Starter for Seven

In the past few weeks, I’ve been nominated twice for the Stylish Blogger Award. Am I stylish, as a blogger? Is my blog stylish? Heck, I doubt it, but I’ll take what I get!

Thank you so much to Todd Pack over at Todd Pack’s Messy Desk for his generous nomination; Todd is one heck of a writer, whose commentary on popular culture and his beloved south is not only brilliantly written and insightful, but it’s also really funny. The second nomination came from workingtechmom over at her blog called Ouch, Fired! Workingtechmom writes about family life and work life, the balance required, as well as the challenges and the demands of working and not working. Thank you both for nominating me.

As with most blogging awards, there’s a task involved and that is to tell you seven things about myself that you might not know. Here goes:

  1. I am something of a global phenomenon. I am the current reigning world champion sleeper-in-front-of-the-television. I have slept through more movies and television programmes than anyone else I know, and my sleeping has absolutely nothing to do with how good the movie is, how much I’m enjoying it or how much I want to watch it. If I’m tired, I will sleep. And I hate that I do that. I once tried to watch Finding Forrester with my elder son, when he was a teenager. I fell asleep before the titles rolled, and my son kept calling me to wake me up:
    “Watch this cool part, Mom! It’s really funny!”
    Each time he rewound the movie to cue it to the part he wanted me to see, I would fall asleep. He tried about five times with one particular scene, without success, and then asked me if he could just pretend he was watching the movie alone. Oh dear.
  2. I hate washing up potato peelers.
  3. This one is a bit awkward: I keep checking my letter box and I have now come to the conclusion that *my Royal wedding invitation has got lost in the post*. Does anyone know the Royal protocol to pass on this kind of embarrassing piece of information? I know they’ll be waiting to get my RSVP. What to do, what to do?
  4. I have a ridiculous fear of heights. I have managed to do things like go up in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, travel in a small gondola up to the top of Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps and go up in the London Eye. When I can look ahead and avoid looking down, I can do it. If I look down, my stomach churns, my palms drip with sweat and I have to back away. And tell everyone else I know and love to back away too.
  5. I have started writing my book. My friend, Renee, over at Life in the Boomer Lane – a hugely talented, published writer who never ceases to make me laugh – has recently very generously shared her experiences regarding the process of writing a book. Everything she said made sense, especially the bit about how you need “to find your sentence” and then the book will flow from there. You will be pleased to know, Renee, that I have found my sentence. It made me cry, but I’m writing.
  6. I once suffered a bruised hip, playing rugby. Picture this: Muizenberg beach, Cape Town, a slow Sunday afternoon a few years ago. Our family and my husband’s brother and his family were enjoying a walk along the beach. Given that there were seven boys and three girls in the family group, we did what any similar group would do: decided to play a game of touch rugby on the beach. It would be rude not to. We split up into two teams. My team was gaining ground; we were dominating in both territory and possession. We were playing, if I may say so myself, spectacularly. I needed to give my team my all, so when one of my team mates threw me something of a hospital pass, I grabbed the ball and tried to make the best of the situation. I ran down my opponents and headed speedily towards the try-line. My legs ran too fast for my body, unfortunately, and I threw myself down – somewhat involuntarily – a short distance ahead of the try-line. It would have been an outstanding try if the beach hadn’t come up to meet me so quickly and dramatically and so far shy of the try-line. But I landed on the ball and that is how I bruised my hip.
  7. I have a new job. I have been hired as the publications and communications manager for a charity in London, and I started there last week. I am thrilled at this appointment, it will be a challenging and busy job, full of variety and possibility, and I am thrilled to be working in a small and active charity that really makes a positive difference in its sector.

