If you have read any of my prior books but particularly my two earlier memoirs dealing with the multi-tasking required of lawyer/mother/women who supposedly ‘work’, contrary to mothers who don’t ‘work’ (do you know any ‘non-working’ mothers? silly superfluous pre-fix to the most demanding job in the world, note: without financial reward!) it may strike you that I am somewhat of a ‘am I good enough’ kind of girl. I am – believe it- more than mostly confident and marginally competent but somehow, never quite seem to be doing ‘enough.’
However, this year has been especially full on. And more than enough. And as December closes towards Christmas, I feel this urge to sum it up. I like doing that kind of thing. Taking stock. Checking out. Ending with a bang!
But we were walking the dogs earlier this morning and chatting about this and that when my son popped up with a saying he’d heard from a well-known (he says) Australian rugby player, Nick Cummins,
‘I was sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage’ and I thought this was marvelous metaphor and told him I would use it somewhere in my writing today.
So there, I’ve used it. Let me apply it in a context:
If you read my last blog on a funny, sad, weird book event (quite the worst in an otherwise long list of truly incredible launches, reviews, interviews, reports, festivals, discussions, etc), you may well have the impression that I must have been ‘sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage’ that Sunday. Truthfully, it was a humbling experience (I had no expectations though should have ‘rented a friendly crowd’ to create some hype) and not much fun but I am an optimist at heart and cannot possibly end this year on a somewhat bleak note.
So I thought it would be useful for – me and for you if you wonder why people write or what it’s all for – to share another rather lovely email I received last week ( the kind of ‘review’ of sorts that doesn’t’ find its way into the book review section of the newspaper or onto Goodreads or FB groups ) and then to conclude a little list of the TEN BEST THINGS about WRITING A BOOK.
I have just finished reading your magnificent book, Searching for Sarah. I saw the beautiful tribute to your writing by Milton Shain on the front cover. I grew up with Milton and his brother Ivor in Pretoria and we were very close family friends. He kindly gave me your e-mail address.
Your book spoke to me on so many levels and I think your research into and presentation of Sarah is just remarkable – I have no doubt whatsoever that she would have totally approved – and been grateful for your giving her a rightful place in the Langenhoven story.
I resonated with so many issues, not least of all with the info on Die Stem (words by Langenhoven), as I played a major role in the musical re-arrangement of the various parts in various languages forming the current SA National Anthem (having also written the English words) – though my role has been controversial since 1995 for many reasons; some political and some gender-based and perhaps even based on the fact that I am a white Jewish woman (like Sarah was).
There have been various attempts by organisations like SAMRO (the SA Music Rights Organization) to set the record straight, but I doubt if this will happen in my lifetime. There are so many other points of intersection for me in Sarah’s story.
I am very thankful that I have had an extremely rewarding career as a (woman) composer in a very male-dominated area – and a rich personal life with our 5 daughters and 18 grandchildren.
I do have a very interesting story to tell (having studied in Pretoria (UP), London, Boston and Hamburg) over my 73 years, having written a special song for Mandela at his Doctoral ceremony and received the Order of Ikhamanga from the then President Mbeki. Our society is still pretty patriarchal, and it is astounding how so many women still live in the shadow of their male counterparts. In the Arts world there is much friction and controversy, as you probably are well aware of and I have had my fair share of this too. Like you, however, my family are the most important to me!
Prof Jeanne-Zaidel-Rudolph (D Mus; D Ed –UP)
Honorary Research – Emeritus Professor,
Wits School of Arts,
The email was one of several I have been fortunate to have received from writers and academics around the world and is NUMBER ONE of my TOP TEN BEST THINGS about writing a book: you meet fascinating people who are interesting and inspiring and accomplished and can teach you things. I love this the most.
2. Your book opens unexpected doors to other unexplored opportunities.
At the beginning of the year, I was offered a position in the Writing Center at the Wits School of Law. It was an interesting, worthwhile and privileged opportunity to engage in academia again. I felt part of a whole new place and people I never knew before – Witsies people. Though sometimes overwhelming in the online space, I was introduced by my highly skilled colleague as a lawyer AND writer and though this title still doesn’t fit me snuggly, I was forced to accept it as the truth. It made me blush.
3. Your book will (almost certainly) not increase your tax burden but will certainly live on beyond your own life expectancy. This is cool, don’t you think?
4. Your book will be read by friends you knew long ago and have lost contact with and they will suddenly pop out the blue and contact you and it’s almost too emotional to share here. But I will. In snippets that aren’t too personal. Here’s the very first response I had to my book in April by someone I feel a deep attachment to on the other side of the world in NZ. We lived in Parkview many years ago and then shared a digs at UCT in the mid 80’s but virtually lost contact completely since. I have always had huge respect for his ideas and ethos as a history teacher.
The first was obviously Sarah. When I picked up the book for the first time, I had no idea that you were related. That was my first wonderful surprise. I am deeply moved by her remarkable story and her sad death. It strikes me that this woman was not of her time, nor perhaps any time. Her strength, determination and skills would perhaps always have been perceived as a threat to those around her, and this force of nature must have found society around her sluggish and aimless. That her story has been wrested from Kannemeyer is of great importance.
Secondly, for me, the story is very much also about you. I feel like I shared a house with a future Olympic athlete without having had any knowledge that they liked to run. As much as I learned about Sarah, I learned about you and the woman you have become. I had no doubt that you would be successful at law and in life, but a whole new side of you was revealed to me which I found immensely exciting. Your book revealed your considerable talents, your curiosity and also your integrity. You were prepared to forego the answer to some questions rather than pressurising others or putting them in compromising positions. You also now must be as comfortable in Afrikaans as English which is a achievement in itself.
Also, your book. I thought that you were very brave and successful in the approach you took. From a reader’s perspective I loved the investigative journey you describe and how you wove this into the narrative of Sarah’s life. It was also really refreshing to read a biography where the author’s intentions were explicit. You write beautifully – crystal clear prose, which appears effortless, which I know it never is.…
5. You will also get a much shorter message out of the blue – from another long-lost friend. And it will stir the same sense of pride.
6. You get to meet emotionally sussed, deep- thinking authors in person at book festivals. People who ‘get you’ and you want more of.
7. Your children somehow think it’s cool to be a writer because… (I just asked my daughter if this was indeed true and she confirmed that it’s because …’you get to see how you think…’
8. You always get a kick out of seeing your name on the cover in the bookshop. Even if it’s in a second- hand bookshop and the inscription you wrote to the person who bought was so personal for them that you thought they would keep it forever but there it is…back in a bookshop. Hahaha.
9. You can write silly blogs about your books and things that most people seldom read (though there is ALWAYS that outside chance) AND you can include photos of your life to accompany the blog which reminds you a moment and endures beyond that moment.
10. There is a good chance you will write another book. That expectation, that anticipation, that spes is the best feeling in the whole damn world.
Finally, THANK YOU for following and reading and sharing in my life.
Wishing you all a festive time with your friends and family