How social media is stealing from me

When I packed up all my belongings for my move earlier this year, I tossed a whole lot of stuff. Well, I recycled and donated a whole lot of stuff. But one of the things I didn’t send to the recycling depot was my stash of diaries from my teens and 20s. Each time I filled an A5 book I’d wrap it up in pretty paper and paste a label on the front with the date range. The idea was that I’d open and revisit them when I turned 40.

I’m not far off that moment. With just a couple of years to go, I’m interested to see how much I’ve developed as a person. But I’m also a little sad. I haven’t journaled properly for years. And I’ve been trying to work out why.

Part of it is the fact that maybe I only journal properly when I’m alone/lonely, or maybe when life is a little difficult. But not horrifically difficult. Because I’ve been through some really rough patches over the past year and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it, let alone write about it in the moment. But when it’s nastiness that’s a little less than devastating, it’s easier. I’ve journaled through years of being lonely, years of loathing my body, years of being uncertain of where my life is headed. And then stopped when I was happy in a relationship, when I got married and had a life companion always there.

Then when things started to not look so peachy I tried again. But it seemed wrong somehow. Like I hadn’t kept a record of all the happy years, now to suddenly return to my diary when things were bad… I felt like I was almost lying to whoever may one day read them. Like I was withholding parts of myself, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Let me try explaining it differently… Maybe it’s like when religious people spend hours praying in their worst moments. Desperate for help, and then when it comes and life starts to look up, they forget to pray. Until the bad times return. I don’t know if that quite captures it. But I felt like a hypocrite.

There’s more to it though – my poor to non-existent journaling over recent years. And it’s really struck me in the last couple of days. In the Mindfulness course I’m doing, my teacher suggested I pay attention to when I click into social media. Not try to stop it – just pay attention to when I log in, and how it makes me feel.

As soon as I started to take notice and realised just how much time I spend on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (not that it was at all a surprise), I started to notice the time wastage and also how much of what I share online would usually have been things I journaled about. But with filters. In my diary I would (mostly) be brazenly honest, because it was only for me (and maybe decades down the line for a future relative). But on social media I’m concerned about what others think. So, while it’s still a record of my life, like a diary would be, it’s been filtered to within an inch of its life. And I don’t just mean pictures. I mean words and sentiments too.

Thinking about it now, I feel like pouring all of my random thoughts and observations out onto social media is a little like stealing from Future Terri. Because, when I open my journals in a few years’ time I’ll realise that there’s a whole chunk of my life that me at 50, say, won’t have the opportunity to look back on properly. Not that we should be living in the past. But I know that as I get older, my memory is getting less sturdy and there is so much that has happened over the past decade that I think it would be good and encouraging to be able to revisit. And I don’t want to have to rely on Facebook memories to dish up lukewarm seconds or thirds to look back at this part of my life.

I think I’m aching for a more authentic form of self-expression again. I owe it to myself now, and to my future self.

PS. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard I had to fight with myself to turn this into a blog post and not a tweet or Facebook update. Oh the irony.

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Cooking for one (it’s about more than simply not starving)

Being in the kitchen is one of the things that makes me happiest. Give me a handful of hungry guests, a couple of hours and a list of inexpensive ingredients and I’m the proverbial pig in mud. But it’s a little different when you find yourself having to cook for one. After almost seven years of whipping up meals for the multitudes (okay, between two and five people), I’m back to cooking for just myself, and it’s been an interesting transition.

Preheat

Growing up, I remember my mom often asking us what we wanted for dinner, well, when we were old enough to actually have an opinion beyond “tinned spaghetti and Oros”. And I recall her frustration when teenaged me would say “ugh, whatever”. I only really “got it” years later when I was cooking for someone else. There’s only so many times you can cycle through your index of five dishes before you’re totally and utterly bored of having to decide which one to make that night. All you want, need, crave is for someone else to make a bloody decision. You don’t mind cooking it…. You just don’t want to have to actually decide.

So, when I eventually found myself in her shoes, and with not all that much input from the lounge, I realised the only way I was going to solve it was to mix things up a bit. I needed to add some more options to my go-to list so things weren’t quite so dull. Besides, being in the kitchen has always been a kind of therapy for me. I’m at my happiest when I’m cooking or baking. So, I scrounged around online and found a great site that had a bottomless supply of interesting (LINK) recipes, and I got stuck in. Some days I’d have a hankering for something tasty and search specifically, others I’d plug in the ingredients I happened to have and see what it came up with. Either way, I found some superb dishes that we both enjoyed and that I returned to time and again.

