I've just watched the 7-minute animated film, called "Alike", which is captioned, "How Society Kills Our Creativity".
Of course I would watch something like that, because it's something I feel very strongly about. The interesting thing is that I didn't watch it immediately - I shared it on my Facebook wall, and watched it only today, two days later. Because I was too busy. With whatever.
But let me go back a few sentences - this is not something I just "feel very strongly about", it is something I live every day. My entire being screams out to be immersed in my art form - music: creating it, performing it, growing in unimaginable ways through it, allowing it to light me up and organically take me beyond where I ever thought I'd go, and, through living that way, inspiring others to be immersed in their art. But how I actually spend my daylight hours is in an office environment, typing on a laptop, trying to get through an ever-growing To Do list, with limited decision-making powers, and a brain that borders on shutting down every single day, because it's so understimulated, and constantly trying to convince myself that, because my office job is related to my art form, it's the same as doing my art every day for hours and hours. But, let's face it - it's not.
I don't even know where the path split, and where I chose the one I'm currently walking. I know a few things, though, and the truth is that it's not easy living your truth 100% as an artist. Choosing to be a full-time artist is not easy. You generally have to forego a set monthly income, and you are constantly trying to generate work for yourself, the supply of which hinges on factors ranging from how small the local pond is, to global recessions. If you are responsible for only yourself, that's already hard; as a single mother who opted not to get financial assistance from her ex-husband, my choices were a lot harder.
In a world where everyone's fighting to be the best, the most, the highest, etc, the idea of artists collaborating, to help each other achieve artistic goals, is almost unheard of. As long as we buy into the lie that there's just one pie, with a limited number of slices, we will continue to believe that by collaborating we are somehow working ourselves out of possible success, and we will not find artists collaborating for mutual benefit. It's a winner-takes-all, scarcity mindset that's encouraged in our education system, as well as our economic system. Popular get-famous-overnight competitions, keeping millions glued to their tv screens, serve merely to feed that beast.
But you know what? I never gave up. I don't believe in giving up. In fact - think about what it is that you're passionate about, and you'll know exactly what I mean: giving up is not even an option. Your passion is who you are. Without it, you simply don't exist.
So I do what I do, and I straddle the two worlds, constantly trying to create a balance that I can comfortably live with. I try not to go for too many days without playing my guitar. For ten months of the year, I have a weekly restaurant gig, which at least keeps me in touch with myself as a musician. I do occasional corporate and private functions, some on an annual basis. I've also been producing annual concerts of my original work, since 2013. This year, my next concert comes just seven months after the last one, and I feel like this could be the year I start doubling the frequency of my concerts. Not easy, because I self-fund the events and manage everything, which is stressful.
Sometimes, just when I think I can no longer convince my fingers to hold onto the lifeboat, someone offers me an opportunity to be involved in something, in my capacity as a musician, and I'm saved from slipping into the abyss.
I've learnt how to live in such a way that I always have something to look forward to, and this is a way of living I'd encourage everyone to adopt. This is how I buoy myself forward. The truth is, I'm easily bored, especially by repetitive tasks that require very little thinking, and especially when I'm just following orders, and not generating or creating, myself. Multiple Yawn Syndrome.
What am I looking forward to, right now?
1. Thursday, 29 June, at 4pm, I'm doing a Master Class at Cornerstone Institute's Winter School for Creatives. My self-chosen topic? Music As Part of a Value System.
2. Friday, 30 June, at 12 noon: I'm doing a one-hour lunchtime concert at Cornerstone Institute.
3. Saturday, 15 July, 7:30pm, at Nassua Hall: Trudy Rushin & Friends in Concert. This time, I'm doing the main set with KEITH TABISHER (guitar), DYLAN TABISHER (bass guitar) & ABUBAKAR PETERSEN (tenor sax). The opening set will feature talented young artists, including CLAYTON SEAS, on guitar.
A woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do.
One of my mottos is: If I'm going to be alive, I might as well be very alive.
"If there's music inside of you, you've got to let it out." (From my song, Music Inside of Me)
Hi! I'm Trudy Rushin, and this is my blog, created in June 2009. I am a singer-songwriter-composer who plays guitar. Born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa, I blog about whatever captures my imagination or moves me. Sometimes I even come up with what I like to call 'the Rushin Solution'. Enjoy my random rantings. Comment, if you like, or find me on Facebook: Trudy Rushin, Singer-Songwriter.
