Into the light

The golden thread of spring isn’t to be found only in how it looks, but in how (and when) it’s celebrated, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, September 2022


The first time I went to England it was because I’d landed a job up North in a small village called Boroughbridge. I decided to arrive in autumn. It was a rookie mistake.

My first English winter was dire. The sky seemed always grey and low, even when it wasn’t raining. What sun there was, was so weak it felt sick, and by 3 pm was already setting. There wasn’t even any snow. (Once, some flakes drifted delightfully to the ground before turning almost instantly to bleak puddles.)

The only thing to do after work was go to the pub with my colleagues, an awkward collection of Russians, Indians and Sheffielders, where we’d attempt small talk while nursing our pints. By seven it’d been midnight for years and I wanted to sleep forever.

Sometimes I tried walking around the village to pep myself up, but the countryside seemed both green and dead: monotonous emerald fields broken only by skeletal trees and spare hedges. It was deeply depressing to my young self. I couldn’t understand how people lived there without suffering complete soul-death.

But then something truly miraculous happened. Something fundamentally new to my basket of experience. Something that would explain how the long-suffering Brits made it through the dark days of winter. And that something was the arrival of spring.

Ostara or Ēostre, the goddess of spring

The English poets, I found, hadn’t exaggerated the sheer overwhelm of beauty and wonder in this season. Sunlight arrived like the return of a lover, and every tree, shrub and dull grass mound erupted into life. Meadows and flowerbeds that had lain dormant throughout winter were suddenly explosions of colour and texture. Ladybirds crowded every hedge, bright songbirds flitted through new leaves, rabbits and hares chased over the fields like characters from a Disney movie. For whole weeks, some of my neighbours even managed to smile.

The English poets, I found, hadn’t exaggerated the sheer overwhelm of beauty

It was, frankly, ridiculous. And it blew my small mind. Because we don’t really do spring where I live.

You see, Cape Town has two seasons: rainy and cold and windy and hot. And spring is only one glorious day between these, sometime in November. You’ll know it when it happens. You’ll wake up one morning and the damp chill will have lifted. The sky will be clear, but the air warm and the sun gentle. The night will be balmy, with no wind. The city will feel kind and the suburbs energised. You’ll go for your first sundowners on the beach and it will feel like a holiday postcard, and you’ll think, ‘ah this is the life’.

But quiet your friends and listen closely, and you’ll hear a slow thrum winding up from over the Atlantic as the South Easter turbines start up. And once you hear this, you’ll know that spring is done. The very next day, it will be summer: thirty degrees in the shade, sun out to kill you, and wind that’ll blow almost non-stop until February.

So, no. We don’t really do spring here. Which means we also don’t do the revival celebrations seen up North, those colourful festivals of maypole dances, burning effigies and flower parades that herald the return of life.

I used to feel a bit spring-cheated by this. Sure, those celebrations are driven by the kind of euphoria that’s born from the desperate relief that follows an escape from the dark hell-winters they endure, but all we get on spring day is drizzle and hadedas.

ha-zit my china

But something occurred to me recently that soothed this vexation: By the time our one perfect spring day rolls around, it’s basically the end of the year and the start of summer holidays. Which means that we don’t need a weekend hurrah for the return of spring because we have a month-long jol celebrating it all: the end of the annual cycle marked by office parties, school vacation, time off and festive season gatherings – and the revival of a new cycle, as we usher in a sunny new year with all bright new beginnings.

Burning carnival floats aside, it doesn’t get merrier and more jubilant than that.

So happy spring, dear reader. Even if it’s chilly and even if there are no flower parades and bouncing bunnies to jolly along your day. Summer celebrations are just round the corner.


Detail of a photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Hadeda photo by Mikell Darling on Unsplash

Well. It’s done.

Last week I received my sweet, sweet 50 copies of The Fulcrum. After all the sweat, blood, tears and screaming was I elated? Thrilled? Overjoyed? No. Because the font wasn’t exactly as perfect as I wanted it to be.

Long story, I won’t bore you with the details, but it involves machine error and gif evidence and stern emails.

Anyway.

I sat stewing on that for about two days wondering whether to reprint it all to have the font with capital serifs in exactly the right proportion to the body of the typeface that had occurred in the proofs, so that the fat slide of the ‘S’ and the meaty sides of the ‘O’ registered not as thin and hungry in comparison to the rest of the letter but as perfectly balanced and in propor–

Well. I almost couldn’t not bore you with it because it vexed me so.

But then I had a choice to make: fight with the printers and wait longer for my book to be FINISHED finished or just choose the path of least resistance and let these little fuckers out into the world and be free of my endless pedantry.

So here we are. At the end of the production line, fully formed, with a body and a cover and back cover and PERFECT TYPESETTING EVEN THOUGH THE FULL GLORY OF IT IS INDISCERNIBLE WITH ALL THOSE—- you know what, it’s fine. I’m fine. It’s okay. My friends have said it’s fine and so it’s fine.

just chill bro

Where was I. Oh yes, fully formed and in the world and ready to go to new eyeballs and brains and hearts.