As with similar awards, there is an obligation to pass this award on to fellow bloggers. I can honestly say that all of the blogs that I read are stylish and wonderful; they all make me think or laugh or cry or reflect and all of them keep me inspired and keep me reading and wanting to write better. If any of you would like to take up the mantle, please be my guest and go ahead. Just be careful not to bruise your hip.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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The Otherness of Being

Our family moved around a lot when I was a child. Every new place we went to, I had to adjust to a new school and make new friends. My parents did the rest. I learnt quickly to adjust, to settle in and to feel like I belonged. It’s not so easy when you’re older.

Some years ago, I worked for a non-government organisation in Cape Town. I worked there from 1993 to 2000, straddling the regime change in the South African government to a welcome democracy. Apart from the work that the organisation did, it focused keenly on organisation development; ensuring that the work it did, as well as they way it did the work, transformed appropriately in line with bigger changes in the country. Change was something we could always depend on.

We did loads of workshops and bosberade (literally “bush councils” – meetings in isolated venues to focus on a particular topic), learnt massively about ourselves as an organisation and as individuals, and laughed and cried as we grew in so many different ways. It was an incredible time in my life, and I learnt much that I loved and hated about myself.

Accordingly I changed in ways I hadn’t recognised even needed changing. It was about shining the mirror clean to get a clearer reflection of myself. I will always be a work in progress, but having the opportunity to develop a consciousness of that is something for which I am eternally grateful.

One workshop we did was presented by a daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. An amazing speaker and awesome personality, she gripped our attention for the entire day. I don’t remember what the workshop was called but she delved into loads of different awarenesses of self.

The strongest learning point for me was in identifying my own primary identity. I am totally oversimplifying this, but she told us that once we understood our own primary identity, we could understand how we view the rest of the world. And we tend to view the rest of the world in relation to that identity. So if I see myself primarily as a woman, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”. Equally, if I see myself primarily as white, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”.

It’s something that I have regularly been challenged to look at afresh in my own life. As a Christian, I am secure in my identity as a child of God. It’s finding my identity in my humanness that is my biggest struggle right now.

It’s no secret how much I miss my sons who are both back in Cape Town. Being a mother is a huge part of my identity, as is being part of a loving and close-knit nuclear family. We speak often, our love for each other is unquestioned, but we’re far apart. A month or two ago, a young couple in our church had their baby son dedicated. Both of their extended families filled our church for the service. I looked at them all together and I wept like a child with longing for my own family.

It is a conscious battle for me to choose not to find my identity in my work. Having worked constantly since I graduated from university (apart from a few years when my sons were born), I find it difficult to reconcile my identity as an unemployed person in London. Because of my job hunting nightmare here, I tend to view others from that perspective, and I find I see everyone around me as employed or with an income or livelihood of some description.

Finding my identity as a friend extends me too. I have wonderful, close friends back home – ones I hang out with regularly, talk with deeply, laugh with incessantly. They know who I am; I share a history with them. I have lovely friends here too, but I’m only just beginning a journey with them. That’s not a bad thing; I’m just trying to find where it all fits.

Starting a blog has been an amazing and positive experience for me. I love to write, to tell stories and share experiences and adventures with a growing community of wonderful writers, many of whom have also become friends. I haven’t quite found my identity through this yet; sometimes I see myself as a writer until I read the work of real writers, and I realise I am just a blogger. That’s okay too, and it keeps me reading and learning and growing and honing.

As you well know, life is not all bad in London! It continues to be an amazing adventure for my husband and me; we explore the city; we walk and we talk and we laugh; we grow memories and share a life here that we could never have imagined for ourselves. I know there is a deeper purpose in all of this for me and only with hindsight will I recognise what it is.

I don’t really know where I belong right now; I’m an absent Saffa and a visitor in London. Mostly I’m okay with that, but this topic has toiled through my mind for the whole weekend, circling and circling like a dog in a basket. I think it has now found its comfortable space and is ready to surrender to welcome sleep. As for me, I couldn’t have found rest until I wrote this.

Sunshine signing off for today.

