The thought of producing 500 words for an essay assignment can be daunting. It’s a bit like someone handing you a pumpkin seed and saying, “Hey, I need you to turn this into a fully grown pumpkin, and you’ve got 500 words to do it in.” Unless you’re Cinderella’s fairy godmother with a magic wand lying around, it’s not going to happen very quickly. But by thinking of your essay assignment as a seed you’ve been given, and the final product as a fully formed pumpkin you will produce, you’ll be able to allow your essay to grow in stages.
First, let’s break 500 words down. Most essays require an introduction and a conclusion, and the juicy bits are in between. At the most basic level, we can divide our word count into chunks of 100:
100: Paragraph 1
100: Paragraph 3
But what does 100 words look like? The first paragraph of this article is exactly 100 words long. It actually is not that much, if you think about it. It contains four sentences, explaining what this article is going to be about, and how it can help you with your essay.
Whether your assignment is descriptive, narrative, expository or argumentative, it’s going to start as a seedling and grow. The introduction sets the scene. It lays the ground and shows sprouts of what is to follow. It should intrigue your reader and make them curious as to where the vines of your introduction lead. An introduction that adequately lays out what is to come is also useful to you as the writer. If, while working on the body of your essay you feel like you’re losing your way, re-reading your introduction should remind you of what your original intent is, and set you back on track.
The 300 words in the body of the essay can be divided in different ways. After all, some things take more words to say than others, and you may have more than three main points to make or events that take place in your story. This is where the main growth takes place. The leaves need to develop along their vines and the flowers need to be strong enough to form the fruits of your essay. Remember, the end result is a fully grown pumpkin. Dividing the body of your essay into one paragraph per idea or event makes it easier for you to see where more watering needs to take place, or which part of your essay is getting too much sun.
The conclusion is where you show off your fully grown pumpkin. This is where you remind the reader of where you started, perhaps choosing to state what your original intention was. You then go on to revisit the journey of growth that led you to your final product, making sure to re-iterate the main idea of your essay. The end result will indeed be satisfying.
I’ve been fighting Imposter Syndrome all my life. It is only recently that I learned what has been holding me back from true and proper success, and that it actually has a name. I thought that I simply lacked motivation to see things through. Starting with the decision to not accept a merit scholarship to attend university in the US (not a decision I regret, by the way) to not completing the edits on a book that was accepted by a publisher ( a decision I very much regret), my life has been peppered with “almosts”.
At some point I realised that I had a deep subconscious belief that I didn’t have the right to be successful. I did the groundwork to figure out where this subconscious belief came from and after much soul-searching, meditation and shaking my fist at the sky, I saw that my feeling of unworthiness was mainly attached to two things: my lack of tangible identity in South Africa, and a questioning of my right to success when so many people suffer a lack of it due to unfair systems. I have been loath to talk about the identity part, because I belong to a diverse group of people who were thrown together and told we are all the same. I am loath to talk about the crisis it brings me because no matter what I say about my perceived fragile identity, in whatever context and under whatever guise, I will be mercilessly criticized. And since I suffer under enough of my own criticism, I’m not sure I’m ready for more. But the bottom line is, under my upbringing under Apartheid, subconsciously I believed the lie I was told, the lie I was indoctrinated with, that I am not good enough. I can claim a certain amount of success in my understanding that there is enough space for all the achievements to exist, and that despite this, we are limited, for various reasons, in our capacity to access them.
But today I had a breakthrough in my understanding of how the myth that I am not enough has been perpetuated. There has been a slow build-up to this moment of personal revelation. Tiny bits of truth have been thrown at me over the years, but thanks to crafty indoctrination that led me to believe that it is simply not possible for me to be worthy of remarkable success, it all circled around a realisation that as much as I have told myself that the prejudices against me were untrue, deep, deep down inside, I still believed them.
I remember being genuinely shocked when my cousin told me that I am the smartest person he knows. I was perplexed when my sister who is studying for her doctorate told me she regularly tells people that she is the sibling with the degrees, but I am the sibling with the brains. My boyfriend keeps telling me how I am “objectively, smarter than most people.” The parents of my students regularly let me know the positive impact I have made on their children’s confidence in their abilities. My yoga teacher has hired a ‘social media content expert’, yet I am the one who rewrites her copy so that it properly passes on the message and connects with a wider audience. Just the other day I used the word ‘psychosomatic’ correctly in casual conversation and was congratulated for it. Over and over again I have received confirmation that I am good at whatever I do, that I am smart and intelligent. And yet, I haven’t quite believed it, and I have played it down.