And I am very excited about that. E-books are fine, but there is something so much more real about holding a really real book in your hands and being able to share that with others.

I’ll be looking to get some copies into a store here or there, but until then, you can order from me if you like. Simply reply to this email (if you’re a subscriber) or drop me mail in the contact form. I have about 22 copies left.

For readers in territories other than South Africa, I’ll be loading the print-on-demand (POD) version to Amazon on 24 September. If you order on that platform, Amazon will print you a copy in your country and deliver it to you.

I’ve also updated my book page with some reviews and information if you’d like to read more of those.

To the sea

Finding your tribe is about expanding your world, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, August 2022

Sarah was the one who alerted me to it first. ‘Isn’t it weird how it’s always women?’ she said as we bobbed in the gentle, cool waters of False Bay. It was early morning, still summer, and the first people in the water were us and about four other women. ‘It’s like, as we age, we all just want to migrate back to the ocean.’

We laughed and moved onto other matters of consequence: the colour of her toenail polish, the highs and lows of work and love and family. But it struck me then that the strangers and friends I’ve shared my early morning paddles with for years have been, overwhelmingly, women. In fact, this space was almost exclusively occupied by older women before Instagram and cold-water dips made it fashionable. ‘But what do you do?’ Sherry’s husband asked her. ‘We just bob,’ she said. ‘Bob and talk…’

Last year, I joined a group of women for weekly early-morning Muizenburg swims. These particular swims are less about bobbing and talking, and more about diving and dipping and exclaiming to each other about the cold water, the sunrise, the surfers. Afterwards is for talking, with hot cups of coffee to warm our hands and almond Danishes to warm our bellies. At one of these mornings, Gail said she’d have to miss our next swim because she was joining another group of women on a hike.

Ah yes, I thought, suddenly struck by the thought: The other tribe. Those who go to the mountain.

I understand this tribe. We share a love for the mountain. The idea of the ancient that has stood for millions of years and will stand for many millions more, far before and beyond the small flash of my existence, is strangely comforting. It reminds me that there’s nothing so big in my life so as to affect Life itself. Nothing really matters to the old gods but simply being. There’s a lot to learn from this, I think; a pleasure to savour.

Another is the delight of being the first human to do something. I like picking out a bit of rock from the mountain’s side, running my finger over the newly exposed surface and thinking: no one in the whole history has ever touched this.

You can always learn new ways of being if you’re open to it and if you’ve got good tribes to teach you

Still. I haven’t joined the mountain tribe of women yet. They scare me a little because usually they’re running up it and I get puffed quite quickly.

There are other tribes of women, of course. Writing tribes, dancing tribes, craft and sports and building tribes; prayer tribes, walking tribes, gun and garden and book tribes… Wherever and however women collect to process the world around them, find focus and self in the time and connection, I’m reminded of the gift in gathering with the purpose of expanding your experience of life.

And, wow, how mine has been expanded by these swims.

I used to be afraid of the ocean. Waves especially felt terrifying; the idea of swimming out where I couldn’t touch my feet to the seabed, nightmarish. I could get positively Jungian as to why: the lack of control while submerged in the deep unconscious forces; the fear of monsters in the abyss.

Whatever the case, I learned how to be in this watery place by mimicking the women around me – how they dived into waves, dipped under them, came up without spluttering like a clown … small movements inconsequential to those skilled at them, but that feel as impossible as a trapeze sequence to someone afraid of heights.

It strikes me again how wonderful it is that you can always learn new ways of being if you’re open to it and if you’ve got good tribes to teach you.

In-between wave sets or bobbing, I like to ‘otter’, as Melissa calls her signature move: floating on one’s back and taking in the view. In Cape Town that view always includes a mountain. On Thursday mornings, as I let the cold, cold water of my origin hold me again, I watch the day’s first rays touch the face of Muizenberg Peak, and I wonder about the mountain tribe and if there is a sister wild woman on a rocky outcrop, feeling the warmth on her skin, looking down at the ocean and wondering about the tribe who goes to the sea.

Image: Kate Scott has kindly allowed the use of her piece Mermaid Blues for this post. I LOVE her work. She’s a pastel artist based in Cape Town and honestly I’ve been blown away by how she captures water with pastel and paints. Check out her website here and her Insta here.

Until it is done

The proof copy is back from the printers and I am editing – once again. I started writing The Fulcrum in 2016 and it was the first novel I’d ever attempted to start with the aim of completing it.*

2016 was a long time ago in new novelist terms. A lifetime ago.

Apart from everything that happened in the world since then, I wasn’t confident in my writing, was new to character, overwhelmed by how to write a whole story, and totally intimidated by the fact that I had to ‘find my voice’, whatever that meant.

It’s been a steep learning curve.

