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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Creating space in your new home

Are you a newcomer in a small town? Are you settling into life as a rural resident, having fled the ‘city’? Look no further than these tried-and-tested tips from a Barrydaler.

You will be regarded as fresh meat for your first few months. Don’t let it go to your head. It has nothing to do with charm, looks, wealth or intelligence. It means that you’re fresh, easy pickings, and people will try and recruit you into their camp. Keep a low profile. Take sides, never. Stick to yourself, keep your own counsel, and give it 12 – 18 months before you take sides. Sides will be taken. Ruthlessly. If you’re hoping to sit on the fence, go back to the ‘city.’ Small town life requires invigorating taking of sides. It comes naturally, but only after at least a year. Then, take sides, and budge, never, from your position.

You will be accused of having City Manners. Again. Don’t let this go to your head. It simply means you are energetic, punctual, successful, a go-getter, and almost definitely from Cape Town or Johannesburg. It will be used against you. Let this accidental compliment land where it belongs: on your methodical, organized ears. Try and hang on to your City Manners for as long as ‘rural’ life allows. Don’t slide into rural apathy or languid late-coming. We need City Manners. They are our link to civilization.

You will be invited to barbeques (commonly known as ‘braais’), to dinner parties, and, even though you’re only 45, you will be invited to play bowls at The Recreation Club. Try to decline as politely as possible. Once you’ve made too many new friends, too soon, getting rid of them can prove impossible, or at least, challenging. Decline invitations, (it gets easier wth practice), and once you’ve sussed out who’s who (give it 12 – 18 months), either accept an invitation or two (if they’re still coming your way) or take the plunge and have a Belated Home-Warming. Invitation Only. Small towners have a habit of arriving unannounced, uninvited, and taking over your dinner bash.

Security is considerably more relaxed than in the big cities. Sadly, crime can seem to intensify in a small town. You actually know the person who gets robbed, beaten up, slandered or bullied. It’s not just a name. It’s a familiar face, it may even be an out-of-towner who spent several months up the road, and you feel their pain. Empathy increases in direct proportion to intimacy. Small towns foster intimacy. Be prepared to ‘feel’ more.

You will be regarded as a representative of your former home. You will be lumped together with Capetonians, or Joh’burgers, or the British. As with all stereotyping, wait it out. Your true self will make an appearance, in due course, and you will be seen as an actual real, live person, with your own ways, your own views, and your own manners.

Seventeen months now I have resided in Barrydale. Much of my time is spent, alone, in nature, or alone, at home. On the rare occasion that I encounter neighbours, residents, and the many visitors to my new home, I have learnt to appear inscrutable, neutral, friendly, and invisible. It’s an art that takes a while to master. You can do this, too.

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Photo Credit: Anne Townsend

 

 

 

 

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Photo Credit: Anne Townsend, Barrydale

Breaking the Silence (Breakers)

1) Butt out!! This has nothing to do with you!!

2) You’re a newcomer. You don’t know enough.

3) You’ll be fired/sued/abandoned/shamed/threatened/harrassed.

4) She/He will not be abusive for much longer. Huddle down until it passes.

5) There’ll be C-O-N-S-E-Q-U-E-N-C-E-S.

6) We’ll meet with you, on your terms. Until then, shut up. XXX

7) We’ll meet with you, on our terms. Until then, shut up. XXX

8) It’s so unimportant, this … ”issue.” A meeting is … unthinkable.

9) Blaming?  Shaming? Covert abuse? Psychobabble. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.

10) It never happened. Erased. Disappeared. Vanished without trace.

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The fear on your face

I now expect this. The aftermath of speaking out. The darting eyes, the long faces, the previously open, forthcoming confidences are no longer offered. I go from a warm benign presence to The Whistleblower. It has happened in my own tribe. It has happened in my new home. It will not deter me from my job.

Abuse. It surrounds us like mist. We get used to it. It’s a fine spray of water and we get so wet we no longer notice anything. We keep away. We remain locked in silence. We deter ourselves from taking a stand.

Dirty Laundry. I detest you. You get swept into the closet. You reek. You no longer come outside. You live behind metal gates and burglar bars.

Whistle Blowers. Silence Breakers. Throat. Voice. Spine. Spinelessness. Xxx

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The Dirty Secret of Going Public

Sidney Frankel. Billionaire. Private plane. Rolls Royce. Philanthropist. Married. (Deceased). Denies all charges. And now, joined forever in our minds, with eight adult men and women:

Nicole Levenstein and her brother Paul Diamond, George Rosenberg and his sister Katherine Rosenberg, Daniela McNally, Lisa Wegner, Shane Rothequel and Marinda Smith.

This is The Downside. The dirty secret of Going Public. You are no longer Nicole, or Paul, or George, or Katherine, or Daniela, or Lisa or Shane or Marinda.

You are the child who was (allegedly) molested by Sidney Frankel. You are the seven year old girl who was assaulted by your famous movie director father. You are the teen who was raped by Bob Hewitt, the tennis coach. I’d be lying if I was evasive about this aspect of breaking silence. Marriage? Till death do us part?

