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Gains and losses… lockdown level 2

As for losses, where do I start? My tendency is to drag along the losses like my own road-kill roped around my neck. So much loss, that affects so many. Loss of jobs and mental health and loss of life. Loss of confidence, loss of rental income, loss of restaurants and loss of freedom; loss of public trains still not running, loss of economic infrastructure resulting in uncertainty about the future. One of my greatest personal losses is of respect (what little I had) for the government. I hope Ace Up His Sleeve is carefully perusing the letter from Last Chance Ramaphosa, and all the other cadres are too, who’ve stolen money from the people and lined their own pockets.

I went into Pick n Pay the other day, a little distracted, checking a message on my phone, and when I looked up, I said to Al, ‘Why are all these people wearing masks?’ I forgot this is the way we live now … Al joked, ‘I’d hate to manage a high-end jewellery store … anytime someone comes in to your shop you have to be asking yourself is this it, is this the moment they pull a gun?’ Life looks different now. A great loss is the distance we keep from each other, our faces hidden behind masks.

So what have I gained? Surely some positive comes from all this?

I gained five kilogrammes. I hate to say this when so many have no basic food or supplies, but the fact is for me food can turn to comfort eating of sweets, chocolates, carbs. Its like, ‘Why the hell NOT polish off the Lindt bought at half price from the local café? Who cares that it fell off the back of a truck? And two blocks is just not enough!’. I’d got used to pinching my midriff, now I have love handles hanging over the pockets of my jeans. I have gained a plumper face too as a by product, and that’s not too bad. My father would always sing this operatic refrain (I have no idea from which musical or opera it’s from…) … ‘When a woman is plump she’s tender… when she’s skin and bone all she does is moan…’ My mother used to say it’s a toss up between a thin body and a pretty face… you loose too much weight, every crease shows.

I gained a whole lot of plonk wine, label-less, I have no idea what it is. Could be Sauvignon or chenin, a blend, all I know is I paid triple for it all during desperate lockdown days, and I’ll drink it. I’m gaining a sense too that one of these days I’ll go off alcohol, as this tendency to need to have it in my cupboard spells (I hope not) addiction…

I gained… more discipline… at least by 9:00 a.m. I’m sitting on my very uncomfortable bedroom chair which kills my back, banging at the keys, even if I’m writing rubbish. I wait for the one true sentence to arise… when I think, yes, the last half hour or three hours has been worth it… I wish it was easier. I have to set aside, every day, that Imposter Syndrome. It’s not the writing that’s a problem, it’s the monkey-mind, that voice that so many of us court, in many areas of life, not only writing, that undermines, blocks and pulls us down.

I picked this up on LinkedIn, from Shail Lavingia @shl:

Don’t think you deserve that job?

Apply for it anyways.

Don’t think your article is good enough?

Publish it anyways.

Don’t think they’ll reply to your email?

Send it anyways.

Don’t self-reject.

So I keep at it. Perhaps, because of lockdown, I had no choice in March but to sit and write. Nowhere to go, no one to see, not much to do when the garage was tidy and my clothes sorted … write! I have gained a cool website on which to post my blogs.

I’ve gained – the most important gain – a very, very cool (I think) and close relationship with my son, who features now in my writing. He has told me, Al my Pal has, that if I insist on calling him Sacha (this was an idea to protect his identity), he will expose me as a mad, demented woman, ready to be locked in a tiny room with padded walls, so I’m afraid there goes that idea…

Here was the reasoning: Ivan Vladislavic has a brother in his insightful, poetic, and engaging book, Portrait with Keys, on a changing Johannesburg. His brother Branko walks the streets with him, and converses with him; in writing terms the inclusion of Branko as a story-telling device, as Branko is pure fiction, allows the writer himself to have another voice, perhaps to say the things he might not like to say, or comment on, as author. I thought I could reinvent Al my Pal as ‘Sacha’ and take what started out as a real mother-and-son-relationship in more of an imaginary direction, create an even closer bond between us, as Sacha would too become a fictional entity. However, readers have complained. They like Al, they know Al, they understand Al. So Al my Pal it is. Al is a phenomenon. Al is a phenomenal son.

I’ve got a kick hearing Al in his room as I work in the space opposite his. His rap tunes coming at me, his video game sound tracks and commentary, his cusses; and then he’ll come over to my space and say, ‘Give me a hug, Ma,’ and each time this happens I literally think I am the luckiest Mom of a boy-man in the world.

