In the wake of Weinstein…

With the end of the year approaching, I feel myself becoming more nostalgic and more reflective. This is not an unusual feeling. I’m a big one for reflection and introspection and very caught up with endings and beginnings. (A beautiful title I’ve always thought of Redi Tlhabi’s first book, though her book Khwezi is, dare I say, even more important. Another I have yet to read.)

It’s probably got something to do with the fact that my oldest daughter has finished her school career and is, as I write today, waking up in a place I don’t know with a group of girls having partied with lots of cool guys and alcohol and my favourite son, my eldest and only boy is leaving his teenage years, tomorrow.

He turns 20 tomorrow which means that it was 20 years ago today that I walked around with a fine-looking pregnant- round belly, and the next day 3 December 1997, that belly changed shape and changed my life. My pre-kids existence was about to undergo a metamorphosis for which I was entirely unprepared and could never have foreseen in its totality of consequences. My second daughter has just completed her first year of high school and my youngest has one more year of junior school. It’s been a busy year in the kids department.

In its place- my life with kids- I have had the privilege of a blessed existence: blessed in so many respects that to set them out on an average Saturday afternoon in my little blog would make them appear facile and superficial. Setting them out to be read by people who care or not, most of whose faces bear no recognizable form would seem to undermine the very intention with which I wish to list them. In other words, sometimes blogs seem so pointless.

One of the things that have bothered me a little lately, though is the distinction between people on the planet who are either famous or ordinary with the whole Weinstein thing: ‘famous’ in the sense that the media seeks to capture their every move or perhaps just ‘notable’ or worthy of story. The power of the media and the power of story telling is fascinating. More so, though is that a celebratory-type status, however way you wish to define it, seems to occupy a place which elevates the plight of some in place of others. So when the Weinstein avalanche fell into the world and #metoo became a new noun, the stirrings of so many ORDINARY people must have been so tremendous, but because they didn’t have a notable voice, they were implicitly silenced.

There must be tons of these. I wondered about this divide between the ordinary and celebrity  and tweeted the author when his wonderful article about people who are campaigning and making movies about this whole world phenomenon on women and harassment came to my attention.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/silence-action-swedish-stars-confront-sexual-harassment-in-film-a8058461.html

So I thought that I had one more important blog to add to 2017 before December’s Christmas madness starts to take hold. I hope though that it ends off with a message of hope, rather than misery because I think I have found something to hang my hat onto: hope in the dark, which is another delicious title of a book by Rebecca Solnit.

When the revelations broke, I wondered whether I too could claim the hashtag #metoo seriously. It didn’t take much memory to know I could easily claim it though the details of each incident are not the things I want to flesh out here. Nothing too horrific and scarring but harassment nonetheless. But the ones I do want to talk of are those which at the time frightened and confused me (and I say ones because it happened on at least 3 occasions when I was young girl, walking home along the paths of Parkview to school) . The men I feared and loathed were the same men for whom I later came to feel sadness and even empathy because I thought they must be so sick, so weird in the head and their lives so miserable.

You see, I was walking to school and saw a man standing near a tree. And as I got closer, I just knew what he was doing and that he wanted me to see and that I needed to get away. I didn’t believe he could physically harm me. I wasn’t even scared.  But I was incensed because this had happened to me before. It had happened more than once on a walk to school. The same kind of thing: a man in his car, stopping and leaning over to me to ask directions, or so I thought as I believed everyone to just be nice, and then innocent me, coming closer and being horrified and disgusted at the sight of him masturbating while pretending to ask me directions.

So this time I thought, No, this is not going to me happen again. He will not get away with leaving me feeling ashamed, overpowered, helpless, vulnerable. So I turned around and forced myself to remember the number plate  of the car behind him, assuming it was his as it was parked close to him and walked straight to the police station and reported it. It was a scary experience that followed. I had to identify him in an ID parade.

The policeman instructed, ‘Touch him gently with your right hand on his left shoulder. You don’t have to look him in the eye. But I’ll give you a hint: he’s the one in the brown shoes.’