I also do gigs - solo, duo or trio - so if you're looking for vocal-guitar jazz music to add a sprinkle of magic to your event, send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To listen to me singing one or two of my original songs, type my name on www.soundcloud.com or www.youtube.com
Tuesday, 23 May 2017
This is a post I started typing in April, days before I went to Sweden. I'll post another one sometime about my trip.
Started in 2000, by Magnus Bergmar, from Sweden, the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (WCP) is the world’s largest children’s rights organisation. The focus is on children under the age of 18. Central to the programme is a magazine called The Globe, which is published annually, and is available in a few languages. It is distributed to countries around the world, where appointed people make sure school children get access to it. Teachers are trained how to use the magazine in their classrooms, and this is how the WCP message of children’s rights is spread to all corners of the earth.
On 20 November 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights are set out in The Globe, in child-friendly language.
This is an extract from the Globe:
Basic principles of the Convention:
• All children are equal and have the same rights.
• Every child has the right to have his or her basic needs fulfilled.
• Every child has the right to protection from abuse and exploitation.
• Every child has the right to express his or her opinion and to be respected.
What else is in the magazine? The current book includes the following, i.a.:
- What is the World’s Children’s Prize?
- Meet the Child Jury
- How are the world’s children?
- The road to democracy
- Global vote around the world
- This year’s Child Rights Heroes
The annual programme includes the magazine being published, children around the world learning about their rights, how to vote, and who the year’s three Child Rights Heroes are. A Child Jury, consisting of children from different countries, each of whom represents children who have suffered some form of rights violation, plays a leadership role in the programme. There is a preparation period, including training young people to become child ambassadors and to become voting officers, followed by a day on which children all around the world vote, by secret ballot, for one of the three activists. There are currently 115 participating countries.
The Child Rights Hero with the most votes is announced at a special Award Ceremony in Sweden. All three activists are honoured for their work, and receive financial assistance for their projects.
Part of the ceremony includes groups of children, from different countries (including South Africa), performing national songs and dances. There is a week-long programme, which includes lots of rehearsals for the awards ceremony, but also the cultural exchange that is afforded by the children hanging out together. The children get to spend time together, and also to visit local schools and interact with the local children.
This is, of course, an international foundation dealing with serious issues affecting children. As much as we’d like to wish these realities away, there are children, throughout the world, who are suffering all kinds of violations. These include being forced to leave school and do exhausting manual labour in sweatshops, young girls being forced to marry adult men, girls being sold into prostitution by exploitative adults, children surviving by eating from rubbish dumps, and school girls being forced to have sex with male teachers, in order to pass their grades.
When children grow up in these circumstances, there is often no-one they can turn to for help. There are thousands of people, all over the world, who did not know that they had a right to speak out, and that, as children, they need not have suffered the way they did. What the WCP foundation does, with The Globe magazine as its primary means of reaching children far and wide, is to teach children that they have rights, and to encourage the children of the world to speak out. Every child, including those living in the most remote villages, far from city lights and modern amenities, far from the internet with all that it can teach, needs to get the message that is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
At the 2015 ceremony, the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, was named one of the Honorary Adult Friends and Patrons of the WCP. In his acceptance speech, he said: “The World’s Children’s Prize program is built on the Swedish traditions of equality for all, the rights of the child, democracy and peace building, values so much needed in the world today.”
To quote from the current Globe magazine:
“The WCP patrons include five Nobel Prize Laureates, and three global legends: Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi (from Burma), and Xanana Gusmão (from East Timor). H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden was the first patron. The patrons also include members of global leadership group The Elders - Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu.”
The World’s Children’s Prize year of activity ends with the annual awards ceremony, an event led by the Child Jury, at Gripsholm Castle, in Mariefred, Sweden. All three Child Rights Heroes are honoured for the work they do. Her Majesty, Queen Silvia of Sweden, assists with presenting the prizes. Participating countries are encouraged to hold their own closing ceremony, where they show the film of the WCP ceremony and celebrate the rights of the child.
In 2016, it was reported that more than 38 million children, in 113 countries, had participated in the WCP programme since 2000. South Africa is the country with the biggest number of participating children, as the WCP programme forms part of the Grade 9 Life Orientation syllabus.
