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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Squeeze

When I was a tween, with tiny titties (believe it or not), I used to stuff my bra – mostly with toilet paper and tissues. I geared up a notch for karate lessons, and yes, socks came into play. C’mon, there were cute guys there, AND fists flying in very close proximity to my bee-stings. I’m sure the entire dojo was pretty aware of this when I arrived with a new set of C-cups, blind. A little cringe-worthy I guess. Even more so when my awkward and nervous first boyfriend found himself with a handful of tissue instead of the glorious bosom he was expecting. Serves him right for only wanting to date a girl with “big boobs” – I don’t know who the joke was on in the end.

The other day in one of my Girls Only WhatsApp groups – which by the way, is the modern gals conference corner – a friend of mine shared how she had almost collapsed into an adjacent changing room while trying to get herself into a pair of body-shaping underwear. A battle I know many of us can relate to. I’m impressed she even bothered to try them on. I’m usually so embarrassed at the task of purchasing such a device, even though like, everybody does it, that I fast track that whole process and head straight to the counter, still wearing my sunglasses. These? Am I sure they are my size? Pfft, oh no these are for my niece/ dog/ primary school teacher/ transvestite uncle. I wake up like this. I am the epitome of a true woman, unashamed of the little bumps and bulges that revolt against the institution we call clothing.

Strange how this doesn’t stop me from trying on a pair of jeans which is the size I am in my head. A good, well-rounded (but not too rounded) 36. Come hell or high water, I am gonna fit into that pair of pants because somehow it’s how I’ve graded myself, or maybe how the world has graded me. Just slightly above the average curve of a “healthy” sized girl. That is 25 minutes of squeezing, squirming and sweating I never get back, plus the extra 15 I need to put the pants back and grab a 38, my actual size, most of the time. It’s moments like that – when you are desperately trying to get those last 10 zipper teeth to shut the fuck up, stop the button which is fiercely keeping that (now) amply filled bra from having its public debut, and convince that stubborn pants button to quite being an asshole - that can literally throw me into a full blown panic attack. Irrational thoughts flood the mind, exposing me more than those disgusting change room lights – I’m gonna pass out. I’m gonna pass out and they will find me here on the floor of this change room with mismatched underwear and a free-at-last fat roll tuning howzit. Or my worst – when my arms are stuck above my head with some boa constrictor of a top wrapped around them, trapping me in a helpless position where I can neither retreat nor forge ahead. Tits for days! I’m going to have to go out there, into the shop where people who actually fit into their clothes exist, with my chesticles dangling out of their enclosure like a pair of ill prepared court jesters, pulled onto stage for an improve set! Cut me out of this motherfucker!

Deep breaths, patience and my double jointed elbow are my only relief in this catastrophe.

But then, once the spanks are a’spanking, and ‘the girls’ find a place they are comfortable perching in (with an extra safety pin fastened in case of an up-and-out rising), well sometimes it all comes together. Damn gurl, you looking good. Even if I’m the only one who knows the struggle it’s taken to get there. Appearances vs reality, it’s an interesting thought isn’t it? What we show to the world, what we make seem effortless and easy, compared to the real journey. The silent army tasked with holding it all in, or all together. Mine deserve fucking medals of honour, salute!

I suppose the same goes for those supports we find to make it seem like everything is smooth sailing in our relationships and other parts of our life. The ones that keep the inner monologue quiet, and the outer one pleasant, well mannered, functional and pleasing to the ear. These are the little soldiers who come at you with a live round the second something raw or uneasy enters your mind and almost exits your mouth. I’m not happy. I’m worried we’ll never get through this. You’re not going to change. I’m not going to change. Those thoughts. The one’s that are too scary and too ugly to let hang out like a pair of untanned, unsupported knockers. I don’t want to be your friend anymore. Your husband is a douche. We don’t have anything in common. I don’t care anymore. No I'm not actually the 'cool-nothing-bothers-me-do-what-you-like' boyfriend/ girlfriend you met all those years ago.