What I realised today is that I have grown up in, and am living in, a system that celebrates mediocrity in order to maintain the status quo of white superiority. When I look at the industries in which I can make an impact, I see how I have been demoralised by not finding a way to compete with people who are given a chance by the virtue of their skin colour – whether I am better at them when it comes to completing the task at hand or not. There are gatekeepers in the content creation market, in advertising, in publishing, who have established a network that ensures that their own are taken care of. In South Africa it is the reason why food production is owned by people who started their enterprises at the height of the Apartheid regime and still today enjoy economic success. Same with banking, chain supermarkets and everything else vital to daily living. It is the reason that the most successful businesses in South Africa, while they employ a majority of black people, are still majority white-owned with majority white boards of directors.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not having a pity party. Rather, I am experiencing a reality-check. This is where we are. And this is why I have allowed my success to be kept on a backburner. And this is where I understand what I need to make momentous change within myself to enable my success. I need to overcome these obstacles in my personal capacity. The best-case scenario would be for me, through my own journey, to inspire others to do the same, so that they too create their own platform within which to enjoy success, instead of trying to compete in a system stacked against them.
Alright, that’s enough rambling for now. It’s time to put in the authentic work.
I entered this short story into a competition in 2013 and because I didn’t get any feedback, forgot about it. Today, with Gender Based Violence still being a scourge on South Africa, I remembered that I had written a story that, while incredibly tragic, gave its own, strangely hopeful ending. Be warned, it’s not for sensitive eyes. It’s just under 4000 words long. I look forward to discussing it with you.
Frail Care for the Damned:
There are two people in residence in this body of mine but truly speaking, there is only room for one of us.
I’m standing at the taxi rank, waiting to step into one of death’s cars so that I can go earn a living, pondering the dichotomy that is my life. I don’t often afford myself the luxury of contemplation, but today, a thought insinuates itself into my mind like smoke filling an empty room. I don’t want to be two people anymore.
I enter the room after a quick knock on Mr Malan’s door. We don’t wait for permission to enter, at the old age home where I work. You never know what can be happening on the other side of the door – the person may be convulsing, or even dead. Mr Malan is dressed and sitting in his wheelchair, enjoying the sunny view from his third floor window, as he is most mornings when I start my shift. He pulls out a small comb from his shirt pocket and neatens his hair as I walk across the yellow painted room with his morning medication on a tray.
“What’s your name again?”
“It’s the same name it was last time, Mr Malan. Tumelo. Remember?”
“Stupid question to ask someone with Alzheimer’s. Tumelo, Tumelo. Ah yes, Hope. Do you live up to your name?” He waves his comb at me like an orchestra conductor I’d once seen on Sunday night TV, before putting it in his pocket.
“Why should I tell you?” I ask with a laugh. “You’re just going to forget. Here, drink up.” Mr Malan arrived here six months ago. His wife had died suddenly, and without her there to assist with his daily care, he could no longer live on his own. As I watch him swallow down his pills, I wonder what his life was like before. It must have been a happier existence. The medicine administered by someone who loves you is surely more effective than that given by an indifferent nurse in a stinky old age home. He holds out a hand, palm up, to me.
“You’ve had them already, dear,” I say as I remove the water cup from his grasp and rest his outstretched hand on his lap. I have a few spare minutes so I open the window and sit down on Mr Malan’s sofa. We feel the promise in the crispness of the morning air, as light from the sun pours into the room. From up here we can hear the sound of running water from the garden fountains.
“Make space for me next to you,” he says. I move over and in one swift movement, Mr Malan lifts himself from the wheelchair onto the sofa next to me. A contented sigh leaves his lips as he shifts himself into a comfortable position. I am once again amazed by the strength he has in his arms.
“I don’t forget everything, you know,” he says to me. “I remember things that happened long ago and I remember feelings.”
“Then tell me something you remember.” He tells me about a family holiday by the sea. His children, who have not visited him since he’s been here, were young at the time. His wife had just finished at nursing school. I only half listen, and sit planning the rest of my morning’s schedule in my head. Sometimes I don’t have time for other people’s happiness. And anyway, he just needs to talk. It doesn’t really matter to whom.
It’s a long, busy day and by the end of my shift the sun is already hinting that she will be setting soon. The familiar feeling of dread settles into my stomach. It’s time to collect my children and go home.
Every time it happens I tell myself that this is going to be the last time. But dammit, when darkness settles over the township like hot Marmite and he bangs his fist against the door, my shack rattles with the force, and I feel powerless against him.