I took this pic of Gripsholm Castle, in Sweden, where the annual WCP Award Ceremony is held.
Friday, 14 April 2017
22nd of Feb, a day on which I had two back-to-back meetings, an offer was extended to me which changed my idea of what 2017 was going to be like for me. You know how it is when you feel ready for some kind of freshness, a change from your everyday routine (or lack thereof!), and something new finds you? That.
That day, I rushed from one meeting with two interesting and empowered women, to another meeting, also with two interesting and empowered women. This one involved a project I had recently become part of - the World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child.
I arrived late (always rushin') and envisaged myself creeping into the room, apologising for my lateness, and quietly getting a sense of what had been discussed so far. Instead, before I could even settle down, I was asked, “Would you like to go to Sweden?” I felt like I do when I walk past those people in the supermarkets with trays of my favourite Lindt chocolate, the ones wrapped in red paper, and they ask me, “Would you like a chocolate?” I basically want to relieve them of the tray, but politely take one, smile, and say, “Thank you.”
Well, that was seven weeks ago. Today is exactly one week till I board a plane and fly to Sweden, via Dubai. Reading that sentence, I feel like it couldn’t possibly be about me, and yet it is. If I told you I’ve been too busy to feel excited, you’d think I was being fake-cool, but that’s actually the truth. How I squeezed all the arrangements for going abroad into my crazily busy schedule, I can’t tell you. Thanks to the cool people involved, and others in the company who regularly process paperwork for staff travelling abroad, I managed to do what needed to be done.
But there’s another side to this, and it’s about my personality – I tend to worry a lot. (That is such an understatement, that my family and friends reading this are probably laughing.) So, instead of easing my way through the next couple of days, I'm feeling the pressure of all the things I haven’t done yet and how few days I have in which to achieve everything. Going to a country that far north, with a climate so different to ours, has all kinds of implications for what to pack. The truth is, I have to buy some important items, to cope with the temperatures there. I will be in a town called Mariefred (close to Stockholm), from the 22nd to the 29th of April, so I basically need appropriate clothing for a week. Okay, I already feel better. It’s only one week, Trudy!
Two other areas have been causing me to worry, and they are my children/young adults (we’ve sorted that out now) and the technology side of things. Part of my role in Sweden entails taking pictures and videos, and writing reports of the proceedings. I wasn’t worried about the writing part, but I needed to upgrade my phone, which I finally achieved yesterday.
Ok, so what’s left to worry about?
I suppose I’ve sort of put my anxiety into perspective while writing this blog post. And you know what? I should know by now how the story goes: I worry, worry, worry, I write list after list, I tick off the items on the lists, I try to think of every little detail I may have overlooked, and I obsess like a person who’s never done anything requiring attention to detail before, and, in the end, it all works out just fine! In fact, it usually works out more than just fine!
So, having said all of that, I now need to tell you about the project that is the reason for my going to Sweden: the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. Because this post has been so personal, I’ll talk exclusively about the WCP in a separate post, later today.
Watch this space!
Saturday, 8 April 2017
Written 13 March 2017
I used to live alone. Feels like a lifetime ago. I was in my 20s. I was teaching full-time and studying part-time, and I still had time to be involved in regular exercise. Besides that, I was also gigging. Most of the time, I had a boyfriend. I have no idea how I managed to find time for everything. I do know that quite a few boyfriends became ex-boyfriends because of my need for space. Somehow, the type of partners I had weren’t able to see it as anything other than highly irregular and suspicious. As patient as I am with most things, I hate having to explain repeatedly that I mean what I say and that there is no hidden agenda. It was only after I’d been exposed to many more people, and encountered duplicity in various forms, that I understood their suspiciousness.
I’m alone this evening - rare, these days. Twelve hours after leaving for work, I arrived home, exhausted. I imagined I’d do most of my favourite hobbies – write, dance, play my guitar, read – but right now, at 9pm, I can hardly keep my eyes open. It looks like I’ll actually achieve that elusive goal of getting to bed by 10. A miracle.
I always smile when people talk about their relaxing weekends. Relaxing weekend. What’s that?
Written 5 March 2017
Life has been very busy, which is why I haven’t blogged for so long. Tonight I want to just do a simple blog, to say how grateful I am for so many things in my life.
I’ve recently been experiencing hoarseness, which persisted for so long that I started to suspect that something was seriously wrong. I cancelled a few gigs, losing quite a bit of the income I derive from my music life, which helps me support my family.