I suppose there is something to weighing up whether the juice is worth ‘the squeeze’. Whether all that panting and hyperventilating in life’s dressing room, what with its bad lighting and bitchy sales people, is worth it for temporary appease, even if it’s not real. Maybe we need that sometimes, we need to feel like everything is fine, fab, great, lovely. But I wonder what would happen if we just let it spill out a little bit over our belts and allowed ourselves to mutter all the muck, all the stingy thoughts and fears and give them up to be absorbed or rejected. If we could sometimes be real, and just say it like it is, (muffin top out in all its splendour, emotional safeguards disarmed) would we free ourselves not only from the tightly elasticated walls around our hearts and bellies, but from a delayed inevitable. At some point, the people that really matter… are going to see you naked.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Ultimate Rewrite

Not everyone loves every single aspect of their job, it’s just impossible. I’m sure even Richard Branson wakes up some mornings and thinks, eugghh not another meeting with that guy. Well as a writer I can tell you right now that my most soul destroying task is a rewrite. This usually happens when you’ve missed the mark on an article; it’s the wrong length or some new information surfaces causing you to have to redirect the story. It’s a painful process because all the enthusiasm you had originally summoned up has evaporated into the ether, the material is now boring, the process is tedious and well… it’s just sometimes hard to unstick yourself from a particular line of thought or way of doing things. The mind and body naturally resist challenges, especially the ones you really need to face. How shall I compare thee? It’s like going to home affairs, getting to the front of the queue and realising you’ve filled out the wrong form. It’s like putting a cake mix in the oven only to realise that you’ve forgotten to add eggs. It’s like getting ready to wear that amazing new dress you just bought and then feeling the magnetic security tab rub up against you as you slip it on. Argh!

Ultimately if you want a better result, you just have to take a deep breath and get stuck in. As hard as it is sometimes.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a rewrite of an entirely different nature, but one which irks and pains me in a very similar way. The rewrite of your story, of mine, of our collective tale. The chapters that have made us short tempered or untrusting. The characters who have harmed and tarnished us in some way. The false beliefs we have about ourselves and our lives that perpetuate negativity, insecurity and spite. Yes they have all played a part in building who we are, yes it makes us complex and colourful, no there is no time machine in existence – but what if we could somehow re-code those neurological pathways that feel so permanent and destructive?

I bought a ticket to embark on this philosophical journey when I was talking to someone about the idea that some of us are minimisers while others are maximisers. Minimisers play things down and avoid panic and overreaction while maximisers exacerbate situations and jump to the worst possible outcome as a way of dealing with things. Often you will find the two in a mutual symbiosis – dating, working together or in friendships. Similarly people often fall into two categories when it comes to conflict – some face it and some don’t. I think this comes from the environment you grow up in, the influences you have around you and how your parents dealt with conflict. If they were always screaming and shouting at each other, you might have moulded your personality to avoid conflict at all costs as it drudges up painful and destructive memories for you. If you grew up with a passive aggressive parent, or in a house where conflict emotions were not free to be expressed, you may force yourself into communicating the tough stuff, because you don’t want to suffer silently in your relationships as an adult. In either situation you could also go the entirely opposite way. The point I am trying to make is that in the beginning of our lives we accept things as they are and our behaviour, personality and faults are shaped based on the first few chapters of our story.

This goes for creativity and talents too, as I’m starting to discover. If you think back, can you pin point a moment, comment or conversation that made you feel your idea was stupid? Your talent was a joke? Was there ever a time when you unknowingly formed a truth about yourself in your head, based on feedback from someone else? Let me give you an example. In my Matric year I had the lead role in our school play, which as trivial as it may sound, was a very taxing commitment. We endured long grueling rehearsals, months of frustration and sweat on the stage and heaps of critique. All this among impending exams, the results of which would only determine the rest of my life – or so it felt to me back then. While I was watching a scene on stage my choreographer, who was also one of my teachers, lent over and said: “Carly I just want you to know what a great job you are doing. I can see how hard you are working and I just wanted to say I think you’re very talented. The show is going to be amazing.” I almost burst into tears. It was so good to hear and a well-needed motivation boost. I treasured his words of praise and encouragement. A few days after our conversation I was called in and asked if the same teacher was being inappropriate with me, that it seemed he had overstepped a professional line of some sort. Even though I knew this was a ridiculous accusation, somewhere in my head it formed a belief that when people give you a compliment it’s probably just because they want something from you or they have ulterior motives. Why would they complement me otherwise? I know how crazy that sounds but after giving it a lot of thought I think this is one of a few incidences that caused me not to trust positive feedback, something I’m working hard to rewrite.