Cook

Fast forward a couple of years and I’d got the hang of taking on new recipes. I’d even (mostly) learnt to remember to read the full recipe before starting. There was one unfortunate incident when I thought I was in for a 45 minutes wait and it actually turned into close to two hours… It said so, plain as day in the recipe, I had just allowed my taste buds to yank me into action before my brain had had a chance to process the instructions.

I went from cooking for two almost every day, to cooking for five once a week. Which was great in that it meant that the other four days someone else was slaving away in the kitchen, and when it was my turn I could make something exciting that took a little more effort and sometimes a slightly more generous budget. I tried all sorts of things, from gnocchi and ravioli, to chicken pad thai and tacos. It was great. I not only had immense fun cooking on a huge stove and oven, but I also absolutely love to see people enjoying what I’ve made. And, what is it they drill into us as kids? Practice makes perfect. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my cooking is perfect, but I have learnt a heap from following tried and tested recipes and the reviews of other home cooks beneath them. Enough to occasionally wing it successfully when I either don’t have quite the right ingredients or enough time.

Allow to cool

And then, from five I was back down to one. I need to preface this by saying that the change was also accompanied by quite a heavy emotional shift for me. So possibly, in any other situation I would have jumped into the kitchen a riot of spatulas and freshly ground spices, but this was a more subdued transition. Not only was I faced with the tiniest stove known to man (trust me, I can MAYBE fit six cupcakes in there at once), but I was also having to gradually try to find a new routine in my life in general.

So, it should be no surprise when I tell you that my first few meals in my new house were crumbed chicken burgers. The kind where you get six frozen patties in a box and watch them sizzle forlornly in a pan before whacking them on a stale roll you forgot you bought yesterday. Yeah. Gastronomic genius it wasn’t – but at least I didn’t starve.

I allowed myself to have a couple of weeks of uninspired meals, before I realised it was time to shake out my apron, pull my hair into a pony and get cooking again. Proper, exciting, adventurous cooking. One thing that counts in my favour (much to my colleagues’ dismay) is that I really don’t mind eating the same meal four days in a row. So long as it’s delicious. So, I’m slowly getting myself back into the habit of getting creative in the kitchen and preparing a feast for one for four meals. I started with Cajun chicken pasta, moved on to Mongolian beef and have just landed on sweet and sticky spicy chicken this week.

I’m also only buying ingredients as and when I need them. Gone are the days of veggie racks upon which a lush sweet potato forest is growing, or baby marrows turning to juice in the fridge. I try to plan my next dish before I get to the supermarket so I know exactly what I need to buy, and I also know that it’ll take care of dinner for the next few nights.

Serve

There was a brief moment, standing in my new kitchen staring mournfully at my tiny stove, when I thought “what’s the point? It’s just me”. But cooking is one of my passions. I’ve realised that right now, more than I ever I should be indulging that. And of course, I’ll have other people to cook for sometimes (Ladies Night Dinner gals, I’m looking at you). But in the meantime, I’m totally worth the extra time in the kitchen and the careful grocery list-making. And I certainly don’t have to lapse back into cycling through the same five dishes I used to make the first time I lived alone. There are too many fantastic recipes out there begging to be tried and perfected. Cooking for one has never been to exciting.

And for the days the sadness seems a bit too inspiration-crushing, well, then there’s always a back-up box of chicken burgers in the freezer.

Driving me up the wall

Can I chat about traffic for a moment? I recently moved back down to the south and over the past month and a half I’ve realised just how spoilt I’ve been having access to the MyCiti bus. Yes, yes, I complained bitterly on Twitter about the bus, the drivers and my fellow commuters – but even back then, deep down inside, I did get how fortunate I was to not be sitting in traffic in Paarden Eiland. Yes, even that day when our driver slammed on breaks and everyone fell out of their seats like skittles, or that day our driver decided to try squeeze past another bus and opened his vehicle like a tin can. Come to think of it, that may have been the same day…

But still, hugely fortunate. I got a small taste of it when I had to take my car to town a few days in a row a while back and within minutes I was in the throes of a road rage incident. Wait, let me clarify, there were no cricket bats involved, not even any exiting the vehicle. But that bloody woman in the car ahead of me who couldn’t decide what speed she wanted to go, and that hideous bully in the big silver monstrosity behind me who seemed to think I should remove myself from the road so he could get one whole car closer to town… my blood was boiling. I went back to the bus with a happy sigh and limited my Twitter complaints to two a week for a while.

