Fay Weldon passed away on 4 January. She was 91. I can’t say that I knew her, but I did meet her in 2009 and spent some time in her delightful company in Oslo while we were staying at the magical Aschehoug villa. Fay and André shared the same Norwegian publisher and were participating in a few literary events to promote their latest books at the time. It was just after Fay’s 78th birthday and engaging with her I remember thinking, ‘I want to be always as full of life and wonder as you are, but especially when I am older.’
Living and travelling with André, I’d had the opportunity of meeting many of my literary heroes. In most cases, these encounters had been sheer pleasure. And meeting Fay Weldon definitely belongs to these memories. She was kind and funny and generous. She made me feel like one of ‘us’, a writer, even though I was a complete nobody, making only my first steps in writing and publishing fiction back then. Not all established authors show this kind of generosity of spirit when it comes to emerging writers, but it can be such a gift. I remember and treasure it. And I am grateful for all the hours I spent in Fay Weldon’s literary company, reading her books which, even now when their author has joined the Great Library in the Sky, will always remind me of the inspiring woman who wrote them.
Imagine Little Prince’s ‘hat’ upside down. This is how I see 2022 in retrospect. A good beginning, a deep dive into awfulness, a few months of a terrible low, and a gradual return to stability. There were several significant highs, but they had to compete against a lot of darkness.
January: Watched a beautiful wedding on Zoom. Climbed Table Mountain and had dinner at The Hoghouse for my 45th birthday. A fabulous, unforgettable bubbly weekend at Graham Beck followed.
February: A beautiful weekend of literature, wine and delicious food in Elgin, one of my happy places.
March: A magical trip to the Seychelles where I was reunited with my Mom and Krystian and went snorkeling for the first time; we celebrated all the birthdays we missed celebrating during lockdown and loved every second of being together. The return of the (mini) Open Book Festival.
April: Watched the magical Firefly at the Baxter. Visited Oudrif, one of my other happy places. Had a haircut to remove all the bad energy gathered in the tips of my hair.
May: Neighbour’s 70th birthday celebration. Franschhoek Literary Festival and Kingsmead Book Fair.
June: I don’t remember much.
July: Topolino became mine after I paid off the loan. Rosebank Writers met for the first time. The Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo was awarded the 2022 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Five Years Next Sunday’, published in Disruption (2021) – a SSDA anthology I co-edited with Rachel Zadok and Jason Mykl Snyman.
August: A dear friend’s 40th birthday party. Another trip to our beloved Oudrif.
September: Return of the (maxi) Open Book Festival. A weekend in Saldanha with new, lovely friends. Blown Away by Books. Gothenburg Book Fair.
October: Visit with Mom and Krystian in Austria for three weeks (and finding great memories in the boxes of my old stuff stored in my Mom’s attic)! Cape Flat Book Festival.
November: Road trip and literary festival in Richmond. Spiritual walk with a new friend in Lundadno. Aunt Zosia’s first visit in Cape Town.
December: The Book Lounge’s 15th birthday party. Second Karavan Press Literary Festival. Beethoven 9th at City Hall. Relaxed Christmas. Meeting my step-great-granddaughter for the first time.
Throughout the year, with the help of my friend Joanne, I managed to continue working on the manuscript of No and Other Contradictions. The first draft is almost finished. And considering that we met only once a week for about forty times, about three hours of writing each time, I think that this is a gigantic achievement.
Greatest lesson of 2022: Setting healthy boundaries is life-saving/changing.
Best books of 2022 (apart from the ones I published at Karavan Press, of course) in no particular order:
The Dark Flood
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention
Mothers, Fathers and Others: New Essays
Ougat: From a Hoe Into a Housewife and Then Some
Mad Bad Love
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic
The Memory of the Air
Pip and Egg
The Invincible Miss Cust
Panya Routes: Independent Art Spaces in Africa
The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World
Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi
I am still reading a few that I wish I had finished this year, but …
At dinner last night, a friend and I reminisced about delighting as children in the simplest things just because they were special to us: for her it was sweets and for me it was oranges. She grew up in a time and place when sweets were not easily attainable, and even though my time and place were different, oranges were just as unattainable for me. I would sometimes get one orange as a gift for Christmas, and every time I peel one today, I still think of my childhood. In my friend’s family, they called these simple treasures ‘luxuries’. Many years later, they still use the word and it still holds its magic. When we parted, I wished my friend a luxurious festive season. And today, I wish it for all of us. May we delight in the simple things, and never take them for granted.
My Christmas Eve’s table is set – as is the tradition in our home at Christmas time, I set it for one extra person in case someone needs a place at our table – and my heart is filled with luxuries. I wish everyone health and love and luxuries this Christmas and in the New Year. Merry Christmas!
I interviewed Louisa Treger about her life and books, including her latest, Madwoman (Bloomsbury, 2022) for Woman Zone. Always a great joy to talk to Louisa – an amazing woman writing about other amazing women!
You could hear the earth sighing with relief and the river bursting with longing. It’s not often that you get to experience rain at Oudrif, even when you are regulars like us. Last weekend, we had a whole rainy day, but also sunshine and warmth and the glory of the flower season all around.
A different kind of light, of being.
We rested, read, went for walks, ate like royalty and returned home with a little bit of calm in our hearts and heads.
And then, there was Jack, one of the rescues from the last CLAWS project I had the privilege to assist with. When he was found, he was barely alive: skeleton and skin, sores all over, starving to death. Seeing him, I did not believe that he would make it. Yet … this weekend, not even a month later, we went for a walk together. His muscles are still learning how to do that – walk, run, play. He is three years old, but all he knew before Jeanine rescued him was a short rope around his neck and a small, merciless enclosure. Despite everything he has suffered through, Jack is full of love and trust, and when he is ready to be adopted after his convalescence in Oudrif, the humans of his forever home will be very lucky to have his beautiful presence in their lives.