Maybe in life this is why we are always drawn to those who handle things differently, who see the world differently and who make us think about ourselves differently. Maybe we are all authors who spend our lives trying to rewrite those first few drafts of ourselves. We need people who rub us up the wrong way, who challenge us to rework things and who plant the idea in our minds that we may not be who we’ve defined ourselves to be. If you think about it, isn’t that what the best relationships do? They help you grow, even if you don’t want to. But I think if we want to to fill the rest of our blank pages with something different or better, it is only ourselves and our willingness to pursue the ultimate rewrite, to make that painstaking drive back to home affairs or the department store and to chuck the cake and start over, that can pen a happy ending.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

2015 – Can you dig?

This little last stretch to the end of the year is always a time of reflection and contemplation for me. While things start to wind down at work and my search engine history fills with holiday recipes, Pin-spiration pics and TED talks I’m already day dreaming about all the projects and goals I am going to set in motion next year. You might be thinking NERD ALERT, and a part of me doesn’t blame you – what’s life without a little spontaneity, surprise and serendipity? But in my experience if you can plot a few points on the map and let yourself detour and dance as you pass through them, you’ll be able to stay focused on what it is you really want from the year ahead. We sometimes forget about those things and then wham, its November and you haven’t even started on that novel/renovation project/ fitness plan/ meditation course.

Here’s how I think you can – as Bob Marley puts it – Lively Up Yourself for an epic 2015, you dig?

 1. That rush of enthusiasm you feel at the start of the New Year is going to make you feel bullet-proof and unstoppable which is both a good and bad thing. Good because it lights a spark under your bum to make you take that initial acknowledgement of a dream or goal but bad because that same spark can jet set you off into an unrealistic universe where you are doomed for failure. Keep Calm and wait a moment before you sign yourself up for a giant let-down. Take the time to really think about what it is you want and realise you are not superman/woman – you can’t do it all in one whiz.

2. Sometimes when you are climbing what feels like the Everest of accomplishments, you need lots of praise and encouragement to help you along the way. Lots of affirmation and pats on the back will help to propel you forward, so among those challenging goals that require a lot of your time, energy, skill, blood, sweat, tears, mental strength and focus; chuck in a few that are fun, silly and easy. You’ll look forward to doing them and once you’ve achieved them you’ll be super amped to nail another one. This goal stuff doesn’t always have to be boring and serious. For example, one of my goals in 2012 was to do something that scared me. Another one was to hang up all the pictures in my flat. This year I wanted to challenge myself by baking something intermediate (because I’m not a baker). They are the kind of things that you can do and feel proud of but also, not get too caught up about. 

3. I think when you put energy and creativity into something it becomes more alive and real to you. Maybe your resolutions are on a board on Pinterest? Maybe they are scrap-booked with magazine clippings? Maybe they are painted on a canvass or woven into lyrics of a song? Whatever inspires you, give your list it some no-rules no-holds-barred creativity and you’ll up the ante on your motivation and follow through. 

4. Denial is a sneaky and ugly thing – so don’t give it a slither of opportunity to throw you off course. Put that list somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Look at it, go over it, tick things off as you go. Don’t let it get dusty and forgotten, stashed somewhere in that multipurpose drawer each one of us has. 

5. You are your worst enemy and your harshest critic. So maybe you don’t execute something exactly how you wanted to. Maybe you don’t get through every little thing in one year (it’s actually a really short space of time if you think about it?). Maybe you reach your goals but not exactly in the way you expect. Cut yourself some slack, don’t fight the flow and allow yourself to be a normal person. Spontaneity, surprise and serendipity remember?

6. Find yourself an anthem to blast in the car on the way to work/ set as your alarm or ringtone/ put onto all of your iTunes playlists. Something that reminds you why you are doing what you are doing. Whether it’s of the Britney variety (You better work bitch!), something old school and cheery (Jimmy Cliff - You Can Get It If You Really Want) or something that inspires middle-finger motivation (NIN – Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me), a tune can ignite those can-do-emotions like nothing else. 

