Why I am going dumb

5 Jul

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.

Less intrusion.

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.


You can run…

28 Apr

I’ve always been a bit of a nomadic soul. For many, many years I moved house about once a year. I enjoy change. I get bored quite quickly. I like “new”.

So, whilst most of my friends and peers seem established – with a family, a mortgage and steady employment – I find myself two months into a three-month trip to South Africa. And with no home to return to.

My hubster and I decided to come out here to volunteer at a project and explore future possibilities in Durban – a place very close to my heart. I love South Africa – the people, the sunshine, the optimism and opportunities. I love it, and yet I find myself feeling strangely displaced. Not-quite-at-home.

It’s a feeling I am accustomed to.

I tend to gravitate towards the periphery, towards the outsiders. I often feel not-quite-at-home.

I am realising, however, that being-at-home is much more about the inside than the outside. Much more about feeling at peace and settled in myself than whether I live in Durban, London, Mumbai or Texas.

I can “move home” as many times as I choose, yet one thing remains constant – me. I can relocate anywhere in the world, but I cannot escape from “Becca”. I cannot hide from the flaws, doubts and insecurities; they refuse to stay in the garage with my belongings.

Being away from the life-I-got-used-to-in-London has taken me out of my comfort zone. In some ways, there are less distractions here – no internet in our home, no TV, fewer phone calls and text messages. This makes it harder to hide from myself.

So I find myself searching for definitive answers and, as yet, uncovering frustratingly little that is certain or absolute. I am desperate to know what is next – to find some comfort and security – and, yet, this is eluding me right now.

I am learning, once again, that maybe it’s not “what we do” that matters most anyway.

Maybe a better question is: “who am I?”. It requires more soul-searching and wrestling, but the discipline of facing ourselves – looking in the mirror – is far more important than “what we do”.

This is a hard lesson for me – I am, by nature, an activist, a doer. I like to be busy, to feel productive. I find it hard to just sit and “be”.

All the running, though, has made me tired.

So I am choosing, once again, to look in the mirror, to face the deeper questions and doubts, and ask again: “who am I?”.

It is, I think, only when we choose to move on from our futile attempts at hiding – from myself, from others and from this world – that we will find “home”.


“If there’s a b…

21 Apr

“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”.

An African adventure – a new blog

26 Mar

As you might have noticed, I haven’t posted on this blog for a while.

My hubster and I are in South Africa for three months, volunteering at an amazing project called LIV.

I have a new blog for this African adventure – so why not have a look here.

This week, I have been thinking about…

1 Dec

… my friend JJ. It’s World AIDS Day today – he died from AIDS-related complications a year ago.

… the loss of my (fairly new) mobile phone – gutted. Hope I can get a replacement soon.

… this incredibly inspiring interview with Bono & Ali Hewson. Trade is the future, not aid. Africa is the future, not China. How would Africa be transformed if we all started investing in businesses there?

… these words from Richard Rohr on models of surrender:

John the Baptist is the prophet who rejects the status quo without apology, eats the harsh food of that choice, and wears the clothes of rejection outside his own system of religion (when his Mom and Dad were of the priestly class! (Luke 1:5-6)).

Like our native peoples here in New Mexico, he goes on his vision quest into the desert 

where he faces his aloneness, boredom, and naked self. He returns with a message, with clarity, and with a sureness of heart that reveals a totally surrendered man. First he listens long and self-forgetfully; then he speaks, acts and accepts those consequences.You see, TRANSFORMED PEOPLE TRANSFORM PEOPLE, and John’s little offbeat ritual down by the riverside (outside of the temple where his father served) has become for us the very symbol of Christian transformation. And Jesus totally went along with it himself! Paul does the same thing with the early Christian status quo, and probably has had more influence than the twelve apostles put together. We must think about such things in a serious way now.

… community and belonging. I’ve been reading more of Chris Russell’s brilliant book Ten Letters and it is the best book I have read in a very long time.
Hope you have a great weekend

Dear JJ

27 Nov

Dear JJ,

I can’t believe it’s over a year since you died. I think about you often.

This morning, I read a beautiful letter. It was written by my friend Chris Russell, following the tragic death of his almost-one-year-old nephew Tommy.  I read it in his book Ten Letters – and was particularly struck by these introductory words:

“As a way of dealing with grief, a friend of mine who is a psychologist suggested I write a letter to Tommy, expressing my thoughts and feelings”.

And so, as I read his letter (with tears in my eyes – for it is extraordinarily beautiful), I decided that I would write to you. One year on.

You see, JJ, I don’t feel like I have properly said goodbye yet. I couldn’t come to your funeral in South Africa. And I didn’t see you for over two years before then. I wanted to – so much. I wanted to visit you when you came off the streets and went into rehab – I was so proud of you and delighted that you were choosing a new way of life. And when the honeymoon period ended, and you ended up in prison – I really wanted to visit you there. I could have come actually, for I was visiting Durban when you were locked up – but I was advised not to, advised that it would be traumatising.