The others were all plain clothes policemen with black clothes but I didn’t have to be told which one he was. I was certain who had taken my dignity away that day. From a little girl in a blue dress on her way to school. Needless to say, he was convicted and sentenced. A father with three children of his own I remember my mum telling me. Shame. Poor children I remember thinking.

Since it all first broke there have been tons of reports on the psychology of why men do this. Here’s one as an example.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/11/11/why-men-masturbate-in-front-of-women-without-their-consent_a_23273905/

It confirms that a sexual assault is ‘any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.’ It refers to another article I read which describes these sorts of people as displaying ‘sexualized hostility’, possibly as a result of childhood sexual abuse they experienced themselves. Other therapists put it down to a lack of empathy for the victim.

The agreed conclusion though is that it all about a sense of control and power. No consent means that you have seized control without permission. And that’s no good.

(Okay, where am I going with all this now? This is not where I wanted to end.#streamofconsciousness #unedited #writingishard)

I wanted to end with how we are then supposed to deal with all this STUFF in the world?

And I think it all ends with stories.

‘If a story moves you, act on it,’ says Sisonke Msimang in a brilliant and funny TedTalk I listened to.

It’s a must- listen- to if you believe in the power of stories and justice as I do.

https://www.ted.com/talks/sisonke_msimang_if_a_story_moves_you_act_on_it/discussion?utm_campaign=&utm_source=t.co&utm_content=awesm-publisher&utm_medium=on.ted.com-static&awesm=on.ted.com_Parsi

I have yet read to read her book, Always Another Country’ and can only attribute it to the fact that I would be stone broke if I had to buy all the books I thumbed through at Exclusive Books this week. That and the precious gift of time which must be prioritized, especially at this time of the year with children who are growing up and moving on and you are desperate to hold on to them a little longer.

But I’m going to end off this one which I think is an important reflection for 2017, and inspired entirely by Sisonke with her wise and beautiful insights she shared in her TEDtalk if I may, Sisonke?

For she says, (and this is my précis) though story tellers are important, it’s not only stories that make the world a better place, but audiences: audiences who are curious and skeptical, and even those who don’t necessarily like the protagonist in the story they read.

But it’s also justice that makes the world better, and so, she concludes, ‘it’s up to all of us to have a plan for justice’’.

I hope I have left you with someone to think about. You don’t have to be story-teller. But try to be an engaged audience if you want to see justice in the world.

And who doesn’t want that?

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THE OSCAR OUTCOME and MADIBA’s MASIPA: my last word on this

This is a difficult piece to write- thank goodness it’s the last one- but it’s important for me to conclude on this since it Oscar has permeated my writing in the last three years and appears in my book which I am just starting to send out into the world. Its working title is Somewhere In Between. I hope you get to read it.

It’s difficult not only because quite frankly the whole Oscar thing is tedious in comparison to world events and climate change and how to engage in a meaning life and of course dragged on for far too long, but because in some respects at least, I have taken a slightly contrary view. But the one thing I can without doubt say is that my writing is not motivated by popularity. I am hell-bent on saying it like it is and making no apologies for it.

Let me preface what I have to say with this: I believe strongly in justice and even more so, in justice being seeing to be done. In a country which cries for some respite from the incessant and pervasive violence to women and children, from child abuse, from high, high crime rates of murder, rape and robbery, criminal justice is imperative. We all want to feel safe – South Africa does not rank highly on the prestigious list of most peaceful places to live. We need to remedy that fast and judicial precedents are a good starting point when it comes to deterring would- be criminals from pursuing hard- core crime.

When Judge Masipa’s verdict of manslaughter was overturned and replaced with murder (correctly so, I believe, since she had seemingly misconstrued that in fact it was a case of dolus eventualis and thus clearly murder) it was Masipa who had to deliberate on an appropriate punishment. In her view, though she acknowledged the “serious nature” of the crime, she cited many mitigating factors, and believed that long-term imprisonment “would not serve justice” in this case. She believed that Oscar had shown remorse, that he was a good candidate for rehabilitation.