7. My last point is inspired by a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love which I think speaks for itself:

“There's a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, "Dear saint-please, please, please...give me the grace to win the lottery." This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, "My son-please, please, a ticket."

So for all of my readers: I wish you a crazy, marvelous 2015 and I urge you all to go out and courageously buy lottery tickets so you can start cashing in on your dreams.

Monday, 24 November 2014

How’d we get here?

I started this blog close to four years ago (I can’t believe) as a 20-something trapezing between parties, romantic misadventures and coping mechanisms for life, sex, love, friendships and what it means to have this lame thing called a job. From where I stand now, only months away from the big three zero, my definition of Heelz and Hangovers has gone from being very literal to much more metaphorical. Instead of cocktail recipes and the best Martini offerings, I find myself reflecting on the things that lift me up in life, what it means to be Drunk in Love as Queen B puts it, and peaks that blip on my life flowchart. Headlines which used to centre around babalas, heartbreak and my insights into what men don’t get about us gals have now shifted to things that make me hammock in the dips of that very same graph. Things that make me go “hmm” or “have you ever!” Who would have thought I’d be chatting to you, my readers, about things like politics and our economy! Goodness gracious, I think I might have grown up just a smidgen.

I’m going to add to that list of grown up things today by sharing my thoughts on something I’m surprised I don’t see and read about more often. It’s been tweaking my melon for ages, and leaking into my relationships and friendships for quite some time.

I never realised what a feminist I was until this year I think – and when I say feminist, please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m no man-hater – I’m a man loverrrr. I’m no hardcore iron lady burning my bra – what silly girl would do that? Bras are downright pricey, and way too pretty for pyrotechnics. Of course the symbolic act had its place all those years ago when woman were seriously underestimated and undervalued as human beings. All you need to do is have a look at one of those 1960’s advertising memes (much like the one at the top of this post) which encourages wife beating or vacuum cleaners as a perfect birthday gift idea to know that the times they have a-changed. Woman, I feel, are no longer seen as subordinate in the workplace or in any other realm. You might argue that we still earn less, have fewer managerial positions and struggle with how the media portrays our complexities (or the lack thereof according to shows like The Real Housewives) but I think it’s become common knowledge that we are capable of most things that a man is, and this is good news.

But while we are celebrating our newly attained power and respect, there’s a kind of backlash that’s happening - a sketchy gear change in this monumental transition which is making a lot of people very uncomfortable. While we are conquering the world, heading our households, raising children and more easily climbing the ladder to our own personal dreams and goals, our boyfriends, husbands and brothers are quietly wondering where they fit in. For a species that notoriously needs to feel needed, like they have a purpose and an equally important role to play in the family unit, these are tricky times.

Looking around at my female peers (many of whom support their partners financially), this identity crisis has rippled into many aspects of a man’s va-va-voom. How’s a guy supposed to push you up against a wall, rip your clothes of and take you like Hercules if he’s feeling as strong and powerful as a wilted sunflower? How does he look after you, like his father and his father’s father most likely did for his mother, when you are more than capable of looking after yourself? How does he parade like a peacock, when your feathers have become brighter and far more beautiful? Well, any girl reading this will want to list a hundred ways in which she needs her man, and another hundred for all the things she appreciates about him. Any girl will tell you she would never think less of a man who was a househusband, as long as he was able to pull his weight in the running of the family, much like her mother, and her mother’s mother did for her father. But these same girls are all single, sitting in an upmarket bar in power suits and Christian Louboutins, hoping like hell they don’t scare off any potential partners. Or they are in relationships feeling helplessly torn between the confident, proud and powerful woman they are and the one which makes their male counterpart feel better about his own self-esteem and self-worth.

I so wish that perceptions shifted as quickly as we’d like, that adaptation and evolution was programmed to roll out seamlessly in our society and that we were all brave enough to have these conversations with each other and ourselves. Something tells me that there would be a resounding sigh of relief echoing from across the sexes. Alas, we are a far cry from any kind of closure and a long way from truly understanding and appreciating this totem pole shuffle.