I Blog. Therefore I Am

Apologies to Descartes. This post is in no way related to him. Nor in any way philosophical. (He was, but this post isn’t.) This is my contribution to blogging terminology. Not that I see myself as a post-er girl for blogging, it’s just that I love words and being silly. And not necessarily in that order.

This is my 100th post. I didn’t realise, when I pressed publish on that day in mid-August last year, what fun this blogging ride was going to be. I didn’t expect to be living my life out loud like this; I didn’t really know what to expect, but the friends and the support and the love I have encountered have been at the same time humbling and overwhelming. I’ve made wonderful friends, and I learn from your amazing writing every day and I recognise the depth of my passion for writing. And the act of writing every day has made me hungry to hone my skills.This is true community and I love it.

So, on to my post for today: my entries into the great, universal, blogging lexicon. A bloxicon, if you will:

  1. bloggard n one who boasts endlessly in her posts
  2. introblogger n one who thinks before she blogs
  3. extroblogger n one who blogs before she thinks
  4. blinge v to moan or whinge
  5. bligot n a blogging bigot
  6. blog envy n an overwhelming wish that you’d written the post you’ve just read
  7. flashblog n an event that drives readers to your post, for example, being Freshly Pressed
  8. blog-noser n one who compliments your writing because she wants something from you, for example, to steal your readers. See also blog envy.
  9. blogiarism n the act of stealing someone else’s post
  10. blogue n a post to avoid like the plague; could also mean a post about shoes
  11. blogotist n a blogger whose life and posts and comments revolve around her
  12. blaff v to spill your coffee or spurt milk out of your nose while you read a funny post
  13. blarf v to spill your coffee or spurt milk out of your nose while you read a disgusting post
  14. blibble v to allow saliva to spill from your mouth while reading a food post
  15. blingxiety n a fear that your blog may be too posh
  16. overblogging n the sharing of too much information
  17. blol n an acronym for “false laugh false laugh”
  18. blomb n a post that goes nowhere
  19. bloax n a fake post, or a post by a fake blogger
  20. hyperbloggilate v to use too much punctuation
  21. amblogilent adj to be in two minds about a post, or to be in two blogs at once
  22. bloring adj dull, unimaginative, usually refers to a post
  23. postitute n a blogger who will write anything to get comments
  24. bliyotch n a not very nice blogging female
  25. wannablog n someone who wishes they could blog
  26. blog-standard adj ordinary, common, everyday
  27. Bloghty n the country I blog from
  28. blong n bells and whistles you might attach to your blog
  29. bollogs n nonsense, rubbish. (Not to be confused with the dog’s bollogs, which can sometimes be used as a compliment.)
  30. writer’s blog n an affliction rendering you unable to think of what to post about next
  31. OCB n obsessive compulsive blogging; can manifest itself in many ways, for example the overwhelming need to post at the exact same time every day, or the need to ensure you use a word starting with each letter of the alphabet, in order, in every post
  32. blob n a post that does nothing, just sits there; a couch potato post
  33. blogged down adj to get side-tracked with too much detail
  34. bloggy-no-mates n a blog post with no comments. This is a sad word.
  35. ASBLOG n an order for posting social offensive material (derived from ASBO – a civil order , in use in the UK, made against someone displaying anti-social behaviour)
  36. blovvered adj what you are not, if someone leaves an unnecessarily nasty comment on your post. Example: Face? Blovvered? (Possibly originates from Catherine Tate, British comedienne.)
  37. BA n Bloggers Anonymous
  38. blingo n blog slang; could also mean a numbers game played via blog posts, but this is not very popular.
  39. colonoscopost n a post that, when you read it, makes you feel very uncomfortable
  40. beatblox v it’s a rap

I have used the feminine version of words and pronouns to avoid having to write he/she, which can get very boring.

I hope this has enlightened, edified and educated you today. If not, I hope it made you blaff. Please send me your additions – I’ve no doubt there are plenty of wonderful words to add to the bloxicon.