Over the last six years I’ve come to see ‘voice’ like an equation of sorts: the author’s peculiarity of personality + the confidence to express that + some skill to write that expression = voice. What I wrote six years ago has needed swathes of editing to weed out lack of confidence and ease some real clunky sentences and story progression into something readable. And, my god, it has needed a lot of work. And, my god, how often all this editing has left me feeling like an idiot and a Very Poor Writer.

But then the other day, I saw a Terry Pratchett quote that delighted me quite a lot and helped to frame the process.

‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ – Terry Pratchett

Everything else is to tell the story to everyone else.

If I’d known just how far I was from completion after I’d finished my first draft, if I’d been aware that all I’d done was tell myself the story, I think I might’ve had an easier time of it. Instead, every read-through felt like an insult to my expectations of myself. In the words of the inimitable Oprah Winfrey, ‘There’s a mistake and There’s a mistake and There’s a mistake!’

Or something.

Anyway.

At least I’m enough of a sub to my creative energy that I took the sting of the thwack and vokked voort**, as the Afrikaaners say.

As I sit with the final FINAL reallyseriouslythelastfinal edits of The Fulcrum, and as I make them in the actual hard copy, seeing the final product that other people will hold in their hands, I’m supremely aware of how far this book has come from that first draft, where I told the story to myself, and everything that has happened to bring me here, to where I can finally share the story with other people.

All the kicking, all the screaming, all the tears and whining and pain about research and not knowing, and agent and publisher rejections, all the weeboo weeboo about not getting reach as a self-published author…

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I never thought I could love this as much as I do. The writing process, my book as an actual object, the story. And I love the story. I don’t know why it chose me, but it did. And I’m glad it did. I just hope that I did it justice.

With just one more edit, I’m sure I almost will.

t

PS I’m printing about 50 copies, which is either too little or way too much. But either way, if you’d like a copy, drop me a mail and I’ll set one aside for you.

*I did warn you that until The Fulcrum is DONE done, I only ever really want to word purge about it on the blog.
** Literally, ‘fucked forwards’; in my meaning, ‘fucked off into the headwinds, into the fray, fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’

The in-between

A blog of procrastination about being between stories, journals and things that should probably be fed to the fire…

Between stories is a new experience for me.

I realised I was in this space as a space only last night. I was sort of fidgeting around my laptop opening and closing apps and tabs like I was looking for something, as if someone had started calling to me and although my ears couldn’t hear it, my subconscious was scrambling around the empty spaces of my day trying to find where the sound was coming from. Like Joe in the snow.

I know lots of authors kind of fall from one story to the next, starting the next one and the next before the one before and the one before that is finished. I don’t know what kind of author I am, but certainly with The Fulcrum, all other writing and creation is in this suspended animation until The Book is Done.

I don’t know why.

I guess so much comes to end with its publication in physical form that I’m just waiting to see what that new landscape looks like before I venture out into the void again with my next story. Self-publishing is very strange. I don’t think I’m enough of a fantasist to support the illusion of my old purpose anymore. Everything I thought I would be has been whittled away to reveal that any storytelling I do now is only in service of the story that’s come to me and the pleasure of writing it.

At the very least, I’m coming to grips with the ego-blow that I am not universeel (said in boho-afrikaans lit-crit) enough. And that’s okay I guess.

This reminds me.

I’m supposed to be writing a column now, one for October, and I’m already behind schedule and so instead of starting that, I am writing here. At least it’s more or less on topic because the column is about journaling and in a way writing up a short blog here is a sort of mind wash for that.

Columns and blogging have a lot more in common than blogging and journaling. At least when it comes to the sort of journaling I do, which is mostly just emo purging. Not reader friendly. Not writer friendly either, actually; far too revealing of the petty and peevish.

Still. I’ve kept all my journals and yesterday plucked out the very first one.

I was given this ‘Dairy For a Lady’ by my step-mother at the start of high school. Three things jump out at me in this time-travel…

One, it is strange to see that mostly I’m as petty and peevish as I was when I was 13. At least now these less gracious traits are somewhat muted and balanced by maturity and I have the benefit of some self-awareness about it.

Two, it is interesting to observe how memory reveals all that is not said in recording for the unknown witness (as I was then): there is the fight with Natalie, but not the awareness and admittance that I was at fault; there is the anger at my parents, but not the recognition of the hurt; there is the bedroom change, but nothing about the nightmares that forced it.

Three, the innocuous notes about soon-to-be horrors: the gift of the yellow jersey, which would become my ritualistic robe for my eating disorder; the shopping expedition where I discovered I was ‘fat’; the ‘sexy’ comment from church brother ****** about my body, four years before he sexually assaulted me…

Sigh.

When misty-coloured memories reveal themselves in full technicolour.

Not a great feeling.

Suddenly I’m not sure why I’m keeping these journals anymore. If you journal, do you keep yours?

Maybe it’s time for a bonfire.

Anyway. Back to the column. And waiting for the printers to mail me about the proof copy of The Fulcrum.

Laters.

Photo by Hans Isaacson on Unsplash