April 30, 2014 § 3 Comments
I have a lot of friends. I count myself blessed to have them, and came across a word the other day that sums them up perfectly – they’re my framily.
But the best friends are the ones who aren’t any work at all. Some of them I’ve known for years and hardly see, while others I’ve only recently made and talk to quite often. It’s not about how long I’ve known them, it’s about the way I feel around them.
But right now, I’m at my friend, Nina’s, lovely beach house. She’s not – when we arrived, she’d left to drop other friends off at the airport, and her kids were here to welcome us. But I am so comfortable around her and her family – whom I’ve not seen for almost a year – that I’ve made myself some tea, popped the bottle of bubbly I brought with me into the fridge, and plopped down on my bed to gaze at the view.
In an hour or so, she’ll arrive, the kettle will go on, and we’ll simply pick up where we left off. No mess, no fuss, no awkward social protocols.
Later I’ll perch on the kitchen counter while she cooks, or I’ll peel the veggies for her; we might even dance badly around the kitchen to embarrass the kids. I’ll make us tea, or she will. We’ll talk and laugh and gently scold our kids together and drink far too much sparkling wine. And in the morning I’ll probably drink coffee with her and her husband on the verandah in my Hello Kitty pyjamas, without an ounce of self-consciousness.
Because that’s the kind of friend she is. And that kind is the very best kind of all.
April 23, 2014 § 3 Comments
Two Sundays ago, I stood on my front stoep with my friend (and bona fide professional musician and producer) Lionel Bastos, and sang four of my own songs to an audience of 50 or so people. I didn’t write about it last week, because I didn’t have the words.
It was a beautiful evening. Lionel sang two sets of his magnificent music, another dear friend, Ruth Everson, performed her searing, spectacular poetry, and I bared my soul – and allowed my voice to be heard – in a way I haven’t done for years. It was thoroughly terrifying and utterly energising at the same time. I felt like I was on the cusp of something momentous.
I’ve always been involved in music in some way or another. I learned to play the piano at school, I performed in musicals, I sang in choirs, I taught myself to play the guitar and steeldrum (badly) and even leaned out of the window at my university residence and sang sad songs to the night air during a particularly dramatic phase. But I only realised late in life that the thing I love most about music is collaborating with others.
It’s hard to explain, but if you take singing in a choir as an example, the moment I love best is when, after you’ve rehearsed all the voice parts separately, the conductor raises his hand and you sing together for the first time. It’s often imperfect, but there’s something about the energy of that collaboration and the richness of the sound that creates a kind of magic.
That’s what I loved most about that Sunday evening. Lionel and I had two fairly shambolic, haphazard rehearsals of my songs. We rehearsed none of his. But there was a collaboration that happened – I sang harmonies for him wherever possible; he did the same for me. There was banter, there was laughter, there were little moments of surprise and shared grins between he and I at a faltered chord or a forgotten lyric that the audience probably didn’t see. It was perfect in its imperfection.
And for me, it felt like magic. For me, it felt like the beginning of something wonderful, something new.
I hope I’m right. Because I want to feel like that again. And again. And again.
April 16, 2014 § 9 Comments
When I was growing up, thank you notes were non-negotiable. After every birthday party, my mom sat us down with a writing pad and a list of the presents we’d received, and we wrote proper thank you letters to friends and family members who’d spoilt us.
It wasn’t good enough to say, “Dear Uncle James, thank you for the book.” It had to be a proper letter, at least a page and a couple of paragraphs long. But somehow, in a world of texts and typing, we’ve lost the art of writing letters, and thank you letters in particular.
But there were five people I needed to thank, so I sat down to write. And a funny thing happened.
Just like forgiveness – which frees the the forgiver, not the forgiven – I found that the act of expressing gratitude was an enormously uplifting exercise for me.
It’s so easy to just say “thank you” and leave it at that. To be general, yet grateful, and hope that will do. But if you sit down and get specific, if you try to unpack why you appreciate someone, you are left with a sense of awe and wonder at the extraordinary people who inhabit your life. And your heart smiles.
Or at least, mine does.
April 10, 2014 § 9 Comments
I woke up this morning and realised I’d forgotten to blog yesterday. I have a reminder set up on my computer, and yet somehow it passed unnoticed that yesterday was Wednesday, and Wednesday is blogging day.
I think it’s because I’m having so much fun at the moment, and that’s good, right? Because I’m organising a casual soirée at my home on Sunday night – an evening of poetry and music and community – and it has consumed me.
Why? Well, partly because I love hosting gatherings of people and deciding what to feed them, how to make them feel at home, anticipating their needs as much as possible. I’ve hosted birthday parties and baby showers and book clubs and bridal showers for other people just because I love entertaining so much.
