching schedule?
P.S. Okay, okay, I didn’t actually wake up before he told me. He said no. But he DID say that he loved Sara’s voice, but just didn't think the "time was quite right for me" (never tell a procrastinator THAT, Si!) and so I left feeling elated. And then I woke up for realz.
P.P.S. It was really the dream I had last night and not just another of my incredibly amateurish writing tricks, honestly.]]>
Okay, more like a major surge; like the kind you get when you jumpstart a heart that has flat-lined.
It’s not that I’ve been possessed by more inspiration or that I suddenly have more time than usual. And no, I’ve not been abducted and my productivity been taken over by a bunch of hardworking aliens. There is in fact a rather simple explanation for this newfound enthusiasm. Scared that I would jinx myself, and not sure that I would be able to stick to it, I have merely been holding out on you. However, now that I’m on day 23, I think it is relatively safe for me to finally come clean and tell you who/what is to blame for this blogging over-enthusiasm. Why it has been all about quantity and not quality around here lately. (Hahahaha, as if it has EVER been about quality!)
This. That’s right. NaBloPoMo (or, in English: National Blog Posting Month). November might be a time for Thanksgiving to the Americans, but to writers the world over, it has also been the most feared and despised month, since it is also NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which the participants accept the downright insane challenge to try and write a novel in the 30 days during November. NaBloPoMo is the somewhat easier alternative for those among us who might not be quite dedicated enough for a novel.
In all the years it has been in existence, I have always wanted to give NaBloPoMo a shot, but always (conveniently?) forgot and only remembered a week or two too late. No such luck this year. Don’t quite know what came over me, but here I am, three weeks in.
Let’s see if I can keep at it for the remaining week, shall we?
It was a mid-winter's night when I was about 14 years old. The Pretoria Show (sort of like the US equivalent of a State Fair combined with a trade show) which ran for a couple of weeks every year, was in full swing.
I got to hang out there almost every night during that time, because my mom was working for a sewing machine company and running their stall at the show. The show hours were brutally long – from early morning until about 10 at night – so I had no choice but to tag along, help out and sometimes also to explore the enormous show grounds on my own. There were several massive exhibition halls, tents, fields (where equestrian shows, pop concerts and other outdoorsy type things were held, with pavilions for spectators) and of course, the large amusement park with the roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and all the other rides.
The sprawling show grounds are located in the western part of the city. Right around that same time, girls my age had been disappearing in that very area of town; vanishing without a trace. Sometime after this particular night, the man who had been identified as the kidnapper shot himself and his lover (who happened to be the aunt of one of the kidnapped girls) while being chased by police. None of the kidnapped girls were ever seen again, nor were any remains ever found to give their distraught families closure.
Back to the Pretoria Show: so on that particular night, I must’ve been wandering around again on my own for ages. Eventually, I saw a poster advertising some sort of magic show. Intrigued (and probably somewhat chilled too from being outside), I decided to enter the theatre and see what it was about.
I don’t remember many details surrounding this particular show, but I do remember that I found it dead funny. The magician/hypnotist’s routine included the usual shtick of randomly pulling rabbits from hats, and then eventually, pulling people from the audience and hypnotising them. He made grown men crow like roosters and dignified ladies act like little girls. The audience (myself included) was screaming with laughter.
When the show ended, I followed the rest of the audience out into the now-almost deserted show grounds. I still remember telling the woman next to me that the show must’ve run overtime, because all the other stalls and halls seemed to have already been closed down for the evening. I was a tiny bit alarmed that my parents would possibly be worried, but was soon distracted from that thought when I heard the sound of a helicopter and saw a blindingly bright search light.
I looked up. It was a yellow South African Police helicopter and it was flying low across the grounds, sweeping the search light back and forth. We shielded our faces as the chopper flew over us, kicking up a gust of wind and a swirl of dust.
Moving towards the gates, we rounded a corner and suddenly I saw a few hundred police officers. And police dogs! The dog lover in me squealed with delight: “Oh, look at all those gorgeous Alsations!” I remember telling the lady who was still walking next to me.
I wondered aloud what on earth was going on, what they were all doing there, when suddenly, from a distance, I glimpsed someone vaguely familiar standing in the middle of this massive crowd of cops and canines. When we moved closer, the figures became increasingly clearer and even more familiar. The recognition finally dawned and I told the woman next to me, with some amazement and not a bit of excitement: “That’s my parents! And oh… wait, is my mom CRYING?”
It turns out that all those cops (almost every single one who was employed by the Pretoria City Police Department at that time) and that helicopter? They had been searching for ME! As I had suspected when we left the theatre, the magic show had indeed run overtime… by about an hour! So knowing that I fit the profile of the kidnapped girls, my frantic parents immediately called for help when I didn’t appear at closing time, as I had dutifully done every single night until then.
Even though I had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t actually my fault, I was in so so SO much trouble, it wasn’t even funny. Not with the cops, understand – they were just happy that the case of one “missing girl” had for once just been a misunderstanding, and that it had a happy outcome. I could’ve handled trouble with the cops, I think. No, it was far worse: I was in seriously hot water with my parents.
They were certainly NOT happy. Especially not my dad. He was FURIOUS. In fact, technically, I believe I am probably still grounded. That’s what “you'll NEVER EVER EVERRR leave your room EVER AGAIN, young lady, except for school and church” means, after all, right?
So, that then concludes the true story of how a whole city’s entire police force was once looking for me.
Several minutes before, I had been slowly, furtively making my way down the aisle, like a huntress.
My heart was pounding and the sweat was beading on my brow. My eyes were thoroughly sweeping the shelves for that one, crucial object.
“Come on; come on; where ARE you?” I muttered under my breath. A lot was riding on me finding what I’d been searching for. I needed to locate it in order to save face.
So engrossed was I in looking, that I never saw the woman until she spoke behind me, causing me to jump a metre high. “Is there anything I can assist you with?” she asked. It was soon her turn to be somewhat unnerved when I spun around, startled by her voice.
When I finally composed myself, I decided to take her up on the offer of help. “Yes, please. I’m looking for this.” I reached into my handbag and whipped out the mocha mechanical eyeliner.
She shook her head. “Sorry, the manufacturer has discontinued that particular brand and colour. May I interest you in anything else?”
That was when the scream of frustration exploded in my head.
In case you think that I’m slightly overacting, consider this: this sort of incident hasn't been the first of its kind for me. Whenever I find a product that I like, that somehow, magically, works for me, it gets discontinued.
I’m still mourning the loss of the liquid foundation that was a perfect match for my horrible skin colour (or lack of – I make albinos look tanned). That foundation turned my skin translucent and glowing. So of course, the manufacturer ruthlessly axed it from its product line, making it very clear to the world that maybe I WASN’T born with it.
The list of products past is in fact so long, they could all easily populate an entire section of a store. Among them are sweeteners, mascara, medication, hair products, body lotion, bras (just like that, my chest was divided, conquered AND lifted!), nail polish, stockings, gum, coffee… you name it, I’ve loved, loyally supported, and cruelly lost access to it.
I’m really starting to think it’s some sort of cruel conspiracy aimed at one particular consumer.