10 tips on marriage

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated ten months married. When you read that you might be laughing at the fact that I’m dishing out advice like a seasoned married person – don’t worry, I’m laughing with you.

Last month I had the honour of being asked to speak at my uncle’s wedding. He asked me to write something from the heart for him and his future husband, and so I put my mind to the past few months of my own life and tried to be honest about what I had learned. Disclaimer – this could all be wrong. Except for the bit about the psychic.

First – here is a picture of the happy couple ❤

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Brayden and Andy (Mr and Mr Slezak)

1: Your partner is not, except on rare lucky occasions, a psychic

This means you need to learn to explain what you need, rather than assume that your partner knows just because they love you. (Thanks Alain de Botton for this bit of advice, by the way).

2: Love is a second chance

Love is a chance to be the very best version of yourself. To amplify the goodness and kindness in you, and share that with another person. Marriage allows you to do this for the rest of your life. That being said…

3: Nobody is perfect

At our wedding, Sam’s cousin Kevin gave us some very valuable advice. He said

“You choose your partner not because they are perfect, but because they are perfect for you. There is a big difference. They have what life wants and needs to teach you. Some lessons are hard, especially the ones that deal with your ego and insecurities…Marriage will bring out the best in you, it will also bring out the worst. No one will make you happier, and no one will be as proficient at pressing the wrong buttons as your partner.”

4: You must own up

See 3 (above) – nobody is perfect. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago the pastor said there are two phrases that are essential to make a marriage work. The first – I love you. The second – I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me. Hopefully, you get to say the first more than the second, but just in case I’d suggest practising in the mirror.

5: Be honest – to yourself and to your partner

Love and marriage require you to be incredibly vulnerable – to acknowledge that there are parts of you that sometimes feel unlovable and to ask another to love them. This is an act of radical bravery.

6: Don’t worry about how anyone else does ‘being married’

Love is not a competition. There are no marriage Olympics. Your marriage doesn’t have to look a certain way to be good. It has to meet your specific needs as a couple. Love is not in grand gestures – though they can be very nice – it’s in the little things that only the two of you notice. Treasure those.

7: You are not alone

Though the wedding day is a day about just you two, if you look around you’ll notice that everyone at your ceremony is there because they love you, both separately and in your togetherness. This is your support system, and they are not only there for the wedding day.

8: Marriage is not just the wedding

I know that at the wedding you feel like your hearts might explode with love, but amazingly there is still room for more. More love and more happiness. Put as much effort and thought into each day of your marriage as you have into today.

9: Write down your vows

Keep them somewhere special so that you can look at them often. Remember what you’ve promised, and keep your promises.

10: Marriage is magic

Always feel grateful that in the world of billions of people, you found each other and chose each other. Enjoy the adventure and never forget how lucky and wonderful it is to love and be loved.

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Total babes ❤
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South Africa hates women – are you fine with that?

This morning I’m sitting with a heavy heart.

The past years months weeks have been full of news that would make even the unobservant reader realise that South Africa is not a country for women. On paper we are equal. Yet, in the day to day, we are living with the constant threat that we will become the victim of violence if we have not already become one.

I don’t believe we’re hearing more about this just because it’s women’s month, and if women’s month is just an opportunity for everyone to remind us of how truly traumatic and tiring it is to be a woman in this country then I’d really like us to forget about women’s month altogether.

As a society at large, South Africa is fine with women’s suffering.

In the past 24 hours, three stories that would have other countries starting commissions of enquiry and plugging resources into social crime prevention will simply disappear by the end of the week amidst the many other stories of violence against women. I don’t want these stories to disappear.

One – almost half of Khayelitsha school learners have experienced sexual violence and girls were more likely than boys to report abuse. Two – a young woman who reported her rape to Rhodes University committed suicide before returning to campus for further discussions following her report of the rape on July 30th. The alleged rapist was only suspended this morning according to a press release sent by the university. Three – police charge protestors raising awareness about violence against women because they demanded that the President of the country they live survive in listen to them and their demands.

To be born a girl in this country and make it to your old age unharmed is a statistical improbability. The definition of female might as well be ‘afraid.’

Are you fine with this? I can’t be.

So what are we going to do about it?

 

 

 

 

What would a world where women weren’t harassed look like?

This morning I finished reading Jessica Valenti’s Memoir Sex Object. The book is a collection of personal reflections on topics such as street harassment, abortion, drug use, sex, and child raising. Throughout, it explores the way that the world treats women, casting them as objects for men’s comment, pleasure, and enjoyment. It also explores the very powerful physical, psychological, and political effects this categorisation has. I found the book painful and difficult to read, not because of the writing but because of the content. Despite this difficulty, the book is important in that it raises important questions that we need to consider.