But mostly it’s because there’s another sort of entertainment I love too – put me on a stage and I’m in a very happy place. And this weekend, for the first time in many, many years I’ll be on a stage, singing a handful of my own songs, for a paying audience. Not just that, I’m singing with someone so talented and experienced and accomplished I can scarcely believe he’d agree to sing with me. It literally takes my breath away.
I cannot wait.
And I’m simultaneously neurotic, terrified, panic-stricken, anxious and filled with self-doubt – but in a good way. It’s messing with my sleep, and with my focus on my day job a little, but it’s the best feeling in the world.
Now all I have to do is pull the damn thing off.
April 4, 2014 § 3 Comments
You gotta love life insurance. It’s just one massive bet, isn’t it – with the odds stacked hugely in the insurer’s favour. Basically, this is how it works:
1. You decide that in order to provide for your family if something happens to you, life insurance is the way to go.
2. You contact your broker, who works out the best option and gives you a stack of papers to fill in. He leaves smiling at the commission he’s going to get, and in return you get writer’s cramp from filling in every tiny detail of your life – from the blind pimple you had last week to the corns on your granny’s toes that may or may not have killed her. Because heaven forbid they find out after your untimely demise that you failed you mention that. It might have been a factor in the bus accident that took you out. (What if you’d been a little more nimble? What if the corn on your toe had been properly dealt with by the podiatrist? YOU MIGHT STILL BE ALIVE!!! Sorry, we can’t pay out.)
3. You jump through a million hoops. Doctors’ reports. Blood tests. Things that require being measured and weighed. Why? To manage their risk. And don’t think the form-filling-in has stopped yet – no, you have to give consent, and explain all the stuff you’ve explained before, and remember every single bloody doctor or physio or dental visit you’ve ever head, in minute detail, possibly describing which shoes said doctor or physio or dentist was wearing at each appointment, as well as a comprehensive breakdown of the weather on each occasion. Because it’s all relevant.
4. They finally deign to grant you cover, but there are always exclusions. You’re too fat. Your blood pressure is too high. Or too low. Or too normal. Or you’re not covered for any musculo-skeletal conditions because you once saw a physio when you got a crick in the neck. Perhaps they spotted you walking a block on your daily run last week. Gasp! Shock! Horror! You’re so unhealthy!
5. You fork out a fair proportion of your hard earned money FOREVER with only suspicion, exclusion and bureaucracy in return.
UNLESS YOU DIE.
Because the chief aim is not to pay out, you understand. That’s how they make their money. Sure, if you’ve only paid one or two premiums and you pop your clogs, and you jumped through all the hoops before you died, they’ll pay out, but they know the chances are slim. They know you’re not taking life insurance because you fully expect to keel over in a month or two. The odds are so ridiculously stacked in their favour, it’s obscene.
April 2, 2014 § 8 Comments
It worries me a little that in our 24/7/365 culture, where everything is open and available all the time, that we never, ever seem to disconnect from work.
Perhaps this is just my perspective, because I’m a freelancer, so the lines get a little blurred. But I don’t think so. More and more I see people taking work home, answering work emails late at night, and even taking their work with them when they go on leave. (Yes, Dave Luis, I’m looking at you.)
I think we do ourselves a huge disservice when we do this last thing – and I speak as one who’s going on holiday soon and is trying to decide – as usual – whether or not to take her laptop. You know… just in case.
Where did we get the idea that we are all supposed to be available and accessible at all times, simply because we have the ability to be so? Why do we believe that we must respond to that phone call, email, text message immediately, when in fact, all of these things are simply tools? More importantly, they are your tools. Tools that you decide how to use if you choose to use them. Tools that are there for your convenience – not anyone else’s.
It’s about boundaries, and control and learning to understand what’s truly important.
I learn this lesson every time I take a bit of leave. My job is literally a no-work-no-pay one, so going away for 10 days means 10 days of no income. And that means that in the weeks preceding my leave I work like a dog, and my to-do list just seems to grow instead of shrink, no matter how many things I tick off at the end of each day.
Inevitably, though, there are things I don’t get to – things I thought were life-threateningly important while they were on my list. I go on holiday, I come home, and I pick them up again. No-one bats an eyelid. My clients’ businesses continue to run. My house is still standing. The world continues to turn.
But there’s something else to consider: you disempower your colleagues (and clients, in my case) if you regard yourself as indispensable. Because basically, you’re being a control freak. And maybe there isn’t one person who can step into your shoes wholesale, but I’m willing to bet that if your colleagues each cover a small part of whatever it is that you do, they can fill the gap while you’re gone. And then, when they go on leave, you will do the same for them, and respect their hard-earned rest time – that’s how teamwork should work.
I know it’s a wrench. And I know it’s hard to relinquish control. Believe me, I know. But I also know that on the couple of occasions where I’ve been firm with myself, it’s been completely worth it, and I’ve been better for it.
When I come back I’m better at my job, and a better human being in general, simply because I’ve taken the time to replenish the well of my creativity and productivity.
Go on, I dare you.