In the words of my favourite Cape Town comedian, Marc Lottering’s character, Aunty Merle, “Ooh, I can be so foolish.”

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

It’s Only Words

The pen is mightier than the sword, so we’re told. But the pen would be pretty ineffective without words. Words and language. We use them to encourage, to destroy, to belittle, to praise, to teach, to instruct, to entertain, to sing, to praise, to mobilise, to raise awareness. Sometimes we use them wrongly and miss the mark. Other times they just make us laugh. Let’s laugh today.

Firstly, I make myself laugh with words I use wrongly. I think of words past and present that I have got quite wrong:

  1. When I was little and living in Zambia, I used to run outside when I heard my Dad’s car rolling into our driveway at home. I was always excited to see him and tell him what I’d been doing and show him new things I’d learnt. Like how to put a record on the gramophone player, all by myself. Or how I’d learnt to read my new school book. My Dad would come inside, greet everyone and take his seat in the lounge and exhale. He’d ask me to use my new-found skill and switch on the radio. He’d tell me to look for the ivory button with SW1 written over it, and then I had to push the button down and wait for the dulcet tones of newsreaders sharing information worldwide. I remember hearing their words booming through the fabric-lined speakers on our gramophone player. Topical in those days were issues in what I thought was the Serviette Union. I always imagined a nation filled with napkins, and I couldn’t work out what they could possibly be squabbling about. Who’s laying the table?
  2. My sister and I were bathing together one night, when we were very little. My Dad came to tell us to hurry up because we were going to the pantomime that night. I don’t remember which one of us said this, but my Dad overheard one of us saying, “We have to hurry because we’re going to the pant-of-Daddy’s.”
  3. When I’d pour myself a glass of orange and water (we weren’t allowed fizzy drinks), my Mom would always caution me, as I thought, not to fill the glass “to the broom”. I used to wonder what the broom had to do with the glass and the juice, until I discovered brim was probably the correct word.
  4. My enthusiasm was sometimes tempered by my Mom’s saying, “Don’t go at it like a bulletagate.” I never knew what a bulletagate was, until I heard the expression “bull at a gate”.
  5. One of my husband’s favourite albums, when we were students, was Cher’s “I Paralyse”. The first time I heard him mention it, I thought he said it was called “Five Barrel Eyes”. He’s never allowed me to forget that!
  6. More recently, we’ve discovered a fabulous singer/songwriter here in London, called Rumer. One of her recent hits is a song called “Aretha”. Do yourself a favour and check her out here – she’s really quite special. I had heard this song on the radio for months, and I thought the opening line was, “I’ve got a reason, in the morning.” I didn’t really think beyond that. When we saw her live, I realised the line was in fact, “I’ve got Aretha, in the morning. High on my headphones and walking to school.” Go figure.

And, of course, there are things other people say that make me laugh. Here’s a smidgen of these:

  1. My husband and I travelled on the bus the other day. We sat upstairs, alongside a lone other commuter, who was engrossed in a mobile phone conversation. That meant there were just three of us upstairs. My husband and I eavesdropped her conversation so unbelievably, we were discussing it when we got off the bus. I said a few words to my husband every now and then, to stop myself from asking the woman what she had just said, or what she meant. I guess we need to get a life, yeah? This is what we overheard:  “I fort I would call ‘er and conversate wif ‘er, yeah? She’s bear shy, yeah? So I AKSED what she meant when she said that, yeah? And I don’t know much, but I know, yeah? And if the cap fits on my big head, if it’s not too big or cockeyed on my head, then I’m gonna wear it, yeah?”
  2. I spilled some salad dressing on my cardigan last night. Not being much of a domestic goddess, and not having any stain remover at hand, I Googled possible solutions and, quite honestly, I am none the wiser and my cardigan still bears a stain.  “Many people prefer things stain removal alone is not engaged in, and use the services of dry cleaners. Other mistresses, by contrast, prefer to do everything yourself, believing that it accurately to your stuff no one will treat. Whatever it was, useful tips to remove fat and oil stains may be the way, if you suddenly spot a need to withdraw immediately.”
  3. Before my husband and I were married, we were gathered together at my family home with all of my siblings. We decided to play Trivial Pursuit, which, in our family, is as much about asking the questions correctly as it is about getting the answers right. And all the chirps and banter in between. My family is merciless. (No comments, I know what you’re thinking!) It came to my husband to read out a question: “For which feature film was Duelling Banjos the theme tune?” My family, to a man, collapsed in a hysterically laughing heap. You know when you look at a word and it looks well forrin? Well, my husband had looked at the song title and pronounced it: “Dew-elling Ban-Joss”. Needless to say, he has never been allowed to forget that slip of the tongue. He needed the movie title in more ways than one: Deliverance.