If you would like to support Jeanine and CLAWS and at the same time stand a chance to experience the restorative magic of Oudrif for yourself, among other fabulous prizes, you can enter the CLAWS Raffle. Every R50 donated to CLAWS is an entry – it is also the potential to save an animal’s life.
Clanwilliam Animal Welfare Society
FNB ACCOUNT 629 2008 5504 | Branch 250655
Reference: raffle & email address or send POP to clanclaws AT gmail DOT com | WhatsApp: 083 381 0030
The little boy did not know what was wrong with his listless puppy. But he knew who Jeanine Mitchell was and that she would help.
I met Jeanine at Oudrif. She and her husband Bill own and run the place I always return to. I think part of my soul never really leaves Oudrif, so I have to go there to feel whole. Each time I visit, I meet other fascinating guests, and animals. Jeanine fosters cats and dogs who can no longer be taken care of for whatever reason by their original families and she finds new homes for them. She is the project manager at CLAWS: Clanwilliam Animal Welfare Society. Between 12 and 14 July, CLAWS, together with the remarkable Cape Town vet Dr Annelize Roos, organised another Pet Sterilisation Project in the greater Clanwilliam area.
The Pet Sterilisation Projects focus on the vaccination and sterilisation of disadvantaged dogs and cats to prevent more unwanted pets and feral colonies occurring in this sensitive environment. (The greatest threat to African Wild Cat is hybridisation with pet and feral cats.)
Jeanine and her team of volunteers pick up the animals from their homes or trap them if they are feral and take them to a building (neglected and grotesquely looted, but beggars can’t be choosers – that is the only place on offer to the Pet Sterilisation Projects at the moment) on the outskirts of Clanwilliam near the sports stadium. There, they are vaccinated or/and sterilised by Dr Roos and her team, and those who need to recover after an op are taken care of by more volunteers at the venue. Anyone who wants to have their pet(s) vaccinated or/and sterilised and can transport their animal(s) themselves, will also be assisted at the venue. People from the entire area arrive throughout the three days. Only those who can afford to are asked to pay the full fees for the services. Others make small donations, if they can. Everyone is assisted.
No electricity, no running water, no toilets, but everyone makes it all work no matter what the challenges (including the generator blowing up and damaging operating equipment, and threats of break-ins at night from the tik-addicts in the area). It’s brutal, but the community rallies around the Pet Sterilisation Projects and all you encounter are smiling faces wherever you look, even after everything goes wrong. Because in the end, nothing really does. Dedication and passion save the day every single time.
In my small capacity, I have been supporting these Projects through all avenues of donation – and with books, Karavan Press’s and my own, which you can buy at Oudrif and all the money from the sales goes towards CLAWS – for as long as I have been visiting Oudrif. But, this year I decided to volunteer as well and went up to Clanwilliam for the three days to assist in whichever way I could.
For Jeanine, these three days mean 14 to 18 hours of work daily. It’s relentless. She has assistance only for part of the time. But she never loses her energy or her cool. Her patience and care – for the animals, their humans and the people she guides and works with – are astounding. She knows how to make a plan. I felt out of my depth most of the time and made many mistakes, but she gently taught me and all the others to step up and help to the best of our abilities. There is a gigantic responsibility involved, and life and death situations occur where the wrong decision or action can have dire consequences. Around 200 patients were attended to during the Project. Only one animal arrived too late to be saved. All others were helped, returned home or adopted. The listless puppy abandoned into Jeanine’s care by the helpless little boy could no longer stand properly on his little paws when we found the two, but with a little bit of food, the proper medication, a bath, and all the love around, within a day, the puppy was already going for a walk with me, barking to demand attention and wagging his tail with excitement. Jeanine will foster him at Oudrif where I am sure he will charm the pants off all the current visitors until he is fully recovered and ready to be adopted. He will have one more adult doggy companion getting treatment and healing at Oudrif after this Project.
All other abandoned animals who arrived at CLAWS’s doorstep this time found new homes already during the three days we were there.
In the years that the Pet Sterilisation Projects have been up and running, the team has been able to vaccinate and sterilise thousands of animals. Singlehandedly, Jeanine has also saved many lives of animals who were sick and dying because of abandonment or lack of appropriate care. CLAWS is active throughout the year, helping people to deworm, vaccinate, sterilise and heal their animals. They use the opportunity to educate the general population about animal care issue. During a recent canine distemper virus outbreak, Jeanine and CLAWS were on the frontlines trying to assist (you can read the Daily Maverick article about the outbreak: “Virus has swept through Western Cape town of Clanwilliam, causing death and suffering to dozens of dogs”). She raises the funds to make this all happen from donations or out of her own pocket. At Oudrif, she makes compassion bracelets and handmade beauty products that are sold to raise funding and awareness, while Oudrif supplies logistical and financial support. In Cape Town, you can buy the beauty products at The Hoghouse. I love the liquid and solid soaps and the lotions, and my home is never without them, but there is so much more to choose from.
The most efficient way to support CLAWS is a direct donation:
I will be going to Oudrif again in August and will be taking cat/dog food, blankets, sheets, towels, cushions and hot water bottles (all needed during recovery) with me. If you can donate any of these things, please get in touch with me and I will pick them up from you (in Cape Town) and take it all with me. Everything helps! The next Pet Sterilisation Project will take place later this year. It makes a huge difference, to the animals and the communities they live in.
Please hug your Furry Family from me. The Cats send their purrs.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.