On Learning

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.

12 Responses to “On Learning”

  1. leilaniweatherington Says:

    How wonderful that you are “back.” I tried going to your blog the other day and it was blocked.

  2. greerak Says:

    I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be able to ‘acess’ your blog again today. I was worried you were going to disappear from my collection of much-loved blogs who are honest and gracious and generous enough to share these precious snippets and let the rest of us – less able to express ourselves in this way – relax a little about our own little corner of the world and the space and stories we inhabit. So sorry to hear about this experience. Thank you for being brave enough to come back. Your gift enriches my life.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      greerak, thank you. What an astonishingly kind – and sustaining – comment. I am quite overwhelmed. Thank you for coming back to read x

  3. Dave Bryant Says:

    Please do not waste time worrying about these unknown trolls who as you say, hide behind the internet. They are not a dot in your life. They have no power except the “sticks and stones will break my bones” type. Enjoy what you love; your family, your walks, the dogs, the views. Life is amazingly short. So sorry that you have experienced these reactions. Don’t ever read the comments. Your writing on this blog sustains so many people, whom you have never and will never meet but appreciate your wonderful prose and scene setting. You let us into your life, your feelings and we all recognise some of your experiences and heart aches and wonders. We all would be worse off if you gave up this wonderful writing. Sorry but I couldn’t help but post this comment as I know how wounding words can be. As my grandmother always said in times of difficulty, keep smiling (the physical act makes you feel better).

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Dave. your comment – this comment – was so kind. it wasn’t me that read the comments, sadly, it was the other loved that did and was so wounded. kneejerk is to write in reaction but of course that only graces the words of halfwits with time which as you observe is short and precious. I love that the physical act of smiling makes one feel better: your gran was right: I tried it and it did. x

  4. Penelope Says:

    I am so sorry you had that experience. How wrenching. And oh!, I am so glad that you have opened the door here once more 🙂 very happy. Thank you.

  5. Addy Says:

    I cannot understand why these trolls can target people and say such awful things., but they are cowards, for if their identity were obvious they would shy away from being so cruel. So glad you are enjoying some quality time with your son. I have Kay living with me again for six months while she saves money for her next big world adventure. It is pure heaven being able to spend such a long time with her for the first time in 8 years. I can well understand what it must have been like to part from him in London. Kay and I did that looking over your shoulder thing as we walked in opposite direction when I left her at uni. I shall never forget it.

  6. docmomma Says:

    I can’t imagine anything that you could write that would attract trolls, but these days I guess anything is possible. I am also glad that you’re back.

  7. Iota Says:

    What a horrible experience. I’m glad you’ve come back to blogging. And how can it be seven years since you wrote that post? SEVEN!

  8. Linda Koch Says:

    Just discovered your blog, look forward to reading future editions…

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