Rebecca Davis in her Daily Maverick column https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-11-24-analysis-re-sentencing-of-oscar-pistorius-may-strengthen-importance-of-sentencing-guidelines/#.WhsqNbtrzIU reflects on the Pistorius case as occupying ‘a fraught spot in the public conversation because of its lingering ambiguity – in terms of the fact that no comprehensive motive was ever offered by the state for Steenkamp’s shooting.’

And that is indeed correct for the judgement states….

(http://www1.saflii.org/cgi-bin/disp.pl?file=za/cases/ZASCA/2017/158.html&query=ZASCA 2017 158 or 2017 ZASCA 158)

[13] The admitted evidence revealed various contradictions in the respondent’s evidence as to why he shot at the toilet door that evening. It suffices to state that these contradictions were so serious that this court in Director of Public Prosecutions v Pistorius supra stated that ‘[i]n the light of these contradictions, one really does not know what his explanation is for having fired the fatal shots’.  Furthermore this court said that ‘[h]e paused at the entrance to the bathroom and when he became aware that there was a person in the toilet cubicle, he fired four shots through the door and he never offered an acceptable explanation for having done so’. This court also found that the evidence of the respondent was ‘so contradictory that one does just not know his true explanation for firing the weapon’.

Davis’s analysis of the final SCA judgment is that perhaps it will strengthen the importance of sentencing guidelines.

With all due respect, I’m not sure that the Pistorius outcome is going to do this. Sentencing is not an exact science. Sentencing depends on the triad of relevant factors and it depends heavily on the discretion of the judge.

It is also, unknown to most laypersons, very dependent upon ‘similar’ or ‘distinguishable’ cases and this depends very much on the way in which the South African Law Reports have been noted and published and in particular on the editors of these reports who compile the reports and summarise the thousands of very dreary and factually similar cases which come before the courts.

I can share with you my very limited experience of this because, with a legal background, I also had a brief stint as legal editor and reviewed many of the exceptionally similar facts of cases in which the sentences of the judges varied significantly. Sometimes, the same horrific crime of rape and murder would carry a sentence of 5 years, sometimes 10 years. For a similar accused with a similar personal background and a first offender. In fact, this significant variance in sentence was apparently even different in different provinces.

Of course none of these accused would have been able to afford the costs of appeals which is precisely why they didn’t. Neither would the NPA have bothered to appeal if the sentence were too lenient since they were not ‘important enough’ and the media was none the wiser. All were a homogenous lot of essentially similar persons of class and race and social standing.

Now there’s the miscarriage of justice.    

So that’s the one thing I want to say. And in our Friday editor meetings I raised this issue of how the reports needed to be somehow better restructured in order that the judges may easily see exactly what similar crimes carried similar sentences. It is not yet 100% accurate.

The other thing I want to comment on is the issue of remorse and the personal circumstances of the accused and the fact that Judge Seriti felt that Masipa had overemphasized the latter and misdirected herself towards the former.

She was criticized for having too much sympathy for him. She had referred to him as a ‘fallen hero’ and felt that he had suffered enough.

Seriti commented on this as follows:

[21] I find it difficult on the evidence to accept that the respondent is genuinely remorseful. In S v Matyityi 2011 (1) SACR 40 (SCA) at para 47 this court held as follows: ‘After all, before a court can find that an accused person is genuinely remorseful, it needs to have a proper appreciation of, inter alia; what motivated the accused to commit the deed; what has since provoked his or her change of heart; and whether he or she does indeed have a true appreciation of the consequences of those actions’. As stated earlier the respondent has failed to explain why he fired the fatal shots. The respondent failed to take the court fully into his confidence. To my mind the attempt by the respondent to apologise to the deceased’s family does not demonstrate any genuine remorse on his part. He failed to take the court fully in his confidence despite having an opportunity to do so during the second sentencing proceedings. It is clear herefrom that the respondent is unable to appreciate the crime he has committed. The logical consequence is that the respondent displays a lack of remorse, and does not appreciate the gravity of his actions.

