Archive for October, 2017

On Learning

October 14, 2017

For a moment it was imperative to become invisible. Which seems incongruous: aren’t I invisible anyway. A writer in the ether, describing her life under an alias.

Not invisible enough.

A piece I wrote for a large national went toxic. Viral. Trolls mauled it. I didn’t read a single one of the 5 000 comments. I rarely care to.  But somebody whom I love very much, whom I had cited in the piece, did and I cared very much about that. The national paper were forced under that tsunami of vitriol to drown dissenting voices by turning the option to Comment off. Then they deleted the post from Facebook. And I heaved a sigh of relief but remain deeply saddened that an innocuous, benign 1000 words could have brought so much sadness unwittingly.

The experience taught me many things: that a 1 000 words reduces a person to a single dimension, precisely resembling the flat blandness of the sheet of paper upon which it is printed; that readers often react to the first few sentences (for had they read down, they’d never have commented as they did); that I still don’t care what people I don’t care about think of me, but I care very much when it delivers pain to those I love; that hiding behind the shield of the internet makes people mean; that readers can misinterpret the tongue in cheek humour I imagined I was writing with; that my first editor on The Times, 15 years ago, was wrong: today’s story isn’t tomorrow’s chip wrap: today’s story can hang around like a bad smell for days, weeks, months.

So – for a while – it seemed important to withdraw, not to protect myself but to protect the person my words – and others’ comments – had hurt. If trolls could find me, they could find them.

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It is so hot now that the leaves on the trees curl inwards, as if trying to hide from the heat. On the plains between my mountains, where traipsing cattle have reduced the savannah to a moonscape, dust devils dance on the wind, they twist leanly against a sky smoked white, as if stoned. Or drunk. Directionless they tip themselves backwards and wheel across the earth, madly tossing debris upwards: leaves, the chaff from maize harvests, black plastic bags which we call Africa Blooms.


 My son is here for a blissful ten days. He has not been home – home to our home – for 18 months. He strides from the plane and looks tall, composed, confident, with his broad, broad smile.   His first evening home we walk, a long, long walk and I comment on how hot it still is – but to catch the last of the light, you must endure the last of the heat too I tell him. He tells me about his London life and job. He has lived in London for seven years now. He tells me the scariest moment was when I first left him there. I blogged about that then: I had thought then that I felt more afraid than he. I was wrong. I am not always right about my children.

That’s something else I’ve learned recently.