I saw that fellow author, my twin Fred Khumalo (we are born on the same day) posted something about Stephen King feeling miffed that Tom Clancy was receiving more love (and cash) from their mutual publisher and so demanded an approx. 18 million dollar advance. Yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen million big ones and this was in the late nineties.
South African authors were swooning in the comment section at the thought of such a large advance. If you get an advance of 18k in SA for fiction you’d be lucky, frankly if you get any advance at all you’d consider yourself hashtag blessed.
But the size of the advance wasn’t what stuck with me.
What I took from the discussion is that it doesn’t matter how far you are up the ladder of success, there will always be challenges (Maggie O’Farrell’s masterpiece Hamnet not being longlisted for the Booker, Reese Witherspoon not being nominated for an Emmy this year). Such is the nature of being human.
Where am I going with this? That we may as well give up trying now? No. Au contraire. We must carry on pursuing our dreams, setting realistic goals for ourselves BUT not being too wedded to the outcome. Also, we need to stop thinking that our lives are going to be perfect once we have lost those ten kilos, found the perfect partner, got published, bought our dream house. Living in the moment is what we have to do right now, more so than ever in the middle of this pandemic, even if we truly wish we were somewhere else both geographically and in time.
As I said to my sister, I am not enjoying this pandemic at all, as pandemics go this gets a high NOT FUN rating from me.
When I’m in a bad space, I want to run away from my thoughts, try and distract myself with food or booze or work or social media. One of the hardest things about the situation we find ourselves in now is to accept that most of us are not feeling great emotionally (and we can’t distract ourselves with wine). That it’s very hard to be separated from friends and family, it’s even harder that many of us have lost jobs/will lose our jobs in the coming months and that this virus might kill us or has already killed someone close to us. Everything feels POINTLESS and it’s tough to keep on keeping on.
For me, this time is not about thriving but surviving. Here are a few things that are helping me through:
- Practising mindfulness. I use the Headspace App – but there are a number of free Apps out there. I try to meditate for at least five minutes in the morning. It helps get my mind right for the day. Even if I’m feeling utterly panicky, it makes me face up to those feelings and I feel better afterwards.
- Exercise. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been walking three times a day with the Husband. I walk an average of seven k’s a day – sometimes longer. This is something I will miss when this is all over. Along with the quiet roads and the friendly greetings from everyone you meet. I will, however, not miss the dog poo.
- Connecting with friends/family. I try and phone my sister every week, we do family Zoom calls. I WhatsApp friends. I connect with the bookish fraternity over social media. The Husband and I walk and get a coffee every day. Pricey, but we know we are helping local restaurants to stay afloat and it makes us feel like we are still part of the human race.
- Acts of kindness. I try and support local car guards by slipping them some money once a week. I know how lucky I am to still be working, and I want to share the love. My brother and sister-in-law keep tinned food which they dish out to the homeless people who come to their door. You can also use this App where you know the money is going directly to those who need it. (Kindness isn’t just about dishing out cash or food, you can phone someone who’s on their own, offer to do someone’s shopping for them, or maybe be extra kind to someone who irritates the living crap out of you.)
- Being silly. We have dinner together as a family every night and we always find something to laugh about. One of the positives of this pandemic is that I’ve realised how much I like my husband and kids.
- Taking pleasure in the small things. That first cup of coffee in the morning. A great book. The blue sky. I’m loving the blossoming jasmine at the moment (yes, yes, probably a sign of global warming that it’s blooming in July but still…)
- Avoiding negative talk. Getting off social media is a good start (hilarious coming from me).
- Writing it down. I have kept a journal for about twenty-five years. It’s for my eyes only and it’s one long whinge-fest. But where it does help is that it makes me realise the things I have overcome in the past which brings me to my next point…
- Looking back at the things I’ve managed to overcome.
I have a tendency to only focus on the things I’ve failed at (it’s true that we only ever remember the bad reviews). I become blasé about things that were really very difficult to achieve.
- When I was living in Maritzburg, the thought of landing an actual acting agent in the big, bad city of Joburg seemed beyond the realms of possibility but I did it.
- Getting the hang of writing TV scripts seemed SO HARD. I felt like I would never get it right, but I did and I’m fortunate to still be doing it seventeen years later.
- We started a B&B in 2006, that combined with the 2008 crash got us into so much financial poo that we nearly lost our house. It took us FOREVER to get out of that mess.
- I struggled for years to get a novel published, from the time I started writing Ms Conception to the time it actually got published was EIGHT YEARS. I am now the published author of three books.
- I thought getting a literary agent was out of my reach. I first tried to get a literary agent in 1998, I finally landed not one, but two literary agents – an international one and a South African one – twenty years later in 2018.
- I get invited to interview authors for book launches and at literary festivals. Until 2015, I had never been to a book festival and the thought of being on a panel with other authors was BEYOND TERRIFYING.
- I had my work cut a couple of years ago and honestly did not know how I was going to pay my kids’ school fees. I reached out to friends – including young writers I had mentored – and they gave me extra bits of work that got me through. It was a rocky few years but I am a true freelancer now where I’m not dependent on one project.
- Beyond all of this, the hardest thing I ever did was bring two children into the world. I found the first year of motherhood so tough, I had to write a musical, a stand-up comedy routine and finally a book about it. Thankfully, they have grown up to be people that I enjoy spending time with.
Yes, things are pretty bleak at the moment, but I have scaled many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the past and I know I can again.
You can too.
Think about the things you managed to achieve in the past against all odds – particularly if you have been retrenched or are having to close down your business.
Write them all down and remember that you are not worthless. This is about the pandemic, not you.
My last tip when all else fails is to have a good cry. I’m not talking about the pretty shed-a-few-tears-in-a-sad-movie cry. I’m talking about the lying on the bathroom floor, full-on, ugly cry. You will feel a helluva lot better afterwards. Trust me.
And to those who have lost loved ones to Covid, my love and condolences to you all. I’m thinking especially of my lovely friend, Jan who lost her mother recently.
Series recommendation for this week: Stateless. Based on a true story and set in a refugee camp in Australia, I’m finding it very captivating.
Book recommendations for this week: I started talking about my twin, I would like to recommend a couple of his books, particularly if you like historical fiction. Dancing the Death Drill (about the Great War) and The Longest March (about the Boer War) by Fred Khumalo. Both published by Penguin.
Self-help. I ADORE a self-help book and I highly recommend Self Help Stories: A therapist’s stories to teach, heal and inspire change by Joanne Macgregor, who besides being a bestselling author is also a psychologist.
And…ahem…my book Things Unseen is on special on Amazon.
Plus certain branches of Bargain Books are selling Delilah Now Trending for seventy SA Ronts which is dirt cheap.
Lastly, if you are feeling at the end of your tether, and counselling is out of your reach financially, please do not hesitate to contact Lifeline or SADAG.