Valenti considers what it means for her to be raising a daughter in this world and the qualities that she would like her daughter to have. She wants her daughter to be brave, to still be the girl who wants the best part in the play when she’s older, and most of all she wants her not to have to endure the constant harassment, abuse, and assault that most women are exposed to on a daily basis. She wonders what it might be like if that was not the world that existed, and what women would believe about their own potential if we had the space to live our lives un-objectified.

It’s a powerful question that bears reflecting on in South Africa, where street harassment, domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse, and gender discrimination remain the norm. Sure, we have the laws that say it’s not allowed, and the Constitution says we all have the right to feel and be safe, but for most of us, those are just pieces of paper with good intentions.

Last year I spent three months out of the country on writing residencies. It was an amazing time, not least because I had uninterrupted time to write, and my meals were mostly cooked for me, which feels like #livingthedream. What I loved most about the residencies, that took place in two small towns, was my ability to walk alone, for long periods, on the road or in the wilderness, without being harassed. This simple pleasure, an hour long walk a day where I didn’t feel like I had to be afraid, where nobody said anything to me about how I looked or what I was doing alone, and where I could be in nature and consume the beauty of the natural world, was something that I treasured. It helped me sleep better. It helped me write better. It made me feel more human.

The first week back in South Africa after the first residency, I was sexually harassed by a man while walking down the street to visit some old work friends. When I ignored him, which is my instinctive reaction (sometimes my instinct is to keep walking with my middle finger in the air), he took the liberty of crossing the road in case it was a matter of his lewd suggestions being unheard rather than deliberately ignored. He wanted to make sure that I knew he was there, looking at me. It was only when a kind male stranger walked next to me and told him to go away that he stopped. But even this didn’t make me feel better – he didn’t stop because he realised it was vicious, destructive, or offensive to shout comments at me. He stopped because he believed I belonged to another man. I was still an object to him.

I’m at the age where I think about what it might mean to raise a little girl in this world and to be frank, it terrifies me. I wonder how I will tell her that she has the rights and power to do anything she puts her mind to, but simultaneously explain that she should also probably be hypervigilant when crossing the street at night or when choosing an intimate partner. I don’t know that this double-think double-living is psychologically tenable.

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where women could go on a walk every day for the sheer pleasure of it, and what women would be capable of doing if they were really free.

What a year! 75% and counting.

I can’t believe it’s October. Only a quarter of the year left to meet all the goals that were set at the beginning of the year. Now that we’re 75 percent done with 2017, I thought it would be cool to reflect on some of the fun things that I’ve been working on this year, and write down some of the stuff I’d still like to get done. You know – to make it public so I can’t slack off!

The year to date

At the end of February this year I resigned my full-time day job in gender research. After four years in the same job, I needed some new challenges, and a less toxic work environment. Burnout and high stress levels had dogged me for the six months preceding my decision to quite, and to be honest some of the symptoms still linger behind almost seven months out of the job. I’m using a really great meditation app called Calm to manage those niggles, and to try to generally live a more happy and peaceful life.

In March I travelled to Vermont, to pursue a residency at the Vermont Studio Centre. I had three days in New York before I went, where I experienced jet lag, the subway, the world’s largest bagels, and the hustle and bustle of a city that is electric with energy. Vermont was the exact opposite – chilled to the max. Literally – on one of the days I was there the temperature dropped to -24 degrees. My eyes, nose, and smile froze on my face. The writing was good, and I managed to get a large chunk of the novel I was working on done. The company was great too, and its so amazing to follow the journeys of the other artists and writers that I shared my month with.

During this time I also worked on a collection of feminist essays, and completed the first draft to be sent to the publisher. More on that later.

In April and May, I was back home in South Africa. I was lucky enough to be working on some really exciting projects. One was with Triangle Project and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, looking at LGBTIQ political participation and influence in South African politics. This included qualitative and quantitative research, including interviews with South African politicians and civil society leaders. The report was finalised in September, and I’ll share it on the site as soon as I get the final copy. I also did a little bit of work with Mthente Research and Consulting Services, looking at an evaluation of the Cape Town Refugee Centre political participation project. Very interesting!

In June I jetted off to France for a two-month writing residency at the Camac Art Centre in Marnay Sur Seine. As you’ll have seen from some of my previous blogs, this was generously sponsored by my friends, family, and the French Consulate in Cape Town. I had an amazing time writing there, and wrote over 50 000 words of my new novel. So it’s really on the way. It was incredible to live with the other residents, learn from their skills and just generally to enjoy their company. My little cottage was a paradise and haven, and swimming in the Seine most nights was a definite highlight.