I don’t have the answers I’m afraid, I’m still trying to get my head around unisex bathrooms and saunas - some things just shouldn’t change! But they do, and they will forever and ever. It’s about how we embrace that change, how we absorb the sometimes hard compromises, how we allow ourselves to be defined by different things without maximum resistance and how we drive out double-standards. For me it all comes down to empathy and the willingness to walk tall in someone else’s Heelz, or perhaps suffer simultaneously in another person’s Hangover.  


Monday, 20 October 2014

Lessons from a pot of curry

In my previous blog about the benefits of struggle, I referenced the tumultuous relationship I have had with making curry. It’s been a particularly sore point for me, because in a past life I was an Indian goddess with 10 doting husbands and a multi-coloured pet elephant (a girl can dream can’t she?). My real-life travels to India in 2012 awakened my spirit and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t draw some inspiration, wisdom or reflection from that life-changing journey.

When I returned home, one of the things I was most excited about – besides my Hindi chanting CD which is still gathering dust somewhere in my cupboard, and pile of fabric I’ve since turned into scatter cushions - was reliving those special moments through cooking some of the unbelievable Indian food I had indulged in. Melt-in-your-mouth dahl, creamy kidney bean curry, oooh-my-gosh mushroom rogan josh, tikka tofu, paneer koftas, pickled peaches, chapatti’s… my heart swoons just thinking about it!

I tried – a little aloo matter here, a little pistachio korma there – but nothing. It all just tasted like a cheap impression of something else. The Kim K of culinary – one dimensional and quite unspectacular. So I gave up, and went back to a plethora of mac n cheese, soups and salads.

Almost 3 years later, I returned to the mortar and pestle, mostly out of necessity. Sitting on my kitchen windowsill were all the spices a curry cook could ask for. Mementoes of my past failed attempts that glared down on me as I had reached for the oregano and Italian spice mix. Curry is a cuisine that stretches – budgets and plates. The prospect of relatively cheap ingredients (especially for a veggie like me) that feed for days had lured me back to face my nom-nom nemesis.

This time, when I got stuck in my intentions were different and as if whispered to me by the Himalyan mountains (in the voice of my part-time guru Mr. Prakesh obviously), the curry spoke to me.

It said:

  • Do not rush, for patience is part of the process. Each ingredient, each grain of spice, must have its moment to temper and mature.
  • Work from a place of love – love each chopped onion bit, allow each shard of cinnamon to warm your heart, watch the cumin seeds dance in the pan like children playing in a sprinkler, taste, savour and allow to simmer in your soul.
  • Listen to your gut, even if the recipe calls for no more or no less, rebel. Take your own strides forward, let instinct guide you and listen to the flavours when they speak.
  • Seek out fear and challenge it. Try new things, fail at them, and try them again. Learn, improve and adapt.
  • When things get crazy, close your eyes and find your centre again. After all – it’s just a pot of curry!

With these learnings in mind I churned out an out of this world mushroom pilaf with pastry crust, a chana must-have-more masala, delightful dahl and some cracking chapatti’s! I realised curry making was my meditation and my new favourite thing to do on a Saturday night. Yeah I said it.

As I crunched on my last poppadum I got to thinking about timing, and the cosmos and how learning to make a good curry was actually a way for me to embrace the unmet challenges I had deemed as disappointments. So often in life we seek immediate resolve and instant achievement, and when that doesn’t happen we assume we suck (well I do). We then revert to a new goal, adjust our bearings and veer away from what we perceive to be failure. Now I’m not saying this is always a bad thing, sometimes we need a nudge in a new direction and often it’s our failings that push us thereto. But I think a lot of the time we are unable to push through obstacles because we are not yet armed with the tools needed to do so. Our skills haven’t tempered, our hearts aren’t boiling over with love, we feel the need to stick strictly to a tried and tested recipe, we’re too scared to face up to real challenges and fail, we want to fast forward experiences and when things get a little crazy we fall apart. And then we’re super bummed when the end product is a decidedly average bowl of goop.

It goes back to a profound albeit cliché philosophy that I sometimes forget: everything happens exactly as it should. So if, like me, you have moments where you feel you’ve missed the mark or have lost sight of your dreams just think of it as a few more years you need to spend in culinary school. Honing your skills, clearing the path for opportunity, extracting all you can from experience and leaving some space for serendipity.