But… we did have an argument this week… ‘You’re writing mock matric in one month! Get off your lazy arse! Study!’ This is going to be me over the next month. I had a day when I thought, What will become of Al my Pal? A brilliant thinker, so funny, but what kind of job is there for him? Comedian? Meme-writer? Professional video-gamer? I’d take that one. Professional League of Legends players earn millions, if they’re winners. Like concert pianists, they play for hours everyday, honing their technique, keeping their fingers supple. Tune in to any video-game championships held in stadiums that hold hundreds of thousands, see the players pit themselves against each other, lights centred on them… the pot is often more than Tiger Woods gets for a year of golf. Yes, I’ll take this.

My boy. My man. My child, who will have to forge his own way. He’s come a long way since toddler times when we used to read Captain Underpants together. Tralala! With lockdown we’ve had no choice but to become more insular, with the gain of course of getting to know immediate family better, to bond with kids and partners.

I gained Zoom.

I gained vouchers for the Book Lounge, and my computer guy. (Still to be claimed.)

I gained 200 pages of notes about Corona and Covid-19 and getting by, on change, fear, anxiety, on consumerism in the time of Corona, on feeding schemes, on compassion, on civil society pulling together.

I have perhaps gained both a sense of urgency – do it now! Covid-19 can get you! Make the most of your time! – yet, paradoxically, am trying to be kinder to myself and to others. It’s ok to relax, take time off, walk. (Loose those rolls. Hopefully. ) A well-rounded life is not work alone. You have to get out, be part of the bigger world.

I gained a bike ride, sat on a saddle for the first time in forty years. Had a very sore bum afterwards, but it felt good, to power my own transport, to use my lazy legs.

Friends meet outside now.

We appreciate all the stunning spots of nature in the Cape where we can gather and maintain a social distance and still be in awe of where we live…to gain is to rediscover the natural beauty of South Africa. A friend has just booked a trip to the Game Reserve. We still have wildlife. Outdoors, on the mountain, is one of the places I don’t feel compelled to wear a mask…

Perhaps we’ve gained a sense of renewed understanding of what is important – relationships and pets. People we can talk to and cats and dogs we can stroke.

We have discovered that we don’t have to meet and work in offices, or rush to meet the traffic to get to the office …

There can be no gains without loss… More thoughts to come …

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Jess

    Very relatable – I gained my dog, Leonard!

    1. Joanne Hichens

      And from what you’ve told me, he sounds like a lovely hound! We need more people like you, Jess, willing to give dogs foster homes as they wait for those forever homes. Who knows, you might keep him… it sounds as if you have a special friendship!

  2. Cathy Park Kelly

    Loved this! Such a lovely idea to list all our gains (and losses). And in reading of your boy-man, I catch little glimpses of what I hope our boy-child will turn out to be.

    1. Joanne Hichens

      Thanks for the comment, Cathy! I don’t think we really fully understand what we have lost – perhaps it’ll become clearer with time. As ever, it’s probably healthier to count one’s blessings.

  3. Jude

    Really thoughtful piece, Jo. It’s given me a new angle to ponder this strange time from. Perhaps I’ll report back when I’ve done so!

    1. Joanne Hichens

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Jude. Much appreciated, especially on your birthday!

  4. Nella

    I have found that I am reluctant to leave lockdown – so perhaps I have gained an insight into just how introverted I am, and how much of the previous stress in my life doesn’t matter. But then I contracted covid, which wasn’t too bad, but is now lingering like a unwelcome guest, and so I have lost energy and fitness. They will come back, I keep reminding myself; this too shall pass.

  5. Nella

    What have I gained? An insight into what an introvert I am as I realise that I don’t really want lockdown to end … And a loss? I contracted covid – not too badly – but it is lingering like an unwelcome guest, and I have lost fitness and energy (and weight – your mother was right when she said more wrinkles will show!). But this too shall pass …

  6. beth hunt

    An enjoyable read once again Joanne … you put it all into perspective with your zany sense of humour. You and Al the Pal seem a great combo! I think the ‘new norm’ is going to take a lot of adjusting to … Having had my Wednesday whinge today about the ANC, about living at the bottom end of Africa where life increasingly translates into living on the edge … well, maybe we can live with that, for a time anyway, but the mask is the monster … the day we can toss the face nappy we shall be liberated from so desperately trying not to die that we have no idea how to live.

  7. Joanne Hichens

    Dear Nella, I am so sorry that you had Covid-19! But at least you have had it… I keep on worrying that I’m about to get it… so the nervous tension remains high! Hope the lingering after-effects are not too debilitating. (On the weight, some days I’d rather be wrinkled than dragging around the extra Covid kilos!) In the end, it’ll all be all right. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end …

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