I suspect that a particular set of circumstances gave rise to this. On two consecutive nights, I put my vocal cords under strain, which, on top of a busy schedule that was tiring me physically, pushed me towards this crisis.
On Valentine’s Day, I did a duo gig with guitarist Keith Tabisher at a delightful spot in Worcester. Some people were seated inside the restaurant, and others were picnicking on the beautiful (and vast) lawn. The owners wanted us to sit on the verandah, to be visible to the people on the lawn, but to put one of our speakers inside the restaurant, for those people to hear us as well. That was not the challenging part, but singing in the wind was! Oh my word, what a recipe for disaster! Singing outside, in the cold night air, is not good for me personally. But singing with the wind blowing into your mouth……. that is asking for trouble! Doing so for two hours, is really asking for trouble!
The next night, while I was still reeling from the onslaught to my voice of the previous night, I went to a venue in town where my daughter did a solo set of her original material. Unfortunately, this was a smoking venue, and I ended up inhaling that shit for about four hours!! As a rule, I avoid situations where people are smoking, and this particular situation was extreme immersion in constant cigarette fumes. Disgusting! I could feel my system saying WTF?!
At the Valentine’s gig already, I could feel my voice was different, almost leaning towards a lower register. Sometimes an odd sound (that I hadn’t planned) would emerge. At subsequent gigs, the hoarseness that I’d been feeling all the time bothered me. I felt my voice had lost some of its strength, and I was struggling to sing with my full voice, because something was definitely wrong. I felt cautious, like I didn’t want to sing out completely, in case I hurt myself. When I put all the symptoms together, the picture didn’t look very good.
At this stage, I have an appointment with a specialist on Wednesday, after which I should know whether this was just a case of vocal strain, necessitating some rest, or whether there’s something more serious going on. I have to know – I can’t default to my usual procrastinating mode and hope it goes away. This is way too important, with far too many consequences, for me to be in denial.
Last Saturday, I gave up the outdoor market gig, as well as my regular Saturday evening gig, because my throat was very sore, and singing was painful. During the week, I continued taking the nasal spray the GP had given me (for post-nasal drip), as well as the antihistamine, and could tell they were making a difference.
I also decided, while doing my Mind Power exercises, that I needed to stop dwelling on all the worst-case scenarios, and to focus on being well and in excellent health. The Law of attraction says that thoughts that are emotionalised become magnetised, and that they then attract similar thoughts. In other words, whatever you spend a lot of time thinking about intensely, you end up attracting into your life. I wanted to attract a state of excellent health, so I spent time every day visualising myself being well and singing with ease, doing affirmations about excellent health, and thanking the universe for sending me what I had asked for.
Yesterday, not only did I feel very well, but I had absolutely no discomfort in my throat region, and was able to honour my two gigs for the day! At both, I kept myself relaxed, and focussed on making music that was free and floaty, melodious and pleasant.
Today I am feeling fine again.
But this is what I really wanted to write: the thought of having to give up singing, even temporarily (a situation many vocalists have faced), made me feel depressed. I realised that my identity was very wrapped up in my singing, and that not being able to sing would be extremely tough for me. Going about my daily life with this on my heart was heavy. I don’t think anyone really knew what I was going through.
On 8 March, I went to an ENT specialist to have my vocal cords checked. This was the first time I’d had this done, and it was a strange experience, but not as traumatic as I’d expected. The good news is that there is nothing wrong with my vocal cords. The doctor said it might have been strain of one kind or another. He encouraged me to trust my instincts and to rest when I needed to.
Written 13 Feb 2017
About ten years ago, I had an eighteen-month teaching stint at a high school about 3km from where I lived. This was my first experience of teaching at a high school, so I was fairly clueless as to the dynamics, especially of a school in an area rife with gangsterism. Further lulling me into a false sense of security, I had just come from seven years in the TEFL industry, where the maximum class size is 10, and you teach adults from all over the world, many of whom are professionals, well-travelled, with broad frames of reference.
I’m embarrassed when I think about it now, but I remember, when asked how I’d deal with discipline issues, I said something about knowing how to keep my lessons interesting enough not to have those kinds of issues. Ew! How smug. How ignorant. I can only imagine what my more experienced colleagues were thinking.
