Here is an article I wrote about Umthombo in Durban: Surfers Not Street Kids
This is a blog about failure. The ordinary and the extraordinary. The wonder and the horror. It is not a monologue on personal suffering (I hope). Or a catalogue of catastrophe.
I tried a new, different blog last year but it didn’t seem to fit. Didn’t feel right (and I still haven’t worked out why). I tried and I failed. Stopped writing. Lost interest.
And recently I’ve been pondering this put-to-bed little blog. I’ve thought about second chances. And resurrection.
Sometimes we try something new and it doesn’t work. It seems like a good idea (at the time). Then it doesn’t. Should we always persevere? Is “giving up” sometimes ok?
Writing, it seems, is like life- unpredictable, hard work, and occasionally inspired. I like to write and I love to read the words of others. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes words fail me.
A story of failure is back.
It feels like me and it feels like home.
I hope you’ll join me as I resurrect this little blog.
I don’t know how to start this blog post.
So I will simply begin with how I feel.
I feel very happy! I am 18 weeks pregnant. And utterly overjoyed at this new life growing within me.
It still, at times, feels somewhat surreal. Me. Pregnant. Me. Soon-to-be-a-mama. Us. On the path to parenthood.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Or a straightforward one.
Month after month of disappointment.
And the won’t-go-away questions: will it ever happen? Is there something wrong? Should we do something about it? The doubts. The maybe’s. Maybe we won’t ever have our own (biological) child. Maybe we just need to come to terms with that. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
We had talked about adoption. Talked seriously. And we still talk about adoption now. Another maybe. And yet, staggeringly, we made our own baby. It took time, but I can now look down at my growing bump and know this is not just a dream.
Earlier today, I read an article about adoption that was so shocking, it left me lost for words (it’s well worth a read, if you have a few spare minutes). It talks of the emerging “rehoming” industry in the US – where adopted children no longer wanted by their new parents put them up for “transfer” online. This black market in child swapping sounds unreal, like a Grimm’s fairy tale, but it is not fiction. And yet, within the horror – the hard-to-imagine desire to give up a child you had so desperately wanted – I see the utter desperation of humans out of their depth. Desperation at an overly bureaucratic system, at the expense involved in adoption (particularly internationally). I glimpsed the isolation these parents must feel when their longer-for adoption seems like one big mistake.
Whilst not in any way condoning the actions of those illegally and irresponsibly “passing on” their child to a new home, I do wonder whether such horror stories are some of the symptoms of a system-gone-wrong.
It has often amazed me that those-who-fall-pregnant are treated so differently from those-who-want-to-adopt. Potential adopters have the minutiae of the lives publicly analysed. They spend much time (and often much money) hoping they will perceived as “parent material”. They have to prove their potential-parent qualities.
What about the rest of us? With 22 weeks to go, I don’t really have a clue what lies ahead. I still can’t quite believe that, in just a few months time, my hubster and I will be wholly responsible for a precious little life. It is a gift and a delight. An incredible privilege. And just a bit scary too.
As we prepare to bring a new life into the world, I want to remember too the children whose lives begin very differently – who are not wanted, not cared for, not loved. I don’t want to cut myself off – in a little “new parent” bubble – from these realities. And I don’t want our child to be cut off from them either. I don’t ever want to stop thinking about adoption. Or fostering. Or supporting families in need so that they can stay together.
I don’t want to become a self-satisfied, middle-class parent, immune from the realities faced by the majority in our world. A world where some parents are so desperate they give up their longed-for child, not even knowing where he or she will end up. That is true desperation. True isolation. This system needs to be fixed.
Every now and again, I read something that seems to expose the truth about human beings. It’s not always a pretty truth. Nor is it easy reading. Yet such words are essential reading, for they uncover blind spots and force us to face up to our flaws.
This was one of these articles – brilliantly titled “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour”. I read it in the Observer on Sunday and it’s been bugging me ever since. Bugging me because I know it is true. I know that I am guilty.
Like so many of us, I get upset when I hear about the appalling conditions forced on those who make our clothes/ipads/mobile phones. I might even occasionally boycott a product. But this standing-up-against-injustice tends not to last. Convenience – or my desire – eventually wins the “will I-won’t I?” battle. So I go back into the shop and buy those cheap jeans because – if I am honest – they look good. And I like them. And I want them. I wish this wasn’t true. But, as I face myself and my complicity in the mirror this morning, I just know it is.
Indeed, I recently decided to boycott GAP. My favourite clothes shop in the whole world. And it has been my first choice for years. I love the GAP. And then I heard that, following the collapse of that garment factory in Bangladesh, GAP chose not to sign an accord to improve working conditions in these factories. So I decided not to shop there anymore.
I’m not telling you this to make myself look good. Far from it. But rather to confess the emotional tussle I feel when I walk past a GAP store. I still miss going in there. Even though I now know some of the true cost of their clothes. I still want them.
