There are times, as a diligent and lifelong diarist, that you find yourself in periods where your landscape feels overwhelming. When your surrounding atmosphere and energy forces collide to make the most spectacularly gentle geography explode in front of your eyes and makes your fingers pause above the page or keyboard – even while writing a poem to the loveliness of the land as the moonlight begins to leave it – too startled by rude reality to find new words to capture the speed of events.
You cling. You wait.
And you lean into that thing you continue to learn; there are times of action and there are times of waiting.
When you don’t know what to do, do nothing.
Freeze, like a bunny in the headlights. Unbidden comes my mother’s voice to haul me out of self-pity: unhappy, unlovely me lying on my neat bed in a fusty sweatshirt, covered in angst and acne:
“Do something constructive. Have a hot bath, you’ll feel much better.” And it does, taking water on my skin, it does. (I try to do some form of yoga every day, and tub yoga is the ultimate thing for me.)
I’m dirtier than I could ever have imagined, all the time. The dust here on the farm, is – merciful are the small gifts from the universe! – pale, and there is no clay in the soil, it is shale and dust, hot and dry; a beetle toppled over during a trudge after fresh dung will dessicate in a day and you’ll find enough of them, perfectly preserved, bleached of gore, enough to string a necklace in a month. But still better than finding things pink, live and unexpectedly violent in a disused sugar bowl. Not having a bathroom has been easier than I had prepared myself for; my concerned friends don’t realize the planning of an off-grid life has been my vision for at least five years, but my close inner-circle know it well and have been aware of my slow journey, and have known of my roadside catastrophes and misguided detours, but this is part of a conscious endeavour to reach my goal vision by 2019.
I’m a pale version of myself inside a pale version of my life’s landscape; summer in the Karoo is a study in sage and blushing taupe and mink as far as the eye can see. See me now, at my bedroom wash stand, the docile after dinner conversation of the pigs drifts in with the evening dust moats through the paneless window of my shack and the dimples of light filtering through the tiny holes from old nails in the corrugated roof sheets cast the room a powdery pink-grey; Ashes of Roses, that old chestnut again, the leitmotif palette of my happiest dreams, graded like a cheesy romantic movie, desaturated, smudged. It’s the pantone range of my serenity, the colours of softest, most vulnerable love
I have lived without hot water, and with rudimentary or horrific ablution facilities during many transitional periods of my Life Since Divorce (LSD for the newcomers, although I must exercise caution; the recovery process is perhaps surreal, but certainly it is seldom euphoric for any significant length of time) and so can appreciate the lesson of experience: that was bad so that I know I can survive this easily, and I made that utterly wonderful, so let me enjoy with grace and gratitude – perhaps humor – what I have.
My hideous bathroom in Yeoville, Johannesburg after my divorce, which had no hot water because the building’s body corporate hadn’t paid the city gas bill for years. I didn’t know until I moved in and lived like that for over a year:
Plus, I’ve had that rare privilege of a year in an authentic setting to research the most primitive attempts at civilized life via the 1820 Settler women of Grahamstown; it all flows into a thread in retrospect. I know that wherever I find myself, I will choose a Spartan bathing ritual and I laugh often as I read my friends’ struggle to adapt to the mindful use of water prescribed by the country’s hideous drought. I know my way around a bucket routine, you betcha.
It’s always been a sacred time for me, bathtime, even in times of comfort and abundance, and I have those luxurious settings to remember at the times now, when – parched from relentless heat and fierce wind and narrowly-averted disaster – my body and soul crave the benediction of running water over my body. To stand, or wallow idly, in the cleansing caress of a waterfall or dive through a wave, to be up to my chin in scalding bubbles in a pristine porcelain chamber or to tumble hotly from a lilo into an icy, deep swimming pool and hold my breath to the bottom and back up again and flip my body over to go down again and again until my finger pads are wrinkled and my skin the palest pink on the inside of a seashell. Oh!
The memories are rich, if one can – for the moment – overlook the dangerously draining pitfalls of recollection, and they are a fine cue for meditation on my journey to self-respect, and remind me that even in violent times, I’m really incapable of selling my soul.
“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.” Paulo Coelho