[22] Having perused the judgment on sentence by the court a quo I am of the view that the trial court over emphasised the personal circumstances of the respondent. In S v Vilakazi 2009 (1) SACR 552 (SCA) para 58 this court said that ‘[i]n cases of serious crime the personal circumstances of the offender, by themselves, will necessarily recede into the background’. See also S v RO & another 2010 (2) SACR 248 (SCA) para 20 where this court said ‘[t]o elevate the appellants’ personal circumstances above that of society in general and these two child victims in particular would not serve the well-established aims of sentencing, including deterrence and retribution’. Based on the above-mentioned cases I am of the view that the court a quo misdirected itself in its assessment of an appropriate sentence.

[23] The court a quo also stated that in its view there was an indication that the respondent was a good candidate for rehabilitation and that the other purposes of punishment although important ought not to play a dominant role in the sentencing process. The court a quo seemed to have given rehabilitation undue weight as against the other purposes of punishment being prevention, deterrence and retribution. This court in S v Swart 2004 (2) SACR 370 (SCA) para 12 stated the correct legal position as follows: ‘[s]erious crimes will usually require that retribution and deterrence should come to the fore and that the rehabilitation of the offender will consequently play a relatively smaller role’.

Now.

There are two blatantly obvious issues here which, being a court of appeal and thus evidence being only on the court papers, must be brought to the fore.

And that is this:

  1. None of the five judges witnessed firsthand, the visual spectacle of Pistorius when he sat day after day in the court, retching and crying and if you look at the record or listened to the apology in court would have had the same knowledge Masipa had.

I think this may have had something to do with the fact that she believed, in her heart of hearts, that he must have felt remorse.

And

  1. Though I have not looked at the comparative facts of the cases Seriti quotes and the fact the personal circumstances should play a relatively minor role and his belief that she overemphasized the rehabilitation aspect,

I have no doubt that none of the accused in those cases had prosthetic legs or was an Olympic athlete.

But what I want to talk of briefly is Masipa. Because in all this mess, the masses ask, ‘how could she be so incompetent ?’

and more ignorantly , ‘how can he be sentenced twice for the same crime! and she got it wrong twice! ) and I feel that it’s precisely because of the prejudiced view of the incompetency of WOMEN , and particularly BLACK women that is so sad.

Read an article in the DE REBUS on this aspect.

‘Lack of advancement of black and female lawyers in the spotlight.’ De Rebus, July 2015:12 [2015] DEREBUS 4

And I want to ask why do we think it was that she felt he had suffered enough? Did she not believe in the functions of sentencing? In deterrence and retribution? Had she not viewed violence against women, and countless cases of horrific crimes.

What was it exactly that made her feel a certain empathy towards this white ‘gun-wielding’ male accused?

I like to believe that she had something of a mother and of a Mandela in her make up. It was of course Mandela that appointed her in 1998 and she was only the third Black woman appointed as a judge at the time. She was described as competent, respected, eloquent and reserved.  He was an enlightened, forgiving, extraordinary man.

Neither was she a stranger to horrific crimes. In an article outlining her past experience, https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/governance/developmentnews/judge-thokozile-masipa-reserved-and-astute

It is apparent that she had little mercy for abusive men. She had presided over a number of media worthy cases and shown her willingness to hand out maximum sentences. In one, she had handed down a 252-year sentence to serial rapist and robber, Shepherd Moyo. He was found guilty of 11 counts of housebreaking and robbery, three of rape and one of attempted murder. She sentenced him to 15 years for each of the 11 robberies, 12 years for attempted murder and life sentences for all three rape charges. In her judgement, Masipa is quoted as saying :

“What weighs with me very heavily is that the accused showed no remorse, therefore it is difficult to imagine he can be rehabilitated.”