I scurry my children to their hiding place under my kitchen table. They dive behind the tattered grey blanket that is waiting for them there. As I open the door, the wind blows out the lone candle on my kitchen table and casts the room into darkness.
“Next time don’t keep me waiting so long,” he brushes past me and even though it’s dark in the room he walks the familiar path toward my springy, worn out bed without hindrance. I can hear that he’s already unbuckling his pants. He reaches behind him and grabs my arm, pulling me along with him and I stumble towards the bed.
“From behind,” he says, his voice thick with desire. I do what I’ve been trained to do and arrange myself on my stomach with my bum raised up in the air, my dress hoisted over my back for his easy access. The bed-springs squeak with his weight. I no longer protest as he violates me for the umpteenth time.
I know that my daughters are holding tight onto each other, their eyes squeezed shut, the younger one trying her best not to whimper with her fear, as they hide beneath the blanket under my kitchen table. I hope that my silence, in direct opposition to his heaving and grunting, conveys strength towards my girls. I hope they don’t take it for what it really is, which is surrender. From the speed with which his grunts continue, I know it soon will be over.
I re-light my candle and hope he will not linger, or worse, fall asleep. A few moments later he’s pulled up his pants and is on his way out. As he opens the door to leave, my daughters rush out toward me, no longer able to stifle their cries of fear or the relief that for now, the terror is over. He hears them and steps back inside. Both girls recoil at the sour reek of sorghum beer that leaves his mouth as he leans his big, sweaty face towards them.
“Fresh pussy,” he smiles, breathing his rancid breath onto them.
“The younger one is your child,” I tell him quickly, and nudge him out of my shack. I feel my body tense with resolve. I am not willing to offer up my daughters to this beast, in any way. I stand at my window and peak through the piece of rag that gets called a curtain, watching the light of his cigarette sway in his hand as I wait for him to reach the corner. I can’t see the burning coal of his cigarette anymore so I turn toward my oldest daughter and smack her hard across the head. As she recoils I grab her by the shoulders.
“Why did you come out so soon, why?” I shout, teeth bared like a wolf, the spittle flying from my mouth and landing in the curls of her dark hair. “You stupid fool, now he’s going to want to fuck you too!” The weight of my words sinks into me. Why are they being spoken to an eight-year old girl? Why? I grab her into a hug and squeeze her too tight.
“Mama, it hurts,” she gasps.
“I know, I’m sorry my child.” I hold on to her even tighter and can feel the heat of her breath as it forces its way through my jersey and onto my skin. I would rather have her dead than violated by that man. A car drives down the road and its headlights shine straight into the room, jarring my thoughts. I release my daughter and hear her gasp as she takes in the air I almost deprived her of.
“What is your name again?”
“It’s still the same, Mr Malan. It’s Tumelo, remember?”
“Silly question to ask an Alzheimer’s patient. Ah yes, Tumelo. Your name means Hope. Do you live up to your name?”
“Not today, Mr Malan,” I walk across the room to the window and open the curtains. “Still in your pajamas, I see.” I quickly change the topic, surprised at my revealing statement. I squint against the bright sunlight streaming into the room and open the windows so that the sound of water rushing through the garden fountain fills the room.
“Close the windows, woman. That sound just makes me want to pee,” he says.
“You haven’t combed your hair yet either,” I notice.
“Sometimes the sunshine doesn’t have the power to light me up from inside,” he says.
“That’s exactly how I feel today,” I sigh, realising that the two people I need to be are slowly stepping into each other’s lives.
“Listen to me, Tumelo. If life is getting too dark for you, you must make your own light. That way you can chase away the bad things.”
“Hmmm.” I’m not interested in what this man has to say. He will never know what hell the other half of my life is.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk about. Come, let’s get you dressed. The sun has been awake for ages, and he’s going to get upset that his favourite person is still in his pajamas!”
“I could help you. I can tell you what to do.” My smile withers.
“There’s nothing to talk about. Now please, put your clothes on.”
“No, I don’t want to!”
Mr Malan switches to being a petulant child, and refuses to get into his day clothes. I know that this is not unusual behaviour for Alzheimer’s sufferers but today I struggle to be patient.
“There are people out there who have much bigger problems than deciding whether to get dressed. Really, old man, just put your clothes on.”
“People like you?” Alzheimer’s patients can often sway from throwing a childish tantrum to being an insightful adult, and he catches me off guard. I turn away from him to avoid eye contact.