Isn’t this the modern day dilemma? We want that thing, but we don’t like how it was made. And yet, we are so far removed from those who literally slave away to make these things, that we need journalists and campaigners – others far removed from us – to highlight what is really going on.
We live in a globalised world. And it has, in many ways, dehumanised us. It is easier to turn a blind eye when those suffering are far away. Easier to justify our behaviour when we categorise “them” as different from “us”. I know. Because I do it all the time.
It is only when I read words like these – “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child labour” – that I stop for a moment and think, “Yes. You are right.”
And I don’t want to be that person, even if it means never shopping in GAP again.
So. It’s been a while since I wrote. Life has been busy. It’s been hard adjusting to life back in the UK. I have felt, many times, like a visitor to the place I call ‘home’. It’s a strange kind of dislocation. I belong-I don’t belong-I belong-I don’t belong. And so on.
Feeling slightly disconnected from the familiar has helped me to see, with fresh eyes, that which was once so “normal”. So familiar I didn’t notice anymore.
During this time, I’ve been outside the smartphone bubble. I broke mine (dropped in the lav!) just before we went to SA. For three months, I had a pretty useless attempt at a phone. But it did let me call and it did let me text. And something strange happened. I found myself more at peace. Less stressed. Less hassled. I didn’t have emails at my fingertips, pinging both day and night. No Facebook, no Twitter. No apps.
Since returning to this land, I have been even more aware of the dominion of the smartphone. Mine has been in the menders, so I have had my Dad’s very old, very basic Nokia. It is properly old school. And the battery lasts for days!
I am realising that maybe I am happier with back-to-basics. Maybe I don’t need to be contacted every minute of the day. And night (I now even turn the phone off when I sleep – something I hadn’t done for years). Maybe I can live without relentless access to email/social media/fruit ninja/google maps. I am no longer at the mercy of others (and open to “conversation”) 24 hours a day.
I no longer feel owned by a smartphone.
And I was, until my phone hit the water, one of many “almost addicts”. You might recognise these types: checking emails/FB/Twitter whilst someone is chatting to you/during dinner/while watching a film/while you walk. These types can find time stands still while they play “just one more” mindless, yet deeply compelling, game. These types love getting new can’t-live-without apps. And these types, when their phone is lost/broken/out of service, are utterly lost. Feel slightly (or very) panic-stricken at the thought of a whole day without their phone/comfort blanket. I know that feeling. I was that person.
And I don’t want to be anymore.
Most people spend more time each day with their smartphone than with their partner (an average of 2 hours every day, compared to 97 minutes). 4 out of 5 smart-owners check their phone as soon as they wake up. And stay with their phone for 22 hours a day. 1 in 4 spent 24 hours every day with their smarts. 24 hours…
Yet we are becoming a population that is less focused, less able to concentrate. And – I controversially suggest – less polite, less empathetic too. Would the people who use their phone to say despicable, anonymous things to others also do it face to face? Would another generation (say our grandparents’) think it socially acceptable to play on a phone whilst out for dinner with others? Yet many of us now accept this as “the new normal” (even if it is a bit irritating).
We have become afraid to be on our own – hence relentless checking of our online profiles.
We have become afraid of silence – hence music videos, TV shows and films at our fingertips.
We have become afraid of each other – so we hide behind our phones. And hide from each other.
It’s so much easier to “chat” online nowadays, so much harder for us to look at someone as we talk about our struggles. It’s so much easier to have an online persona – the perfect me! – and so much more vulnerable to be the real me. It’s so much easier to multi-task, do a thousand things at once, than focus – really focus – on just one.
I don’t like the “me” that I was becoming. Distracted. Dependent. Obsessed.
So now, four months on, I am glad I dropped my smartphone in the loo. As soon as it comes back from the phone hospital, I am going to sell it. And stick with my 90’s model.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point. Now I am able to let it go. And not weep.
As Brene Brown said (in what must have been a very different context), “You can be courageous or you can be comfortable but you can’t be both”.
So I am going for courage over my comfort zone.
I will still be available. But not 24 hours a day.
I might take longer to reply to emails.
And I might need to remember how to read a map.
But I honestly think I will be happier. More available to those I love. More present to each precious moment. More at peace.
I am going dumb.
“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison
I’ve been thinking about writing this weekend. And this on-hold blog.
I am not really sure why I stopped writing here. But I did. And I’ve realised that I miss it.
I love writing. I love words. I love thinking and wrestling and find the right words. Editing and re-writing. And posting little thoughts when they come.
I love talking about failure. The things that others find it hard to talk about. Life-when-it-is-not-perfect. I love finding community through this blog – fellow travellers who choose not to hide their lack of perfection.
So, I think, it’s time to resurrect a story of failure. To write again.
For, sometimes, “you must write it”.