Second Life Book Club: A conversation with Karina M. Szczurek

This should be fun! 15 June 2022, 9PM (South African time): Second Life Book Club with Draxtor

Here are some shots from my first visit to the Second Life Book Club, when I had my tutorial on how it all works.

My avatar’s ears wiggle :) She is a real Szczurek.

Of broken things

Someone I work with on a project had a serious medical emergency recently. Their recovery took a while and delayed the project. The delay wasn’t a big deal, we were all just glad that the person was recovering well and would be all right. And the project is more or less back on track now.

When objects or the body break, it is not only more obvious, but usually easier to accept the reality of the situation. The brokenness is a real thing in the world. If your leg is broken and in a cast, no one will ask you to run a marathon with them. One plans and works around the broken bones and adjusts to what is possible until they are completely healed.

When something invisible that does not obviously manifest in the physical world breaks, the only way to communicate it to other people is by putting on a cast made of words. But when you say ‘my mind is broken’ or ‘my heart is broken’ or ‘my soul is broken’ or ‘I am broken’, somehow it is usually not enough, unless you explain exactly what is happening. And the problem is that often you actually do not know, or are simply too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted to even try to explain. But because you seem otherwise fine, people still expect you to run the marathon with them.

I haven’t been well for quite a while and I am all of the above – too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted – to explain. I am sometimes angry that I have to explain anything at all. I want it to be enough that when I say ‘I am not well’, I am believed and that my invisible brokenness is respected. I want to be allowed to heal without constantly having to justify why I can’t run the marathon. I want to celebrate that I can get up in the morning and walk, which most days feels like the greatest achievement already. I still manage quite a lot, just not the marathon that is expected of me.

And then, there is the inescapable global brokenness. In her latest newsletter, the wonderful Esther Perel writes: ‘Is it any wonder so many of us are feeling numb and disoriented? Alert: this, too, is part of the mental health crisis. In response to tragedy after tragedy, many of us are cycling through fight, flight, and freeze responses faster than we can finish a cup of coffee—myself included.’

Empaths are having a really, really hard time right now, even if they themselves are not broken – the world around us is.

One of the hardest things for me right now is that I am breaking my promises. Because I promised to run the marathon – which is impossible with broken bones, even if only invisible – there are many people who are still eager to continue with the preparations and find it difficult to accept that it’s not happening as fast as I had promised them it would when I was still fit to run. My slow walking requires a lot of patience. But even though it does break my heart to have to deal with the occasional lack of patience, I also understand. After all, I made promises I cannot keep. It’s all right if anyone wants to run without me. I accept that.

I break promises I made to myself. This is hard, too. The only thing I keep hanging on to like a lifeline is my writing. The book is being written. But facing the book’s content is also facing my brokenness.

Another hard thing is the numbness, the inability to take stuff in – the good and the bad. It’s almost as if the metaphorical cast around me is so thick and large that nothing or very little gets through. Again, for an empath this is an unusual way of being.

Today, something really good happened. After almost five years of paying off the debt for Topolino, we finally, officially belong to each other, and this morning I received the document to prove it (the process of the transfer was quite challenging in my current state of being, but I managed!). I would take Topolino for a celebratory spin around town, but I – like so many others – cannot afford to be that frivolous when fuel prices and marathon dreams, among so many other things, are breaking my bank account. Also, ironically, I suppose, my garage door broke this weekend and going for a spin is another challenge altogether. I will be phoning the electrician today and waiting patiently for his arrival. I will walk until Topolino can be easily freed again.

Walking is fortunately still possible for me, even when I am invisibly broken. Walking will have to be enough for a while. Accepting my limitations and setting healthy boundaries are part of my healing process.

LitNet: The yumness of the Kingsmead Book Fair 2022

KBF

Even for Capetonians, it is doable in a day, and the access could not be more perfect: you take an early flight to Joburg, get on the Gautrain, arrive at the Rosebank station, and Kingsmead College is right opposite its exit. The college is the venue of the Kingsmead Book Fair (KBF). It is a one-day affair, so in the evening you can go straight home. This year was the first time I decided to attend, and I loved every second of it, despite the journey and the freezing cold and rain that accompanied the event.

LitNet

LitNet: Real Fiction – The revival of the Franschhoek Literary Festival

I wrote about the FLF for LitNet:

“Other people do not walk around with fictional characters and stories occupying the majority of their headspace. Writers do. Tuned into alternative realities, often the most intimate relationships they have are with their Muses. As readers, we are fascinated by them and the beauty, perception, solace and entertainment they can offer through their stories. We attend literary festivals to rub shoulders with these strange creatures and to discover what inspires them, what makes them tick.”