If you go public, you give up the right to conceal your secrets from reporters, cops, lawyers and the prying eyes of the reader. You are hitched, till death do us part, to a criminal. Child sexual abuse is a no-win. So is going public. So is keeping quiet. It’s the No-Win of All No-Wins. There is no silver lining. ~..~

 

Breaking open centuries of complicity

It’s never too late. Dylan Farrow proved that, when in 2014, and then again, in 2017, she illustrated that, even after decades of avoidance, and putting children’s lives in danger by not speaking out, and mistakenly seeing silence as the path of sanity, you can swirl around a stalemate. Her two rather beautifully written essays have changed the minds, and lives, of many.

In this country, we are also ‘in motion.’ Until recently, any sexual assault claims (except for rape) expired after twenty years. Thereafter, an alleged perpetrator could no longer be charged. But, on 14 June this year, this changed. Eight applicants, known as the Frankel-eight, managed to overturn this law as unconstitutional. And of course, the Bob Hewitt trial changed our lives too.

Bob Hewitt’s victims lost, in some cases, relationships with their own children, they had to move house or change jobs. For all three women who went public (and there is a fourth, who chose not to go to court), their lives were made hell by their choice to ”taint” Bob Hewitt’s name. Yeah. That’s why at least one of those women got death threats. She was ”tainting” Bobby’s name,

But not only is Bobby in jail. That’s a minor achievement. What has happened is that those of us who followed the trial, who watched Delaille enabling her spouse in court, have forever changed our neural pathways. We saw an arrogant, blundering rapist led off to prison, and we read about the sheer endurance trial of those who dared to speak out.

To the three of you who endured hell, including years of further contact with the predator, you changed the course of history. You broke open decades and centuries of complicity. You rock. XXX XXX

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Photo Credit: AnneTownsend

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Photo Credit: AnneTownsend, Barrydale

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Wabi Sabi ~~~ Beauty in Imperfection

Wabi Sabi. Whenever people ask me about the Japanese calligraphy I had painted on a cream kist, they first think it’s Beauty is Perfection, then Beauty in Perfection, and then, they get it: Beauty in Imperfection. Once this sinks in, they relax. As soon as they grasp that there’s actually a phrase for this, it gives it credibility. I saw it again yesterday when my (beautiful, glowing) new workspace/desk was delivered. The two people that drove over from Swellendam visibly relaxed when they understood Wabi Sabi. ”Oh”, Charles said, ” yes, yes, I get it.” He is the furniture restorer who sold me a chest of drawers last year, explaining that one of the six handles was slightly bigger than the other five, because he couldn’t find the exact size. ”It gives it character”, he explained. My uneven floors, my (porous) 1850 clay walls, and my slightly misshapen front door, are now art. Words really do change our minds. Neural pathways are like any construction site. In flux.

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Photo Credit: AnneTownsend

 

The Desire to Write Alain de Botton

In no other age can so many people have harboured such intense ambitions to become writers. The longing one day to turn out a book probably a novel or, less likely, an autobiography lies close to the center of contemporary aspirations.

This is at one level a hugely welcome development, a consequence of widespread literacy, higher educational standards and a proper focus on the power of books to change lives. But looked at from another angle, it may also, in private, be the result of something rather more desultory: an epidemic of isolation and loneliness. The army of literary agents, scouts, editors and writing coaches testifies not only to our love of literature, but also, less intentionally, to an unaddressed groundswell of painful solitude.

Reasons for wanting to write are multiple of course, but the structurally simplest option may also be the most pervasive: we write because there is no one in the vicinity who will listen. We start to long to set down our memories and emotions on a page and to send them out into the wider world because our friends can’t be bothered to hear us, because our partners are preoccupied and because it’s been agonisingly long since anyone gave us an uninterrupted stretch of time in which we could be attended to with respect and attention in short, because we are very lonely.

Writing, for all that it might begin with experiences of joy or disinterested intellectual fascination, also owes its origins to despair, shame and a lack of someone to cry with. It is when we have screamed a long time for help, and no one came, that we may begin quietly to burn to write a novel instead. Writing can be the presenting solution to a more poignant ambition beneath: to be heard, to be held, to be respected, to have our feelings interpreted, and soothed, to be known and appreciated. Flaubert put it at its simplest: if he had been happy in love at eighteen, he would never have wanted to write.

At the start of the West’s journey into self-awareness, we meet the figure of Socrates, who puts forward a striking proposition: writing is not what thoughtful people should ideally be doing with their time, he suggests. For Socrates, writing is a pale imitation of and replacement for our true vocation, which is that of talking to our fellow human beings, in the flesh, in real time, often with a glass of wine on the table, or while walking to the harbour or doing some exercise in the gym, about what really matters. The birth of literature is, in the Socratic world view, simply a symptom of social isolation and an indictment of our communities.

Even if we find literature the finest of substitutes, infinitely better than anything else yet invented, it still pays to recognise that substitute is what it might primarily be, that writing is in certain ways an act of very polite and artful revenge on a world too busy to listen and that we would never develop such fierce bookish ambitions if we had not first been let down by those we needed so much to rely upon.

A slightly more conscious awareness of writing as compensation may lend us energy to acknowledge our unrequited ache for more visceral forms of contact. Whatever the satisfactions of writing alone in bed, we should perhaps not cease so easily to give up on the ecstasies of mutual understanding and sympathy. It is far from easy to write a decent novel; it may be even harder yet ultimately more rewarding to learn to locate a circle of true friends.

A better world might, from this perspective, be one in which we wanted a little less ardently to be writers because we had collectively grown ever so slightly better at listening and making ourselves heard. Literature’s loss might, in the end, be humanity’s gain.

ALAIN DE BOTTON