Why does the universe hate me?

Now that I’m back in the south, though, I don’t have the bus as an option. And oh, how I miss it. I tried the train a few weeks back. What a hideously depressing experience. Seriously. Torn seats, graffitied inside and out, little streams of urine trickling through the carriage and windows so filthy and damaged the only way you can see what station you’ve just arrived at is to either peer through the tiny gap, or risk standing near the door, which is problematic because more people get tossed out of trains sans bags and shoes than you’d like to know.

Let’s ignore the petrol costs of taking my car to town and back five days a week, and the fact that I don’t have a parking bay so every day is an adventure – the traffic is completely unpredictable. Used to be that school holidays meant that the roads would be emptier and you could comfortably leave 28 minutes later than usual. Now? There’s just no telling. Colleagues sat in jams for over three hours the other day and eventually gave up and went home. Why? No bloody clue. Maybe it’s just because people in Cape Town are automatically transformed into idiots the moment their engines spring to life. Note: I didn’t say Capetonians, because, while yes, we are some of the biggest culprits, check out the license plates and you’ll see our roads are equal opportunity idiot-makers.

We’re either speeding or aimlessly drifting across three lanes and back again. Forget racing through lights just as they turn red. We laugh in the face of that kind of opportunism. We cruise through with the four cars behind us when it’s already been red for a good 5 seconds. Oh, and we love, love, love to get ourselves stranded in the middle of intersections when the lights change so we completely bugger things up for the people whose lights have just gone green. That’s one of our favourite things to do.

Accurate.

I’m not even going to address people texting and driving, or playing Candy Crush and driving or whatever the hell it is they’re doing heads bowed and one hand (if we’re lucky) on the wheel. Guys, Oprah told us not to years ago, can we just get our shit together and stop already?

Thing is, traffic sucks. Being late because of avoidable fender benders that happened 45 minutes before you even left the house sucks. But we can do small things to make it easier. Don’t be that jerk who waits till the very last second to cross over a solid white line to get into the lane they need – you’re the reason the traffic in that lane is so backed up in the first place. Put your phone down – one bonus is that you’ll give your freemium game a little extra time to replenish your lives, oh, and you won’t kill people. And if the person in front of you is already going the speed limit (if not a little over) don’t be a tosser and ride right up on their bumper, even though you can clearly see there’s a queue of cars in front of them, and them moving will do pretty much zilch to get you to your meeting any sooner.

We’re all in this together, let’s be a team, let’s make everyone’s journey a little safer and easier – but most importantly can you all please be a little less idiotic so I don’t have to start each day with a tantrum behind the wheel of my slowly-overheating Ford?

Snail dumplings

So, Snickerdoodles are all kinds of fabulous. I managed to narrow down my list of Things I NEED to Bake Immediately, and whipped up a batch of the cinnamonny treats to take with me to my afternoon function yesterday.

They’re super simple to make, and the only ingredient I didn’t already have on hand was the cream of tartar. But that comes in small packets, so no need to stock up on a big bakkie that’s just going to go stale.

snickerdoodles

Full disclosure, I really do think the name is kind of stupid though. Every time I say Snickerdoodle, I subconsciously start humming Yankee Doodle Dandy, and picturing Snickers bars doing a weird chocolately can can (which, now that I’ve seen Sausage Party, is all the more disturbing). It’s a bizarre name for a biscuit, right? And I STILL think it should be a pie of some sort. Anyway, I asked the internet why, for the love of all that is leavened and golden brown, they’re called Snickerdoodles, and… it turns out they may have come from Germany originally, where they were probably known as schneckennudeln (crunchy German cookies sprinkled with cinnamon), and well, you know how people are when they can’t (be bothered to try to) pronounce something properly… “Schniker-what? Snickerdoodle? Yeah, let’s just go with that.”

But guys, according to one online explanation – schneckennudeln means SNAIL DUMPLING! And that’s just perfection. So I think, when I make these again, that’s what I’ll tell people they are.