Needless to say, I had a rude awakening. It soon became clear that the silence in all the classes, on my first day, was about their curiosity. From Day 2, the more boisterous kids let their true colours show, and I found myself at a complete loss for how to handle what seemed like irrational behaviour. No-one listened to my appeals to settle down so that we could enjoy the lesson, and no-one cared, because once they’d established that I did not use corporal punishment, they took it as a green light to test me in every possible way. They were also quite happy naming my colleagues who continued to use corporal punishment, despite it being illegal in South Arica. It angered me that the continued use of corporal punishment compromised the ability of the rest of us to achieve order in our classrooms.
One day stands out in my memory. A stupid fight broke out in my classroom. This kind of thing happened many times a day, and I became a bit of a meme (that word did not exist then), for once again dashing to the classroom door and shouting, “Security!!!”’, while every learner in the classroom was either involved in the fight, actively encouraging the fight, or standing by quietly, preparing to watch the fight. Occasionally there’d be a small group trying to stop the fight, but this was rare. When a fight broke out, it gave others with pent-up anger and frustration a chance to live vicariously through their more openly-aggressive classmates.
Like most of the other classroom fights I’d witnessed, this one started with a simple misunderstanding, followed by a violent outburst, an exchange of expletive-ridden insults, and then violence. The fact that one of the fighters was a boy and the other a girl made no difference. They were swearing, screaming, pulling, smacking, punching and kicking. My biggest fear was that one of them would take out a sharp instrument and take the fight to the next level.
Eventually the security staff came in, and one of the learners was taken to a separate room, to cool down away from the class. The period ended, and the classroom emptied as the kids left for their next lesson. My next class was actually a sweet group of Grade 8s, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I could start to put the unpleasantness behind me. I was still shaken, though, and wondered how it was possible for the learners themselves to continue with their school day after seeing something like that.
Somewhere during that next period, there was a commotion outside, and people were shouting, “Lock the doors!” I reacted too late; by the time I realised there was real danger, the gangster was inside my classroom. He was bare-chested, had a wild look in his eyes, and was holding a cleaver in one of his hands. He held it at about the height of his head, gripping it fiercely, like he was ready to slam it down into someone. The combination of his bare upper body, his eyes that showed no sign of being present in the moment, and that gleaming silver knife, was frightening, to say the least. We all froze. He paced up and down, taking big, directionless steps, scanning the room with his wild eyes. I had no idea what would happen next. When he didn’t find the person he’d been looking for, he walked out in that same maniacal way.
We locked the door and all started talking at once. It seemed as though the gangster had been informed about the earlier fight in my classroom and had come to kill one of the kids involved. Yes. That’s what people mean when they say that teaching in gang-ridden areas is dangerous. They come into your classroom! What surprised me then was the number of children who found it humorous that I had been so scared. They told me my eyes had been “so wide!”. To some of them, it was old hat, I realised, and to others it was genuinely frightening. They’d felt as fearful as I had. I reported it to the principal, and requested counselling for the class (and the previous class, who’d witnessed the fight). Months later, when I left the school, not wanting to renew my contract and having been headhunted for my next job in the TEFL industry, no counselling had been arranged yet. That kind of thing was just not taken seriously.
This incident came to mind when I saw the fracas in our South African parliament, on the 9th of February. After all the verbal unpleasantness, followed by the violence inside parliament, when the EFF had been removed and the DA (and other parties) had walked out in protest, how did those who stayed behind feel? Surely people were traumatised? Surely it was one of the hardest things to do, to remain seated in that venue after all of that? And then our country’s president, Jacob Zuma, demonstrating that things could actually get more bizarre, giggled – the most inappropriate response possible. After which he proceeded to give his State of the Nation (SONA) address. How could anyone take him seriously?
It was like in any other part of my life – if you’ve shown, by your actions, that you’re without integrity, nothing that you say could ever convince me otherwise. I switched off the television set, disappointed and disgusted. A former ANC supporter, I longed for the current smugly corrupt leaders to fall flat on their faces, voted out by an equally disappointed and disgusted electorate.
In the post SONA fallout, the following day, a caller on talk radio said that we should not be surprised that young people today seem to be so out of hand, because the political leaders of our country behaved like wild animals, themselves. For the record, I know many young people who are not out of hand, and who actually inspire me and give me great hope for our country’s future.