I’d love to hear about your funny words, misheard and mis-pronounced. Words keep us connected in so many ways, but they also tear us apart and crack us up. I’d love to hear your examples of the latter.

“Talk in everlasting words, and dedicate them all to me. And I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me. You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say, It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”    (Words, The Bee Gees)

Sunshine signing off for today!

Big blogger’s watching you

A few years ago I did a short sound-bite for national television news. As media spokesperson for our organisation, I had to provide comment on a tragic incident that had dominated the media that day. It wasn’t my first or only such interview.

The reporter and cameraman arrived at our offices. The reporter chatted to me while the cameraman set up his camera in the corner of the room. Reporter and I stood next to each other, like the two old men in the Muppets. She and I engaged in small talk without looking at each other. If I’d been a guy, I guess I would have hooked my thumbs into my belt, altered my stance to an at ease one, and with chin down I would have looked through the top of my eyes and spoken in a slightly deep, nasally version of my own voice. I did the female version of that, and stood with bent elbows and hands on the back of my hips.

Cameraman gave us the go, and we sat down, did a quick sound check and made sure I was sitting within good eyeshot of the camera. Reporter asked me a few questions. I stumbled over my words a bit to begin with but knew that would be edited out. I knew what message I needed to get across, and I knew that I needed to use snappy, information-rich sentences because, heck, I’d probably get 15 seconds of airtime. I knew all of that. What I hadn’t thought about was …

Watching television news that night, with customary cushion in front of face because I hate watching myself in any kind of video, my heart started racing as the piece came up. As the news anchor read the back story, what should come on screen but her nibs with hands on hips… And with the gormless expression of one engaged in small talk. Like a Muppet. It seemed like I was on the screen like that for hours before they cut to the interview, which, by the way, came across just fine. (Although why don’t they use soft focus and bring a make-up person along with them? Just asking.)

I know the golden rules of there being no such thing in dealing with the media as off the record and that when doing television interviews, you watch what you say from the moment the camera starts rolling because anything can be used. What I hadn’t thought about was that the camera was rolling as the cameraman was setting up, and I was caught with my, well, hands on hips. And it didn’t look too good. Or elegant. I was just glad I hadn’t had an inelegant scratch or picked my nose. Not that I would, but just imagine?

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and my blog post about the Van Morrison concert. Effusive would be an insipid term for my descriptions of the man and the concert. That blog post, in its entirety and, fortunately with correct attribution and a link to my blog, appeared on a Van Morrison news blog that day. I still can’t decide whether I am thrilled about that or not.

And here’s the thing: in my blog post, I wrote about the “chirpy Dutch chappy in checked shirt” who sat next to me and helped me with the song titles. He read my blog post on the other site. He commented after the post, “Hey Sunshine in London, I’m the cheery Dutch guy you wrote about. I didn’t realise you were writing a review, let alone that you would mention me.”

I sat open-mouthed as I read that, thinking how grateful I was that I had written what I had about him. What if the “stiff-lipped English couple” on the other side of me had read that blog post? They could well have, I don’t know.

