Writers Bootcamp Day 8: A letter to my pet hate…

Dear Mr/Ms McJudgypants

I’ve been thinking since we saw each other the other day and, having had a little bit of time to process some things, I thought I’d send off a little note to thank you for your insights.

You see, I couldn’t quite figure out at the time whether that mild sense of having been stung was misplaced and I guess I thought to myself that it wasn’t worth making a scene over anyway. So I didn’t say anything when you (half) jokingly called my business a “disaster” after I shared my vision for the future with you. Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done and things are far from perfect. And I realise you’ve been working diligently at various things and are currently in a place where you feel pretty sharp, pretty powerful and pretty well positioned to peer down your nose at me. Kudos to you, my friend.
So I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m a bit puzzled that you’d come to me in search of a job in the first place… (WTF?)

Oh, and I noticed, by the way, Mr McJudgypants, how you surveyed my garden last weekend when you came to stay over. And how you kept talking to my family as if they’re retarded. I noted, also, your helpful suggestions for removing or restoring the eyesore that is the property owner’s fixed gazebo, with thanks. I’m sure it’ll be a breeze to sew a new canopy for it on my non-existent sewing machine or that I could just breeze into a fabric retailers and pick up a few metres of heavy duty canvas to stitch one together from. You know, because between trying to run a company, raise a family and keep my house in tip top shape so that it doesn’t offend your delicate sensibilities when you stay over, I just don’t know what to do with all this extra time and money I have on my hands! And I love being shown how much better of a housekeeper I can be by a guest who has no family or responsibilities of his own, who stays in my house free of charge, eats my food and gets chauffeured by my husband to and from his train station/home every other Friday and Sunday. I do so hope that when next you visit, you’ll find Casa Lisa so much better suited to your tastes.

It’s such a pleasure to be surrounded by people who care so much about me, my life and my work. I can’t wait to hear from you how I could be a better wife or how to manage my children better – I noticed you did such a fine job of making them feel stupid the last time you were here, using big words they couldn’t possibly hope to know the definitions of and stepping in to discipline them when they got too rowdy. Because, you know, they’re going to turn into psychopathic killers if you don’t teach us all how to behave! So thanks so much. I can’t wait for our next visit!

Let’s make it on separate continents, shall we?




Writers Bootcamp Day 7: Inspired by art

Most of my posts on this challenge so far have been pretty short. It feels a bit like a cop out because the whole point is to give the ol’ writing muscles a good work out, isn’t it?

So as I sit here and try to think of anything at all to write along this theme, I am reminded of the dozens of things I’ve dreamed of making and doing over the last many years, all inspired by something that I’ve seen or read or listened to, somewhere along the line.

I could get quite ridiculous about it and go into a discussion on what can or cannot be considered art but I won’t because a) I’m too clouded in Brain Fog to think that deeply about it and b) I’m not sure anyone – even the most revered of academics and critics – has the right to decide whether or not someone else’s creation may be called art. My humble pennies on the subject amount to the opinion that if it is the result of a creative effort and it communicates something, anything at all, to someone, then it’s art.

So I have been and am inspired, often – almost all the time, in fact, by some form of art, to do, create, have or pursue something…

I remember watching movies as a child and feeling a surge of energy afterwards, a sense of possiblitly. That’s inspiration by art.

I once had the idea to buy a bunch of coloured, disposable cameras and take my kids out to parks and museums, letting them take random pictures of the things they saw there and then decorating their rooms with giant blow-ups of their photographs and making hanging mobiles or sculptures out of the disposable cameras.

And tonight I went to the launch of the latest book by one of my favourite authors and, listening to the interview questions being asked and the answers she gave, I was inspired. I used to draw on the things I saw in everyday life, too, and write and write and write. It didn’t matter if it was a poem or a letter or just a few descriptive paragraphs. I was reminded tonight of how that felt and it made me want to feel it again.

So you can count on my being here for a while yet.

Writers Bootcamp Day 6: Doors and Windows

One of my friends lives in a double storey house on a busy street in Johannesburg. One of the things I love about her house is the door on the upper level that leads onto open air outside.

From the inside, that door is always locked because my friend has small children. On the outside, the door is red and looks just bizarre enough to kickstart the imagination.

I’ve thought about opening that door and stepping through, into a parallel world or something resembling a Neil Gaiman novel. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, it may just serve as inspiration for a fun story writing exercise… To be continued!


Writers Bootcamp Day 5: Find a job ad in the paper…

Okay, so like most of us doing this project, I don’t often buy newspapers, so I went online to search for job advertisements. I settled on this one:


It was the first one listed under “Johannesburg jobs” on JobVine.co.za.

Almost all of my early jobs were secretarial/administrative jobs, so I know that I’d be able to do this job with my eyes closed.

I also know that I’d get on well with the clients calling in and would be friendly with one or two of the “less important” staff, because I’m a sucker for the underdog and have always been a bit of a misfit. I’m also not a kiss-ass, so I’m not that secretary/PA that knows all the boss’ personal business or is BFFs with his wife/girlfriend. In fact, she probably can’t stand me because in all likelihood, she thinks I’m trying to fuck him. I’m not.

One of the senior directors is about to leave the company to start his own business and there’s a mad scramble among middle management to try and get the big promotion. I get to witness their scheming and backstabbing first hand as all correspondence to the boss goes through me. I’m also the person who handles the company’s valuable documents – legal files, internal reports, etc. So I know who’s out to get whom and who’s the most insecure of the bunch. It’s the same guy who makes the biggest show of what a hot shot sales manager he is and who tries to sleep with his female co-workers at office parties. He was one of the interviewers I dealt with when I applied for the job and seemed like a fun guy but has turned into an asshole.