In another case of a violent crime against a woman, in 2009, Masipa handed down a life sentence to police officer, Freddy Mashamba, for shooting and killing his wife, Rudzani Ramango. During an argument over a divorce settlement in May 2008, Ramango and her aunt, Patricia Ramango, jumped into a vehicle and tried to flee from Mashamba. The officer, enraged, gave chase until they stopped behind the charge office at the Louis Trichardt police station. It was here that he shot at his wife, hitting her seven times in the face and three in the chest. She died at the scene; Patricia Ramango escaped unhurt.

He was tried at the Polokwane High Court with Masipa as the judge. She said the sentence she handed Mashamba was meant to serve as a lesson to police officers that conflict cannot be solved with violence. “No one is above the law,” she said. “You deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector, you are a killer.”

I would also have loved a concurring judgement of Mokgohloa AJA, the only other Black Woman judge in this trial.

But I’m tired of all this now. And I’m mostly tired of the vitriol and hypocrisy of the masses, particularly from MEN who are pleased about the doubled sentence.

PLEASE DON’T GET ME WRONG. I’m not displeased that JUSTICE IS SEEN TO BE DONE. (Just as I not displeased that the premeditated of murder of PANAYIOTOU’s wife earned him a life sentence- he deserved this and more)

But I am frustrated with the lack of empathy and the vitriol of the world.

It reminded me of some of the reactions when the #METOO campaigns came out: those from men who thought perhaps too much was being made about the sexual harassment of women.

For it somehow struck me that the more laconic these men became about Pistorius’s fate, the easier it was for them to placate themselves that somehow, they are were ABSOLVED and exonerated from their own indiscretions towards women. That if they could point fingers at Pistorius, they could feel better about themselves.

Isn’t that a sad thing to say? I wish it were not true.

So now I’m ending off now with a hope.

I hope that one day, we can work some more MADIBA MAGIC around the world. I hope that by the time Pistorius gets out in 13 years and five months, we can see that his punishment has truly resulted in the purpose for which it was imposed and the REAL REASON FOR ITS JUSTIFICATION.

And that is that there is a MARKED AND NOTICEABLE decrease in the number of RAPES AND MURDERS in this country.

For the deterrence and retribution aspect it is supposed to serve.

Sadly, I have my doubts.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fears We Carry

This is a super post on dealing with your fears and balancing them with just ‘living’ so you don’t miss out!

Open Thought Vortex

When I was a child, I had two recurring dreams.

When I was very young, I dreamed – vividly – of an alligator coming into my room. I heard him slog up the stairs and through our apartment living room. With each step of his scaly feet, I heard a squishing, sucking sound. As he approached my crib, he stuck his snout through the slats and announced, “I’m just going to take a little bite right out of your neck.”

Horrible.

As an older child, I dreamed of a super-sized Tin Man type figure who stomped into view from beyond the horizon across the street from my elementary school. As he loomed larger, I froze in place, terrified. My Grandfather appeared from nowhere and pulled me into hiding behind some bushes; there he comforted me and we watched together. The Tin Man stopped in front of the school and his…

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if I had the chance…

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If only I had the chance…

I would want to stand up in front of the appeal judges, all five of you,

You who have worked hard and (some probably through prejudice) but most definitely persistence, earned your place as judges at the appeal court in our fractured land,

In our land which cries every single day for the suffering of men and women and children who live side by side but still not understanding how to really live

And I would ask

do you know how important this opportunity is for you to look at the man in front of you

a disabled man,

a disabled man who once brought fame and pride to this land,

oscar win

 

pride to you because you too are part of this land and you too want to find your place in this land and this life,

you, who understand justice and fairness and reasonableness and equality,

and about how it just is that sometimes the law rights the wrongs for some but not for others,

you who understands that punishment does not bring more remorse or bring back the dead,

No.

Punishment serves to deter more crime, it serves to remove and perhaps to rehabilitate the criminal mind.

Look at the crime around you.

Look hard at the crime all around you.

And now look at the man who stands before you.

Look at him standing.

He is barely standing.

You have the chance to make a difference to this man. You have the opportunity to speak your mind and ask the questions and then to reassess

The real crime

Please. Please don’t get caught up in the semantics and look for errors in elevating ‘regret’ to ‘remorse’?