“Of course not. Just put the bloody clothes on!” This time he quietly obeys and by the time I leave his room, he’s pushed his wheelchair to the window and is looking out. His hair is still disheveled but I don’t ask him where his comb is.
For the rest of the day I feel off balance. Stupid fool, with his talk of using light to take away the darkness. And him trying to get into my head, asking me what’s wrong. When I am at work, it is easy enough for my mind to create light. There are big windows in each patient’s room so the sun can stream in, the walls are painted in cheerful colours, and plants and flowers decorate reception tables. Does he know we don’t have electricity where I live? Can he imagine that the only light we get at night is by one candle and a dim street lamp at the corner? And does he think he can stomach hearing what happens to me when I face the night in my shack?
During the course of the day I go from room to room, hardly seeing my other patients as I tend to them. My thoughts keep mingling with the old man’s words. Huh. Maybe if my shack was lit like a soccer stadium from the outside, he wouldn’t have the nerve to come banging on my door. It’s the darkness that gives him permission to be a predator, isn’t it?
It’s almost the end of the day and the dread settles into the floor of my stomach with more intensity than usual. Before I leave work, I need to run to the bathroom to throw up.
I pick up my girls from day care and on the walk to my shack my legs become heavy. I am moving slower and slower until I just stop. My girls are tugging at me and people are shouting at me for blocking the flow of walking bodies, but I cannot take another step towards the hell that awaits us.
I see the donated sea freight container that houses our township’s police station across the road and a sliver of hope enters my mind. I know that our police system is toothless and as useful as an ingrown toenail, but in my desperation I want to make them competent and strong enough to protect us. My legs start moving again and I drag my girls across the road to report my tormentor to the police. I fill in some forms and give them my address, and the man at the desk promises me there will be patrols in the area that night.
My girls and I are cuddled together on my worn out bed and I’m telling them a story about places better than the hell we live in, when the headlights from a car shine into my shack. I look outside and am relieved to see it’s a police van, the one that the man at the police station promised would patrol. I feel light-headed with relief, and start telling my girls the story in a different way – this time with the possibility that they might one day inhabit these places that are better than hell.
We are lost in our fantasy when someone bangs on the door, the force rattling my shack. With the practice of familiarity, my girls dive to their hiding place under the table, and our reality hits us like a smack in the face.
He’s back, and with him is the officer from the police station.
“Yes, this is her,” says the officer as they both force themselves into my shack. I am still absorbing the fact that my idiot naiveté has put us in more danger than before when he punches me in the stomach and I double over in pain. The officer pulls me up and holds me so he can punch me again, this time in the face.
“You go first,” he tells the officer. “It’s my thank you for phoning me and telling me what this stupid bitch is up to.” The force of the next punch, this time to my jaw, is so strong, I’m lifted off my feet and land, amongst angry squeaks of springs, on my worn out bed.
“That’s what friends are for,” the officer tells him as he unbuckles his pants.
“Feel free anytime, brother,” he says as if giving him an open invitation to visit a shebeen as often as he likes. They take turns violating me for what seems like hours and by the time they leave, I am raw and broken, both inside and out. The little one has fallen asleep in her sister’s arms behind the blanket under my table.
I assess the damage to my face in my broken mirror by the light of my lone candle and wonder how much of it I can hide for when I go to work tomorrow. I clean myself up and open the window to rid the room of the smell of sweat and sex and aggression, but later on it still lingers deep inside my nostrils. It is then that I realise that the smell has left the room, but its memory has not left me.
I call my children to come lie on the bed with mommy but the older one holds tighter to her sister, and refuses. The two of them stay under the table for the rest of the night, in a secure but uncomfortable sleep. My girls now know with certainty that I do not have the power to chase this man away, or to protect them.
Mr Malan’s voice falters when he takes in my raw lip and swollen eye, and the slight stiffness in my walk, but he continues with our ritual morning salutation.
“What is your name again?” I keep up the pretense and play along.
“It’s the same as it was yesterday, Mr Malan. My name is Tumelo. Remember?”
“Silly question to ask someone with Alzheimer’s. Tumelo, Tumelo…” He pauses and I look up from where I’m preparing his tablets.
“Don’t give up hope,” he whispers to me. Sympathy is probably what I need right now, but it’s the last thing I want.
“I don’t know what you’re rambling about today,” I tell him fussily and hand him his water cup, then sprinkle his pills into the palm of his hand. He swallows them down with a gulp of water while I open the curtains to let the light in. I turn to him and rest his outstretched hand on his lap as I take away his water cup.