I start messing around on Facebook during office hours after a couple of months in this job because I’ve learned quickly that as long as there’s fresh coffee brewed when the boss comes in, his admin is up to date and his diary properly managed, they don’t see that I can add any further value to the company. And since the guy is a total control freak, he practically does it all himself anyway. I’m just there to put the various documents in the appropriate files and make sure that anything presented to clients and visitors looks pretty and expensive, including business documents.

Soon, I start becoming resentful and looking for other things to do and when I am offered a creative position on a word of mouth referral, I jump at it, regardless of the terms of my existing contract.

All of a sudden, the company I’m working for wants me to stay and they’re prepared to sue me to ensure that I serve my full notice period. In the end, I agree to help them find and train up a replacement for me and I work the other job at night for the two weeks it takes me to fulfill that promise.

I walk away from this job knowing that I’ll never be anyone’s office bitch again.

Writers Bootcamp Day 4: I just couldn’t live without…

Wow. It’s amazing to really look at one’s life and realise just what you actually *can* do without.

I’ve gone without a lot of things in my lifetime so far and I’m pretty sure I could survive being without a whole bunch more *stuff*, too.

I can tell you that I’m a much nicer person to be around when I’m well fed and have access to chocolate when I want it. But I wouldn’t say I can’t live without it.

I gave up smoking quite easily, several years ago now, so that’s not it.

I’ve had my Life Plan derailed a couple of times before, lost touch with people I thought were more important to me than my own life, and moved on from that, too. So I reckon I could probably survive losing loved ones. (I know, I’m a horrible, horrible person.)

Which leaves the question, “What can’t I live without?” still pretty much unanswered…

I guess it’s got to be whatever that thing is that I draw on when life is utterly shit and it feels like I’m never going to be happy again. That something that urges me to get up again the next day and live. If I didn’t have that, I’d have killed myself long ago. So I guess I couldn’t live without that…

Telling Time

So here’s the thing. I really need to get better at writing this blog.The decision to start telling the story of my time spent in the “care” of the state was taken some time ago – quite some time. And then ignored for ever.

And then, a few months ago, I started up this blog so that I could start scribbling a bit after a long, long time spent doing anything but writing. But it’s harder than I thought it was going to be.  Somehow, the words forming in my head don’t come out the same when I type them. Maybe it’s a little bit because, once they’re out and I’m reading them from a stranger’s point of view, I don’t sound like the kind of person I’d like to know. Kind of like the drug addict that ambles up to your car at the local Engen on your way home, with their gaunt face and bad skin and teeth, spinning some story about how they just need 20 bucks’ petrol to get home and they’ll totally see you get it back if you just write down your phone number on this little scrap of paper….

I’m not a drug addict and my skin and teeth are okay. But when I look at myself from the outside, the impression I get is of someone somehow sullied. Someone unclean, someone infected. Not with disease, necessarily, or grit from not having washed for ages. Something deeper. Something rotten from the inside. Something festering and contagious, however intangible.

But it’s also a little bit because, having put it off for so long, it’s incredibly difficult to describe the unique brand of institutionalisation that only a child who’s been through the “clinic school” system will ever recognise. And sometimes, it seems to me that the things I remember couldn’t possibly be the truth.

Ah, fuckit. This isn’t supposed to be some sorry lament. I am not broken for having lived my life. Sure, there’s lots of it I don’t like. Lots that I’ve never taken the time to make sense of. But it is my truth, all of it; the good, the bad and the grey areas in between. And telling it is a bit like ripping off the band-aid, so I’ll have to ask you to bear with me if it comes out slowly and full of holes. I’ll try to fill them in as we go….

Bring Your Daughter (To the Slaughter)

There are a handful of instances in my life that I can remember when my father was present in it, as opposed to being an authority figure on the periphery.

There are flashes of him in my memories of being very, very small. And the time he taught me to ride a bike. And the two times he walked me to school  to attend prize givings I’d been invited to. I was invited every year but he only attended those two.

Then there was the day I was summoned to the living room, where he would sit in the middle of the big sofa with his feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, a newspaper spread open on the floor between them, elbows on his knees and his right thumb grinding into his left palm, head cocked to the side and right eyebrow raised into a sharp, Spock-like, upside down “V”. This was the scene whenever there was Trouble Afoot. When we’d done something bad enough to warrant Personal Intervention from Dad, so I knew it was going to be big. This was the day I was told that I would be leaving for “boarding school”.

He drove me there himself, a couple of days later, and I remember him telling me that if I behaved well, I could come home anytime I wanted to. I cried when he said this.

The place looked big and imposing when we arrived and we were greeted at the main entrance to the residential portion of the the compound by the principal himself. He was old (at least in his 50’s) and came across as being firm but fair. I would come to know him as Oom Weber.  He and his wife, a short, dumpy woman of around the same age, with short, curly black hair, ran the school. I suppose the idea was to give parents the impression of family – family values. Old fashioned, Afrikaner-style rules and discipline. With weekly visits to the resident psych thrown in. Oom Kobus.

Oom Kobus would spend many of our visits together telling me what a naughty little sexual deviant I was and how he knew I knew I really belonged here at this school, didn’t I? Not to worry, they’d get me all straightened out.