And don’t forget that Johnson has also had to fight for her new place in her world

But you want to tell the world what’s ‘shockingly inappropriate’?

I think you know what’s shockingly inappropriate.

Disturbing and shockingly inappropriate.

I am left wondering,

What if all those judges not only one

Were women?

#morecompassion

#lesscorruption

DISCLAIMER: (According to the SCA’s court roll, judges “Bosielo JA, Sereti JA, Lamont AJA, Meyer AJA and Mokgohloa AJA” are expected to hear the case of the Gauteng director of public prosecutions versus Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius. I have not listened to live coverage or had the inclination to. Only snippets of media and online content. Written by all sorts of people. Men and women.I just feel strongly about all the craziness at the moment and I needed to get this out.

On agitation and achievement: 3 solutions

At the beginning of this, the tenth month of 2017 I remember feeling somewhat agitated but couldn’t quite place it. Then I had coffee with a friend and she suggested it was that ‘winding down’ feeling of the year when it’s galloping towards a close and you need to evaluate how it went. And maybe you feel you haven’t quite achieved what you set out to do.

  1. Simple solution to agitation: have coffee with a friend

    Connections with others (and especially women ) confirm the undisputable fact that WE ARE NOT ALONE. We live among a heterogeneous mix of people, most of whom we don’t know at all in any depth, don’t give a damn about most of the time, but whom we judge with our so-called ‘objective’ knowledge of hearsay evidence from friends of friends or the occasional update on FB. We judge until we connect.

This fact – that we are not alone – should put us at ease but in a challenging, competitive world it’s a primary catalyst for agitation. Not necessarily all bad in intent but a certain cause of conflict and perhaps a little melancholy: the eternal haves versus the have-nots.

In my case it’s the perpetual notion of feeling that I must be doing more, whatever that more might be…perhaps earning more, exercising more, writing more, mothering more or even just laughing more.

But at least when you voice this to your women friends, you know you are not alone for its apparent that the 50’s are often a time for reflection for most women: kids getting older, changing career paths, caring for aging parents.    

2. Solution Two:  Embrace, the old saying, LESS is MORE

So here are some obvious things I’ve thought about to help embrace the ‘less is more’:

– An uncluttered, simple lifestyle  and a less emotional attachment to things – this is still hardest for me as I am a serial hoarder of anything but mainly paper and especially notes and pictures from my children but also just STUFF

– In writing: using fewer words (accomplished writers know this already )

– In your relationships, speaking less and hugging more (fewer words, more action!)

– When travelling, a backpack rather than a bulky suitcase ( I have yet to wear every item I’ve packed though admittedly have got better)

  1. Third Solution: gratitude

One of the best ways of curbing your agitation for things you don’t ‘have’ is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for what you do.

And in the last month alone, I have an extraordinary amount to be grateful for. When a close friend was grieving the loss of her mother (her father having passed away already) I had the absolute privilege of celebrating my father’s 85 birthday with my mother who is turning 79 this week, sister, hubby, children and dear friend.

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I also attended my oldest daughter’s school prize giving and valedictory and remembered to bring some tissues. A mother’s pride is something no words can express. (though I wish I had bothered to take a better picture !!)

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And then a few hours later ( #grateful for the timing and not having to miss valedictory) I had the fortune and privilege of another short trip to Berlin with my treasured spouse to lay down some roots for the future of our children whose great-grandfather was originally from Germany. One of the highlights was a special visit from a friend who has been in the finals of Masterchef Germany (brilliant isn’t it?!) and her partner whom I have known since I was 14 years old. We met at the new Monkey Bar in Tiergarten and enjoyed a fantastic meal in the hot-house, and again the next night at a stunning little Korean restaurant where they showed us how to drink some strange fermented milk like substance from these metal bowls and cook the meat on a little heated grill plate on the table.

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For the first time leaving our two adult children looking after the two younger ones, I am also grateful that we could leave with fewer instructions to no other ‘babysitter’ and returned home safely to a house more or less intact, other than a front end loader bashing down a pillar at the front door when he tried to remove some sand from the driveway which was being widened.