I really regret not coming then. Of course it would have been traumatic – but not seeing you, not taking that opportunity, has been worse. For I am left with the “what ifs” and an abiding sense of regret.

I didn’t – and this is probably my deepest regret – see you when you were dying. Oh – I wanted to come. Wanted to jump on a plane and visit you in hospital, and afterwards, when you were staying with your sister. But we didn’t have any money, we were totally broke at that point. So I didn’t come. I am sorry.

I wanted to see you with your brand new baby daughter, Thokzile – born only a few weeks before you died.

JJ, can you believe that I still haven’t met her? And she is over one year old now. I am hoping to remedy that very soon. She is a sign of hope, and – in her little body – I feel as though you live on. I want her to have a totally different life from you. And I plan to do all I can to make sure that happens! I am going to ask some of my friends to help me – to help me make sure that she goes to school, has a safe home and always knows – every single day – that she is loved.

You would be so proud of Thokzile’s mum (your girlfriend Thabsile), she is doing really well and working on the LIV village. Thokzile goes to the baby home each day so that Thabsile can work. They are both doing so well – and that makes me really happy.  I think that, if you could see it, you would be really happy too.

So, if I had seen you one more time, this is what I would have said to you, JJ:

“Don’t give up. Please don’t think that you have to live on the streets forever. That is not your destiny. Life away from the streets is hard (and not many people understand that). People usually think it is easy, and therefore better, but I know that the community you had there was so strong. They were your family, I get that now. But – and this is a big but – in the long run, you would have found a new family, a new community. Tich and Joan were always there for you – and they wanted to help you find a new life. Mike too, and myself. We all wanted you to truly thrive, not just survive. So choose life JJ, choose life.”

JJ, I tried to help you choose life and I feel like I failed. I am sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing. At all. I thought I was helping but in the end, I just let you down, like so many others.

Do you know how utterly charming you were? Do you really get that? I still miss you, and smile when I remember your charm. Calling me “mama Becca”. Feeding me stories (how you loved your stories!) about this, that and the other… I was so sucked in. And then I felt like a fool, for a while. For believing everything you said when your very survival depended on your ability to win over people like me (those with soft hearts who always believe the best in people – the suckers!). And yet, now, I don’t regret it – for, and this is my hope, maybe you knew you were loved. That someone believed in you. And that there was someone you could call in a crisis.

Oh my goodness, do you remember the time you and Nicky got stabbed? Do you know how squeamish I am? How much I hate hospitals? And there I was, the only white girl in the whole hospital, sitting with you both in A&E for a whole day. No wonder people gave me weird looks – you looked so rough with that gash on your face, and there I was acting like your mum, as though it was totally normal. But inside I felt so sick, I hate hospitals so much. And then you asked me to stay in the cubicle with you while they injected you and sewed your face up – I felt as though I was going to faint, but I managed to hold it together! The thing I loved about that awful day was this – I think that, by the end of it, you and Nicky knew I was on your side. And that was all I wanted really.

JJ, this is turning into a really long letter! I guess there is so much that was left unsaid. And I haven’t known how to say goodbye, being so far away. I have had a thought though – I want to “create” something in honour of your short life, so that you will never be forgotten. And not only you but all the other kids who die on the streets in Durban too. What do you think we should do? I like the idea of a public memorial – a public space, a public art project – so that the community of Durban can no longer pretend that kids like you never existed. Do you think that would work? Maybe I could write about your life too? You lived a thousand lives in your two decades here on earth and I want everyone to know how amazing you were – how you embraced life in spite of all you suffered, how you loved even though you knew so much rejection, how you taught some of us so much about living.

I miss you JJ. I wish you were still with us.

But I know you are in a better place now. And you left your mark here in this world – you will never be forgotten.

Love you,

Mama Becca

Under the cloud

9 Nov

It’s been one of those weeks.

I saw the dark cloud approaching, hovering on the horizon, probably about ten days ago. I spotted it and I ignored it.

For some reason, I thought that denial might work – this time.

And as the cloud approached, I remained naively optimistic. It will be different this time. I can do this. I can win this battle.

I started feeling slightly disconnected – from those around me, from conversations, from life. And I still carried on thinking I would be ok.

Then. Then – the crash. Unable to get out of bed. Unable to answer my phone. Unable to connect – with anyone, anything.

The cloud had enveloped me. I could no longer deny its presence. I could not fight, I had no resources or strength. Nothing.

I felt so sad. Overwhelmed by disappointment. A sense of loss. A sadness at the world we live in, at the suffering of those I love. A sadness and a questioning – of the path I am on, the world I occupy.

I could no longer see, enveloped by blackness. Bleakness.

I have been under the cloud before. And it is horrible. Awful. It is lonely, isolating, enveloping, all-consuming.

No-one should ever have to live under the cloud.

And today? Today, the cloud is still there but there are some rays of light too.

So please don’t worry. I write these words not to alarm anyone, but in the pursuit of honesty and truth. Of vulnerability.

For I spend many years pretending I was strong. And I am not.

I cannot do this on my own.

And I cannot pretend anymore. It’s been one of those weeks.

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