Even during this time the grindstone continued. I worked with the OECD on doing a legislative review of the gender rights laws of five African countries for their SIGI database. It’s a great resource for researchers so check it out. In this time I also worked with the Shukumisa Coalition on drafting a history document for the coalition looking at its history from its inception in the early 2000s, to the work it does now. Having been a member myself since 2010, it was a really rewarding project. In addition to this work I kept up with my blog and opinion piece writing for W24.co.za and Women and Girls Hub. More on that, here.

At the end of July I met my fiance in Copenhagen and after a few days there we took a two-week trip to the Faroe Islands to check out the puffins and the scenery. It is a breathtaking place that is definitely worth a visit. This was a sort of pre-wedding honeymoon for us after two-months apart, and it the perfect place to reconnect with one another and spend some time walking in nature.

August and September were filled with work of a different kind. I finished up the Triangle and Victory Institute report on LGBTIQ political participation, and went straight onto editing a book on Colombian Transitional Justice. I didn’t know very much about the conflict in Colombia, and it was a really stimulating experience.

With the help of editor extraordinaire, Helen Moffett, I also finalised the collection of feminist essays called Feminism Is, which you can expect to see on shelves in 2018. This collection features 31 contributions from South African feminists and you will need it and love it. I’m so proud of it.

October forwards

Last weekend I married my true love in an incredible setting near Helderstroom. We did things our way, which is usually a little weird, and it all came together perfectly. It was a happy, emotional, and wonderful day and I’m still basking in the glow of the love and support that all our friends and family sent our way.

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Thanks to Dearheart Photographers for capturing our day!

Although it was a total bummer to get back to work after the happiness and celebrations of this past weekend, I’m still glad that I’ve got some fun to look forward to in the coming months.

I’ll be working with the Women’s Legal Centre over the next month to deliver them an Annual Report that reflects their new strategic focus, and the amazing work that they do. I’m also doing bits and pieces of editing for a few clients, and some article writing work. If you’re in need of some writing, editing, or research work, get in touch with me!

Most importantly though, I’m committing myself to finishing the novel I’m working on, polishing it up, and sending it off for consideration. It’s the scariest part of writing, but I didn’t spend my time all over the world this year to keep something in my computer.

I turn 33 at the end of this month. Each year I normally set myself a reading project to try to keep the creativity flowing, as well as to be a bit more mindful about my reading choices (i.e. not just reading the white male western mainstream). This year my challenge to myself is to read at least two short stories a week, and to blog about them. It’s my weakest area of writing, and there’s no way I can get better at writing short stories if I don’t read more of them. So expect more of that in the weeks to come.

It has been a year of my life that will be VERY hard to top. Feeling like a lucky fish in the happiest of seas. I hope you do too!

Permission

 

After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic this week I have been thinking a lot about the idea of permission. In the book she says something along the lines of ‘if you’ve been waiting for the slip that gives you permission to pursue your dreams, here, I’m giving it to you.’ (sorry if that was wrong Elizabeth Gilbert, love your work).

It took a really crazy job that I survived (truly, at the end that is what it felt like) for four years to allow me to give myself permission to spend this month in Vermont writing. In fact, if it had been a better job (you know, one where they like … value you you in ways other than money) I probably wouldn’t be here writing away each day and having the best time.

How come? How come it’s so hard to do what you want to do and so easy to tell other people they should?

I don’t really have the answer to this question. Even after writing one whole book and having it published and feeling good about it afterwards I spend most of my between writing time thinking – can I actually do this? The emphasis varies each time. Can I actually do this? Can I actually do this? But the point is the same.

In that same book, Big Magic, Gilbert talks about the way that fear and creativity are intertwined. She says rather than avoid this fear, she’ll acknowledge it and take it along with her on the creative journey. She invites fear along for the drive, but tells it that it can’t take the wheel. I liked this analogy, especially because I really hate driving so I’m cool for fear to sit in the back, and I’ll sit in the passenger seat whilst creativity is the boss of things.

In all seriousness though, for the first few nights here I had THE CRAZIEST NIGHTMARES involving weird people doing weird things. I woke up a lot thinking – who the actual eff is living in my subconscious? I’ve been talking to some other people here who have also been plagued by strange dreams, and saw that a friend on instagram felt the same, and for me it just confirmed what Gilbert was saying. Fear and creativity are linked because they force us to reach inside ourselves.

If I am going to do this creative thing, then fear is coming with, and it will try to be in control in whatever way possible. But, I’m kind of stubborn. Don’t know if fear knows that. And when creativity is around, it’s a cool vibe.