If I’m not mistaken, this is at least the third time we’ve seen the same sequence of events at the annual opening of parliament.
Come to think of it, why do they make such a fuss about no corporal punishment in schools when strong-arm tactics are used so liberally in parliament, supposedly the bastion of all that is good and law-abiding?
Lol. Or, to quote ‘Number One’: “Hehehehe”.
Monday, 16 January 2017
Written on Friday, 6 January 2017
Like so many things in life, my daughter’s passing of her final high school exam was not an event, but a journey. Like so many journeys, the ending could not have been predicted at the start.
In Grade 9, my daughter was diagnosed with depression. She was also diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I would imagine the latter is a function of the former.
Right at the outset, I want to say to all the cynics out there, who regard this as middle class, attention-seeking drivel – just be thankful you have been spared either of these conditions.
This did not come as a surprise to me. Besides intimately knowing the details of her difficult childhood, during which she had had to live in two houses (to conform to someone’s short-sighted model of post-divorce access to children as a mathematical equation), a period of many years during which she’d had way too much turmoil for someone that young, I was also the one who was exposed to her intense mood swings in her teens. While I did not have the background to diagnose precisely what was wrong, I knew it was, at the very least, unusual for someone to burst into tears, every single day, for no apparent reason. It was very difficult for me to see her in that state, day after day, and not be able to do anything about it.
Grade 10 was a challenging year for her for family-related reasons, as well – her brother had matriculated the year before, so he wasn’t around at school (they’re very close). More than that, he had also decided, after years of moving from house to house, to stay with his dad permanently. With that precedent set, she decided to stay with me permanently, a decision that was not respected by all. So she wasn’t seeing Nick - the only constant, loving presence for most of her life - at school, neither was she seeing him at home. This, alone, was a huge adjustment for her. She missed him intensely, and somehow society does not give us enough space to express this basic emotion. I think she thought she had to carry on as usual and just deal with it, even though no-one was telling her to do so.
Towards the end of Grade 9, she started sessions with a psychologist she instantly connected with; this was after a long time of not wanting to speak to a psychologist (based on previous experiences). It was in the course of these sessions that she was diagnosed and then referred to a psychiatrist for an official (medical) diagnosis and a prescription for anti-depressants. This was a big shift for us as a family, but when I saw the difference the meds made to her, and the positive effect on her sense of well-being, I knew that these meds, just like meds we take for any physical ailment, have a role to play in our lives. Again, with her condition not understood by all, there was scepticism. One learns to turn down the volume of the nonsense, after a while, and proceed with what makes the most sense.
One of the interesting things about life, I’ve found, is that even during our darkest patches, some amazing things can happen. In Grade 9, the same year that she started seeing the psychologist, she asked if she could go on a trip to Thailand (with World Challenge), and one of the main reasons I agreed to embark on that year of fundraising was that I was happy to see her excited about something, and I believed she would learn valuable lessons in the year of preparation, as well as on the trip itself – lessons that would equip her to manage her condition, which would enable her to live a life of purpose and fulfillment.
What many people did not know was that she’d started hating school so much, that she was convinced she was not returning to school after Thailand. This was a battle I had never anticipated, and I tackled it like I had done every other battle: I broke it up into little bite-sized chunks, and got through it, bit by bit.
Grade 10, the year she went to Thailand, was characterised by loads of crying, low self-esteem, feeling marginalised, feeling lonely, feeling nobody liked her, and, worst of all, believing that she was not likeable; she hated going to school and struggled to get through an entire week of school. For a while, we explored other options, did internet research and spoke to people. Uppermost in my mind was her well-being, but so were financial considerations. It was unrealistic to place her anywhere we could not afford to, and she knew that. Her brother encouraged her to hang in there, and told her that all she needed to do each term was pass. I encouraged her to go back for a term, and then another, and then it was the end of Grade 10. She’d got through so much more than just an academic year.
Life often overlaps, I’ve found, so you can be dealing with a heavy matter, but still be posting happy pics on Facebook of some exciting venture you’re busy with. Once we find peace with this, life becomes less complicated. Summer was already on anti-depressants when she went to Thailand for 16 days. I am sure she was not the only one in their group of eleven 16-year-olds.