When I got to my zumba class last week, the first person I locked eyes with was the person I had described, a few weeks back, perhaps not as well as I could have. Actually, I wrote that she couldn’t dance. I smiled coyly at her and slunk to the back of the class thinking, “I-hope-she-doesn’t-read-my-blog-I-hope-she-doesn’t-read-my-blog.” I guess there is no reason she would, but who knows?

The beauty of blogging and citizen journalism is that everything is out there. We all have our opinions, and we all comment on social issues, events, political issues, whatever takes our fancy. But the flipside of it is also that everything is out there. Here in the UK, with CCTV cameras everywhere, there is also someone watching you all the time – just ask the thoughtless cat in the wheelie bin lady.

My television news interview that day was a lesson to me. And I introduced it into my media training workshops for my colleagues, much to their amusement. The Van blog post incident was a lesson to me too. I tend not to write about friends or family; I don’t want anyone to think they have to watch their words because what they say will end up in my blog. I tend also to write within the boundaries of my interests and knowledge, and heck, if it makes me laugh and falls within these boundaries, I’ll write about it. My intention is never to mock or be nasty, but living my life out loud in this way means anyone – and everyone – can read what I write.

So here I stand, with hands on hips, not wanting to censor the fun out of my blog posts, but wanting to acknowledge the public face of blogging. It just makes me think.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Do the write thing

Writing makes me feel connected. I think I have always known that on a deeper level, but I never realised, until I moved to the other side of the world and so much of my life changed, just how true and significant that was for me.

When my boys were little, I kept a book for each of them. I would write the funny things they would say and yes, there were plenty! But I would also write a journal of what it was like to be their mother, to witness their lives through a mother’s eyes, and how it felt to watch each of them becoming who they are today, two kind, beautiful and caring young men.

In my work, I have always had to write – newsletters, annual reports, media releases and website content. The writing that brought me alive was always where I took a chance and wrote about my experience of what I had to do or write about. Like my perspective on taking a journalist deep into the townships in Cape Town to interview a couple about the business they started from their humble shack. While the journalist was looking for hard news, I knew that the story was deeper than their business. So as the journalist was about to turn her back on them, I started to ask questions and their answers intrigued her. She took out her notebook and started to write and she left with an amazing, heart-warming story. And the story I wrote of that experience is one of which I am very proud.

Since we’ve been in London, I have written an email to my family every week. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, every week.  Until I started blogging – a whole two months ago! – I guess my weekly email was my family-blog. My darling family get all the goss, the low-down, the inside stories and the things that make me crack up. Bless them for not unsubscribing. (Not that I’ve ever given them the option!) But the writing and sharing of information with them is important to me. It keeps me connected to them and it makes me feel like I am carrying them along with me on this adventure, which sometimes feels like a roller-coaster ride, but it never feels like I am alone.

Now I get to do that – censored, to a certain extent – with all of you. And I realised the other day that my blogging world connection is my water cooler conversation every day. Working from home, as I do – in a manner of speaking, if you call writing articles about “trimming your goatee with a nose trimmer” a job, it’s fun and it pays for, um, postage stamps – I miss the connection with other people. My husband always comments on how much of a social person I am, how I love meeting other people, I’m always so interested in getting to know other people, finding out about them and then telling them my jokes. And I guess that’s what I do with all of you.

Writing in this fashion is one way of connecting with other people. And it’s never a one-way experience. I love the interaction with each of you lovely, loyal readers of my blog – your comments make my day, your sharing of my journey makes my day, and I love getting to know each of you. I so enjoy reading your blogs too, getting to know you and engaging with you through what you write. You share so much of who you are through what you write. I learn from you, I learn what great writing looks like, and you’re becoming my new friends and colleagues.

This post has turned into something different from what I had planned. I guess it’s become a tribute to writing. And to you. Thank you.

Sunshine signing off for today.