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But I feel I want to end off The Bright Side by mentioning my support for #metoo.

And though I don’t want to embellish here, I want to say #metoo: for the subliminal,  reality of things that happened and the interminable imaginings of things that may still happen, not only to me but my precious children.

Perhaps just some of the agitation I feel, subconsciously in my every day doings is the fact that we need to keep moving towards what we need to achieve. And one of these things  – an extraordinarily big, important thing – is for the world to be free of sexual harassment and hurt, of humiliation and exploitation.

But in the gaps in between let’s always look on the Bright Side of Life!

( This blog post was inspired by the music of Dave Koz, one of my favourite tracks called the Bright Side from his CD, The Dance which I’ve been listening to while writing this. It’s about the 100th time I have played this CD )

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NEXT BLOG: More on ‘What I learnt in Berlin’!

Til next time!

xxx

BOOK REVIEW: THE FIFTH MRS BRINK

Finding this so hard, to précis my thoughts on this book. Should have done it the minute I put it down two days ago. That’s when the real, connected emotion was fresh.

Having a go now…

 

So there’s this beautiful Polish born woman who has fallen in love with South African literature and South Africa itself and is the obvious choice to meet Andre Brink (sorry, can’t find the accent on the e) and accompany him on a train trip from Vienna to Salzburg where he is to partake in a symposium which she has co-organised. He’s 69, a mere 42 years her senior.

 

And so begins a love story of tenderness and sharing and travel which she documents alongside her journey of becoming fully fledged writer,… “more than anyone else, he has inspired me to say, proudly and out loud: I am a writer’… until his tragic death ten years later on a flight home from Belgium.

 

Her story tells of her time of study in Wales…’my initial impressions of narrow roads, rustic cottages, sheep and autumn colours…mythic sounding names and clusters of consonants …’ and her fascination with the sea and bodies of water; her childhood experiences and family bonds, a short-lived marriage and painful divorce, and the development of her relationship with Andre which is intensely and intimately portrayed as precious.

‘Andre and I had it all. We were so happy…’

 

Her vulnerability and honesty of the task of telling her story of her life with someone who changed the lives of countless readers around the globe, a literary icon, is brave in itself. She questions whether it’s even her story to tell.

 

But she tells it beautifully and simply in many ways, revealing the love and care they shared for each other and afterwards, the trauma and loss and anguish of trying to come to terms with his death, of being a widow.

 

I have to admit that I was initially apprehensive about reading this book, not only because I wasn’t in the mood for a grief memoir (perhaps I’m a little scared of these) but because of my ‘reservations’ for want of a better word, of a relationship between a man ‘whose wife was younger than his own children, and who was older than in his in-laws ‘(as he describes in his own memoir ‘Fork in the Road’ written partly through her persuasion in 2010).

 

How wrong could I have been? I was so moved and engrossed in her story that when I had it in my bag in between reads, I would check on it every now and then to make sure it was there. And I flipped back and forth many times, re-reading the parts that resonated with me, of which there were many: her descriptions and experiences of Wales and water, her intrigue with numbers and lucky numbers and repetitive numbers (1:11), her quirky obsession with Rudolph, her furry friend, the writers whom she admired and books she had read, friends of hers (some of whom I’ve recently met, so odd ) and her own experiences of being a writer…

’That moment when something that was perhaps unpronounceable, hidden, painful or simply delicate is distilled into words, and you do not feel alone any more: as a writer, you have to make yourself extremely vulnerable to offer your reader this kind of experience’ …

 

And then of course the love story itself: I felt myself envying the complete  dedication and unfailing warmth she expressed for him, her appreciation of his beautiful hands and the way he walked.

 

The Fifth Mrs Brink will stay with me for a long time, and I will try to remind myself that if you are lucky enough to have travelled through your life with someone so special, you must treasure them, because no-one lives forever.

 

I strongly believe in the timing of books: that you read a book at that time because you were supposed to, for whatever reason. And that books can spark a whole new path of learning which is so tremendously exciting and even life –altering.