I may be wrong, but I think the trip was the start of the upswing. Friendships were started, others were strengthened, and she entered Grade 11 with a different energy. Yes, I could say she had resigned herself to finishing high school at that school, but I think she also started liking and accepting herself more. She was becoming more receptive to what life had to teach her, and definitely appreciating her uniqueness more.
She’d be the best one to tell you how she changed her life, but this is my perspective. She realised that Grade 11 was actually the start of preparing for the matric exams, so she went about her school work with more interest. She started using a diary, started setting goals (in different parts of her life), started enjoying making lists and managing her time better. I saw a new energy in her. She got better and better at finding ways to balance things, and used her sharp mind to figure out ways to manage the times when the symptoms got out of hand. I think that when she stopped seeing depression as a limiting factor, but as just another factor to be considered, she started to feel a lot better about life.
She started journalling, and finding the value in planning, as well as of delayed gratification. She got better and better at this, and I witnessed her unfolding like a flower bud. She started blossoming. My baby was growing up. We walked some tough roads together, because finances were always tight, but even these experiences provided lessons about how material things were not as important as loving, accepting, and being there for each other.
I promised her a desk and a lamp, to help her study for matric and do her best. I focused on not judging her choices, but guiding, giving advice, speaking from experience, being flexible, loving her through everything, and never being harsh. The world can be harsh enough – you don’t need to come home to that as well.
When she was 17, I said, by way of giving her perspective: “Ten years ago, you were 7, and I was 44.” I was trying to tell her I had lived through so much, and learnt so many lessons; I encouraged her to learn from me, but to always be true to herself.
The thing that helped her turn her life around was gaining self-awareness – once she learnt about who she was, and that she was already special, she stopped looking outward for so much validation. She learnt that not every opinion expressed about her was necessarily true. She started liking and loving herself, and taking care of herself, finding ways to manage her depression, finding ways to accept herself even for waking up feeling miserable, finding ways to brighten up her gloomy days. She learnt to spoil herself when she felt down, by making cups of her favourite tea, or just lying in bed watching movies.
One of the things I consciously did, during this time, was allow her to stay home when she felt she couldn’t face a day at school. I was learning all the time, as well. And while I was aware that my flexible stance could potentially be exploited, I always wrote things down, so I kept track of when she stayed home, and made sure it didn’t happen excessively. I ignored judgmental input that this was indulgent: I was working with my instincts as to what was appropriate, and I regarded it as a short-term measure. I always believed Summer would emerge from the dark cloud that enveloped her, and see in herself - and in life around her - what I saw.
In the process, she learnt more compassion than she would otherwise have learnt. She developed a strong sense of justice, championing the rights of others who are misunderstood, or discriminated against, for circumstances beyond their control.
As she learnt the many lessons available (e.g. ‘’It doesn’t have to be all or nothing’’), she realised that she could be someone on medication for depression, have her bad days occasionally, and still shine in other areas of her life. Once she started tapping into just how talented and gifted she was, she started emerging from her cocoon, and ever so slowly coming out and shining.
In Grade 11, she got more involved in things at school, and started performing more: she produced a stage piece called Gay Pirates, in which she also sang and played ukulele. She sang in a musical evening called Music Café. In matric, she won the senior public speaking competition, with a speech about fat shaming (of women) in the diet-pill industry, focussing on how the media perpetuates these gender stereotypes.
She studied in Grade 12 like she had never studied before, achieving excellent marks in both internal exams. Her September results won her a place among the top 20 matriculants at Westerford High, a school with exceptionally high standards. At their prize giving event, she won the trophy for the top student in Italian, an award for Academic Excellence, as well as the Senior Public Speaking award.
On the evening of her matric ball, she looked like a magical forest princess, a look she had been aiming for. A day after her matric exams ended, she started a holiday job. A month later, even before getting her matric results, she earned her first full month’s salary.
Her plans? To work for seven more months and save her money to visit a friend broad. In the meantime, she will also apply to study in 2018, as well as for financial assistance for her studies. And what will she be studying? Following her heart and working with her gifts and strengths – Musical Theatre.
I remember a very different Summer, in 2014, reacting to her brother’s six A’s in his final matric exam. She told me, with all the sass of a 16-year-old who had lived in her brother’s shadow, not realising there’d been no need to: “I am NOT Nick, so don’t expect ANY A’s in MY matric results!”
I couldn’t afford the desk and the lamp, but Summer passed matric with six A’s (distinctions), and one B.