“You’ve had them already,” I tell him.
“Today I’m remembering bad things,” he tells me. He takes out his comb, looks at it, and puts it back into his shirt pocket. I sit on the sofa next to where his wheelchair is parked, ready to pretend to listen. I am unprepared for his next words.
“It was her own fault she got all those hidings from me. If only she would stop putting too much salt in the food. And stop adding water to my brandy bottle. And stop putting those stupid clothes on the children, I wouldn’t have hit her so much!” His energy depleted, he slumps in his wheelchair and looks at me from under his eyebrows. Suddenly, I no longer see a feeble, sweet old man in a wheelchair. I see him as his wife must have seen him and realise that he’s no different to my tormentor.
“Right now, for the first time ever, it dawned on me that she must have had to explain away her bruised arms and swollen eyes and cut lips when she went to work at the hospital.”
“Why only now?” I ask.
“Because I recognised in you the behaviour of my wife.”
“Don’t be silly,” I say, already knowing what he means.
“I always knew, Hope. From the day I met you. But today, something is different. He has more power over you today than he did yesterday, doesn’t he.” I stare straight ahead, unwilling to let the old man in to the darkest part of my heart, where my fears hide away during the day and come out at night.
“There’s a way to solve your problem.” I glance in his direction then stare ahead again.
“It’s how my wife sorted me out. Man, she got me good in the end.”
Someone bangs his fist against the door and my shack rattles with the force. It’s the officer from the police station, hoping to enter me like a shebeen.
“What are you doing here?” my tormentor asks him.
“Collecting on old favours,” he leers at me and licks his lips.
“That’s all finished now, you can go away.” The police officer looks angry. I can see that he’s considering how far to take things.
“You’re just a cripple in a wheelchair,” he tells his former friend, looming over him with menace. “What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m a cripple who knows your wife,” he says with a laugh and pushes the door closed with a forward push of his wheelchair and an outstretched arm. My daughters, out of force of habit, are under the kitchen table.
“You can come out. That fool isn’t going to worry you again.” The girls are still coming to terms with this new situation. The man who used to be the cause of terror in our lives is now protecting us. Our tiny shack is even more crammed now that he and his wheelchair have taken residence with us, but I insist that he stays.
I think again about the events that led to this reversal. It was the method Mr Malan’s wife used to remove his power over her and their children that saved us in the end. The epidural injection would have been easy for her to get hold of, working in a hospital.
For me it was more complicated. I had to phone around, asking friends from nursing school how I could get hold of an epidural injection. You’d be surprised how none of them asked me what I needed it for.
I found someone who works in a maternity ward. Money exchanged hands, and soon I had ownership of the tool that would take away his power. It was going to be difficult to administer because the needle was big, and if this plan was going to work, it needed it to convey a large amount of liquid to the correct nerve in his spine with precision. I researched the errors anaethetists had made, giving women epidurals incorrectly, and laming them for life. I needed to perform their mistakes perfectly.
I remember the last time he had any kind of power over me. He was lying on top of me, slack and sleepy after ravaging me for the last time. I pulled the injection out from its hiding place under my pillow and held it in my fist, knowing that I needed to act with strength and accuracy. Running one hand down his spine, I felt for the magic spot. He relaxed further, taking my touch for acceptance.
Like the victim of a mosquito bite taking revenge, I raised my fist and in one swift motion stabbed the needle into the correct spot on his lower back before he realised what was happening. From what I had read I knew that a burning sensation was now oozing through the veins in his lower torso. I folded my legs and arms in a tight grip around him, and patiently waited for his attempts to move to subside. I pushed his limp body off me and observed the terror in his eyes as he realised that his movement was impeded. The rod that he had used as a tool to hammer me into submission, lay limp, between his useless his legs. His arms flailed as he tried to get himself to move and I couldn’t help but smile at how, in a matter of minutes, he had become a ridiculous creature.
I dressed myself, covered his bottom half with a sheet, and called the children out from their hiding place behind the blanket under my kitchen table. They were hesitant at first, but when I showed them that he couldn’t hurt us anymore, by poking at his useless legs, they came and stood next to me and observed him too.
The three of them are sitting at my kitchen table by the light of the lone candle eating a meagre dinner of pap and packet gravy. The blanket that once was used to conceal my girls from him is being used to keep their skinny little legs warm from the chill in the air. He has some use of his arms and head, but his legs are limp in his rented wheelchair. I walk across to them and pour water into their tin cups. I rest my hand on his shoulder for a few seconds and then I take it away.