LitNet

FLF

FLF

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Seven

Healing is not always possible. The wheels of time turn, seasons change and there is no going back, because choice has been taken out of our hands. At one stage, all of us have to face the inevitable. But sometimes it is simply too soon. And no one is ready. We can never know when it is going to be our time to say goodbye.

So when time and choice are available to us, we have to make the most of them. Life is too short not live our dreams. Especially when the dreams flow from a core of love and kindness and beauty. And when truth can set us free. The things I want are simple and I am prepared to fight for them, no matter how tired I am and how easy it would be to give up. There has to be a way. And I have always been infinitely patient. And full of hope.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Six

Someone I care about very much waited all afternoon long for her beloved husband to come out of a serious surgery. He was admitted to hospital last week and is in ICU now after the op. His recovery begins tonight.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat at a woman’s table who has faced cancer head-on and will not give it the satisfaction of ruining her life. She, too, is brave beyond words.

I have had to take my little Glinka three times to the vet in the past week. Today, she was there for eight hours. This is the longest she has been away from home since her sterilisation almost fourteen years ago. She had to have some more tests and a procedure done, and it wasn’t certain whether she would be able to come home tonight, but she is back, has already eaten and is on my lap. I couldn’t face the idea of sleeping tonight without her in the house.

I tried not to think too much in the last few days. Did my work and enjoyed every smile, beautiful word and sunray that came my way. The FLF happened and it was amazing. I am supposed to write about it. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. Or maybe even the next day …

Tonight, we sleep, and heal.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Five

My washing machine is broken. It has been for quite a while. In the beginning of the year, the municipality was fixing the ancient water pipe system in our area and the repairs caused prolonged disruptions to our water supply. We hardly ever received warning when the water would be cut off. It was difficult to plan anything. One day, the washing machine was on, the water went off, no one noticed, and, running on empty, the pump broke. (I think.) Everything came to a standstill and no matter what buttons I pressed and dials I turned, the machine seemed dead.

The washing machine is ancient. It was in this house before I arrived in South Africa. It might be even more than twenty years old. But: it had served me well, and I love it. I really do. Sadly, I have been busy and broke and just as broken, so making a plan to fix or replace it has not featured highly on my agenda. The facts that my mother gave me a suitcase full of new clothes recently, and that I’d had enough clothes and linen to last forever anyway have encouraged the decision non-making about the poor, old thing. Anyway, there is a nice laundromat nearby, and my friends have functioning washing machines, and I have no problem with washing a few items by hand. Time is on my side, too.

After the breakdown, the machine did not respond to any attempts at revival. It needed to lick its wounds. A few weeks, I tried a settings or two and discovered that even though the pump was broken, the machine could perform other functions. It just needed a bit of help, and understanding, and time. I studied it, assisted a bit, fiddled some more with the settings, showed patience and did not expect miracles. I could do a pre-wash by hand, transfer the laundry to the machine, help with the pumping of water, and the machine would wash and spin like it used to. Gradually, we found a way. Together. I am not saying it’s easy. Nothing really changed: we are still both broken and need to be fixed, but with a bit of kindness and care, we manage – the ancient washing machine and I – and piles of freshly washed laundry are waiting for ironing.

Big family news: I am going to be a step-great-grandmother.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Four

The fifth wave is rolling in. I oscillate between gratitude and despair. Gratitude, because I am still here, still standing. Despair, because I feel the weight of what has been lost in the process. Both have to be acknowledged. I am noticing something else, too. I know of a few people who have managed to thrive – personally and professionally – under lockdown. The stars aligned in such a way that this time of loss and heaviness became a time of opportunity and lightness for them. It is heartening to see. But it is rare. So many others have had to survive the impossible. Many didn’t. And I am beginning to understand that even those of us who’ve managed to get to the other side seemingly unscathed – who are still here, still getting up in the morning, still carrying on – are running on empty. The act of getting here has exhausted most of our resources. And not enough time has passed, not enough has been recovered and cultivated, to replenish those non-existent reserves, to nurture our resilience back into shape. We are somehow still getting on with it, but the smallest hurdle can derail us. There is nothing else left to draw on in order to overcome. This is not a safe space.

When the hurdle is not small, our world collapses around us. And it’s nearly impossible to explain why. (Please don’t ask.)

I still manage to get up in the morning, to get on with some things – although everything, absolutely everything, is a challenge right now. All I really want is to lie down and rest for a very, very long time. I don’t know how else to heal.

My Mom gave me a new summer dress. I love wearing it.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Three

A war-torn, flooded landscape of desolation. Ruins, no signposts, a weak moon rising on the horizon. A lone figure at an unmarked grave. Too numb to weep.

I know who lies buried here in the country of my soul. I don’t want to pretend otherwise. But I have no words to explain. (Please don’t ask.) It is a time of mourning.

I cut my lockdown hair.