 

Karina may be at her own Fork in the Road but I have no doubt that Andre would be extraordinarily proud of this beautiful memoir and wherever her writing path takes her in the years to follow.

 

 

 

why women become lovelier the older they get

pic of female brain

As part of my research on women and feminism for my new book, I came across several articles – most notably those in the UK Telegraph and The New York Times on the topic of Why Women Compete with each other.

In brief, the obvious starting point is evolution and the process of ‘natural selection’ which I believe occurs equally in both men and women i.e. we try to find a mate. In so doing, we have to outperform any female competition and we thus compare, compete and inadvertently or not often undermine and undercut one another. A Psychology Today author reveals that ‘the male view of women as primarily sexual objects becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.’

Feeling on guard around other women as we search for a partner is fairly standard for most women. It’s flipping exhausting actually. As a teen finding a boyfriend a few years older (with a cool set of wheels too!) relieved my agony for a short while but I certainly did not escape the common occurrence that someone who was one day my bestie could the next become my worstie.

At varsity I found that the male sex was far easier to befriend. Less complicated or competitive and I seemed to have dodged much of the ‘indirect aggression’ and catty, bitchy stuff which so sadly undermines so many friendships amongst girls. But then I have never been a ‘girlie kind of girlfriend’ and always wondered why two girls would always needed to go to the toilet at the same time- let alone in the same cubicle!

And then in the workplace, the not-so subtle competition takes on a further dimension: not only do you need to fluff out your feathers (peacocks have nothing on us girls) with our shirt skirts and pert parts, we also have to show that we are equal in intelligence and grit to men and are thus competing on both fronts.

Of course, the reality is that often ‘our negative response to other women is a projection of how we feel about ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see, instead, a version of ourselves that is better, prettier, smarter, something more. We don’t see the other woman at all… And we turn on her anyway, because it’s easier’ writes Emily V. Gordon for the New York Times.

But adding to this is a further interesting article which suggested that the decades- long battle for equal pay and derision of the ‘old boys’ networks (largely absent in female corporate life) in an attempt to obtain power parity in the workplace in fact has another spoke in the wheel: other women.

femm1

Studies suggest that women battle with the concept of female competitiveness and do not take it in their stride as easily as men who view competition as a healthy, natural and acceptable part of life.

Women intrinsically value harmony and the appearance of calm and thus one of the factors keeping her back is exactly the thing that feminism is fighting so hard to achieve: the ability to deal effectively with competition from other women.

Women take competition with other women much more personally than men take competition with other men. At the same time, women should be aware that taking competition too seriously could be holding them back from leadership positions ‘ explains the article.

And then of course the mommy wars. Oh the messy, mommy wars. Women extend their competitive cheer to the school grounds and ‘compete’ with their brilliant offspring: initially, who has a greater vocabulary or walked at 10 months rather than 12: later, who plays for more A- teams and plays the piano, trumpet AND flute AND does tap dancing from 5-7pm, in addition to winning all the class medals for both languages, PLUS history , geography AND art and design: who got accepted for ALL their choices at varsity and is dating a ‘drop dead’ doll too.

Fortunately, fortunately this all starts to melt away slowly as we reach that 50- something factor and women start becoming really lovely. Women’s competitive spirit –not within themselves since this is something separate and will continue or not, based on health, temperament, passion or whatever- against other women is replaced with genuine warmth, support and companionship.

We suddenly become concerned that soon our parents will die too and we feel the heartache of those who endure this before we do; we dread the departure of our grown teens and notice a universal pit in our stomach at the thought when someone else’s leaves before ours do; we are more empathetic to those who suffer strained finances and marital mayhem.

We finally begin to understand what Emily V Gordon proposes in her article that ‘when we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win’.

In short, we become lovelier.

Women’s month has come and gone and I’ve been wanting to get this post out.

Now I have.

Happy Spring Day on this the 1st day of September from a beautiful, warm South Africa to all you wonderful women.

And the wonderful men who walk with us.

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