Speaking of people, the guests at the party loved them. They really are delicious. The cinnamon sugar coating on the outside crisps up nicely, while the inside stays soft and doughy and yum. This is one of those recipes where, when the eight minute timer goes off, you want to jump up and whip them out immediately. There’s no “baking by smell” with these. Timing is everything.

I’ll definitely be packaging up a bunch of snail dumplings as gifts this Christmas. So, who’s on my Nice list? Oh, who’m I kidding – even those on the Naughty list deserve some of these.

Parched

We’re in trouble, guys. It seems this water thing is kind of serious. Especially if you consider last year’s water restrictions (which we all [me] complained bitterly about) saw us limited to two garden watering days a week, between specific hours, but this year, we’re not allowed to water AT ALL.

I’m not the world’s biggest gardening enthusiast. Not by a long shot. But I am rather fond of our lawn. And I had a veggie garden that I was proud of. I say HAD because, well, it’s a wasteland at the moment. Apart from one determined onion plant and an out of control rosemary bush, everything has died. It’s really sad, and while all I want to do is nip out to the nursery and buy more seedlings, I know I shouldn’t, because watering them enough to keep them thriving will be a problem.

And our lawn? Well…

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Apart from one desperate covert 10 minutes with the hose late one night, during which I felt like an outright criminal, I’ve stuck to the “no hose” rule. A couple of days ago I tried using a bucket. We don’t have the biggest lawn, but it’s far too large to use a bucket successfully. So day by day, the grass is getting more and more yellow/brown/threadbare.

I’ve read articles about “oh, just pave over it – who needs grass anyway?” Two things: We have a dog and imagine how hideous it’ll be for poor Polony to spend summer out on concrete (never mind the resultant dog poo and wee issues). And secondly, is anyone going to volunteer to pay for said paving for us? Sure, I could just let the garden return to sand, but with the wind that whips through our neighbourhood, that won’t be fun for anyone. (And a third thing for free: The little bit of reading I’ve done so far suggests that grass is great for filtering carbon dioxide and other impurities in the air, producing oxygen and improving ground water quality.)

Upshot is, yeah I have to give up on having a wonderfully healthy lawn, but I also don’t want to lose it completely. I need to find a way to both save water and not live in a dust bowl.

A while back when the City sent everyone letters telling them to reduce consumption, we did. Our water bill has been zero for the past five or six months. But it seems not enough people have done the same, or perhaps just telling people to cut back and relying on them to tattle tale on their neighbours is not a good enough solution.

So what else can I do right now, apart from complain bitterly? Well, just like I recycle even though I know my effort alone won’t save the planet, I AM trying to save water. At the moment, that takes the form of much shorter showers and no baths (sob). But I’m also trying to reduce the amount of water that goes down the drain after just one use. It takes a little dexterity, but I shower with a bucket at my feet now and that water (even though it’s not nearly enough) goes onto the grass. And I’m washing dishes in a bucket and pouring that water out onto the garden as well.

I don’t for one second think I’ll have a lush garden again, but at least it’ll be getting a little water over the next few months. If I can just keep it clinging on till Autumn it should be okay.

The thing is, we all need to start taking the water situation far more seriously than we do. We’ve been without water in our neighbourhood for a few days before, and it was utterly hideous. No showers, no coffee, no washing dishes or clothes, no flushing toilets… guys, it wasn’t pretty. And that was just three days. Imagine it gets to the point where we’re without water for weeks at a time…

 

Hanging up

“You could die at any moment,” the woman on the phone says. “You could be in a car accident, be attacked, or even… murdered.”

It’s a Saturday morning. I have been woken by one of those hideous unsolicited sales calls. One of those “We’re not trying to give you a new policy/credit card/cellphone, but…” calls. And I am livid. It’s not just the fact that they called before 9am on a Saturday, and it’s not even just that they called to tell me cheerfully I was going to die – it’s that THEY KEEP BLOODY CALLING. No matter how many times I ask them not to, plead to be removed from the list, demand to know where they got my details.

That gloomy Saturday morning call was a few years ago, but it’s fresh in my mind, because somehow, a couple of days ago, my information has once again landed up on a few lists. I am getting at least 10 emails a day from financial institutions (in India, many of them), and I’ve already answered two telesales calls today.

I NEVER tick the “please send me more info/ sell my soul to all of your partners” box on forms. NEVER. So why, oh why are these people all of a sudden on my case? And the worst are the ones where they won’t take no for an answer. I have, and this is the shameful part, even resorted to “oh, no, I don’t make those decisions, my husband does”. Worst part? That’s often the ONLY thing that works. How hideous is that? They won’t take me saying no thanks, I’ve already got a credit card/ cellphone/ life cover that I’m happy with. But as soon as I intimate I’m a poor helpless female who has to rely on her husband… well, then it’s all “Okay mam, have a lovely day further.”

Urgh, and the false flattery… This afternoon’s call started along these lines: “Please don’t think this is another one of those sales calls trying to sell you a new cellphone contract or credit card. Those types of calls aren’t appropriate for someone of your financial standing”… yeah.

Remember that little line man, La Linea, who used to laugh so hard, spit would fly out of his mouth? That was me, before I hung up on the woman. I mean honestly.

la-linea

Now, I get that the people in call centres are just trying to make a living, so I try not to be rude. And on occasion I do sit through the schpeel, when it’s obvious the person is new and nervous and hasn’t learnt the script off by heart yet, or become disillusioned with their job. But the people who get angry with me, who get rude and pushy and won’t take no for an answer? Nope. I just hang up. I don’t even try to pretend the line is bad or I can’t hear them.

A while ago, when I was looking for a new job, I had to answer every call that came in from numbers I didn’t know. But not anymore. And I’m getting pretty damn good at setting up filters and blocking emails. Because that UNSUBSCRIBE option never really works, does it?

Also, why would I want a life cover policy that allows me to cash in 60% of it before I die? The whole point of life cover is to benefit the people left behind when I DO die. You may as well just send me a branded piggy bank and be done with it.

Leaving…

About three months ago I began plotting a blog post. It was going to be titled ‘I really suck at leaving’. At the time, I was going through a bit of a crisis. You know, one of those patches where everything is just too much. I felt like I wasn’t keeping my head above water in any aspect of my life. After a particularly bad week, I realised that I needed to make severe changes, and quickly, or find myself plummeting over the edge.

I wanted to quit my sport, I wanted to quit my job and I even wanted to quit Husband Person. It was dire. I was constantly on the verge of tears and I just couldn’t see how I was going to get from one day to the next. I knew that making some basic (but huge) changes would start the ball rolling. So, I decided to start with the ‘easiest’ thing to quit (or at least put on hold). It was difficult, but I decided to take a step back from roller derby. It had started to be more stress than I could happily manage and as dreadful as I felt for ‘letting people down’, the weight that lifted after sending in that sad note to the management team was enough to allow me to take the next few necessary steps towards getting a handle on things again.

Then, with a couple of weeks of leave on the horizon, I set about applying for new jobs. Something different. Until that point I’d been pretty limited in what I was looking for, but I felt I needed to expand my horizons a little. So yes, while all the jobs I applied for were writing-related, they were varied and broad. During my leave, I took myself off to my first two job interviews in eight years and it was remarkably liberating. After being so utterly petrified of leaving and heading into the unknown, I was amazed to see how well I handled it all. Turns out after 11 years as a journalist, interviews are a piece of cake, even from the other side of the notebook.

And then after a little back and forth, I landed one of the jobs, handed in my letter of resignation and worked out my months’ notice. Me, who was so frightened of leaving. I was incredibly proud of myself, and so grateful that things had fallen so neatly into place and just in the nick of time.

I was sad to leave my friends at my old job. But I wasn’t sad to leave the job itself. Those who know me well will know that it had been taking its toll on me. That I was exhausted and just not coping. So, the change was desperately needed. I had stagnated and I’m the kind of person who needs to be learning, and growing. I just wasn’t getting that there anymore.

And here I am, a month into my new job and I can honestly say I feel like a brand new person. I am finding energy to do the things I love again and I am happier. Husband Person (you’ll be pleased to hear I decided not to quit him) is having to weather far less complaining and misery from me, which had also been taking its toll.

So, I’m glad I held off on that post – because, incidentally, I do NOT suck at leaving. I’m actually pretty good at it when I need to be. But apart from being decent at leaving, I think I’m even better at new beginnings. I’ve jumped at this new chapter of my life with all the enthusiasm I could muster. I am trying new things, adventuring and letting myself have fun. And I am worrying less, enjoying the moment. Also, who can possibly be miserable when every Friday at 5pm it’s Wine ‘o Clock in the office?

wine