You might wonder why I choose to take care of the man responsible for so much dread and fear in my life, and you’d be right to do so. It’s a confusing mix of revenge and compassion that keeps me from releasing him to the streets of the township where he’d no doubt end up begging for coins at the traffic light on the main road. He looks at me and knows that I am the one that put him in that chair. I look at him and I know that he forced me to do it.
I no longer feel fear when I am in my shack. I can be who I am, at home and at work. Knowing that I no longer have to fear him, I start to feel like one person once more.
Don’t have time to go to gym regularly? No problem! Just make time for sex.
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Parenting Teenagers on your Own: Smile, Nod and Pretend You Know What You’re Doing.
Your children are in the delicate stages of moving from childhood to teenagers to young adulthood and it’s an exciting time. They are angry with their father for breaking up their family, and he thinks you have turned them against him. Follow this comprehensive guide on how to fuck things up as little as possible.
Being the ultimate PIES queen:
Taking care of your children’s Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social Health all on your own. With this concise guide, you can bake your PIES and enjoy them too.
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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Yes, you really are that smart.
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Demystifying the Decimal, A Study.
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Increasing your child’s vocabulary in the digital age.
Of Knights and Numbers:
The Universe conspires to ensure that our heroine meets the man of her dreams – sexy, intelligent, kind and passionate, he takes her on a journey of discovery that heals her from her past. But how do the lovebirds deal with the challenges of being an inter-racial couple in Post-Apartheid South Africa? Pretty well, it seems 😉
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They. Are. Always. Hungry.
This book combines the psychology behind preparing meals for hungry teenage cretins with light humour and large doses of wine to come up with easy-to-prepare, no-nonsense menus for your ever-hungry brood.
Catering for a sporadic vegetarian, a health nut and a fast-food guru. A guide to preparing three meals for dinner every single fucking night.
When He Cooks For You – how food preparation and love go hand in hand. Explore delightful recipes that you won’t ever have to prepare because your significant other is doing so for you.
How to budget when your maintenance payments are non-existent and you are the only one taking care of your children.
The Post-Housewife Apocalypse:
You’ve raised your family. Sacrificed your career to help an ungrateful husband reach his career goals. Before you get kicked to the curb for your efforts, read this guide on how to maintain your worth, while furthering someone else’s.
As the court jester, one might have thought that Yorick’s life was nothing but laughter, joviality and fun. It was, in fact, the opposite. There was a huge amount of pressure on him to ensure that the King and Queen were constantly in good spirits, and at times, the anxiety it caused was enough to make him consider giving up jestering altogether. But he persevered, and though the end result of him having kept his job was his untimely death, one could most certainly commend him for his efforts.
The first gig of the day was breakfast, and most mornings, when the King and Queen sat down to partake, their demeanour would indicate to him how he was to entertain them. If Hamlet was present at the breakfast table too, well, Yorick would adjust to accommodate his teenage surliness and get a few giggles out of him. This was no easy task, given that Hamlet hated his stepfather and uncle, the King. Yes, you heard right. The King, brother of Hamlet’s dead father, the previous king, was married to Hamlet’s mother, the Queen. The family situation at court was tense, to say the least, hence Yorick’s nausea-inducing anxiety about keeping his job. He had, after all, entertained the Queen’s previous husband, and knew that one word out of line would get him fired by the new King.
His breakfast entertainment strategy had been simple before Hamlet returned from his studies to mourn the death of his father. If the King and his Queen had known each other carnally before (evident in the amount of hand-holding and staring deep into each other’s eyes, along with the King squeezing his Lady’s royal ass in between courses), ribald jokes soliciting hearty laughs would be the order of the day. If not, Yorick would recite love poems and update the Queen on what she thought was the latest gossip. Queen Gertrude was not interested in hearing what the nobility were up to. She wanted to know who the chambermaid fancied, and if the Master of the Wardrobe had made his move on Betty in the scullery, and so-forth. To be honest, Yorick just made stuff up as he went along. He didn’t feel comfortable with the Queen’s fascination with the lower members of the royal household’s personal lives, particularly since she was quite comfortable with treating them with disdain.
If it hadn’t been for Betty (the same scullery maid whose love-life the Queen was so interested in) telling Yorick that she’d heard from the poulterer, who was good friends with the brother of the saddler at Polonius’s house, that Hamlet had told Ophelia in confidence that he hated his stepfather, Yorick might have accidentally made relations between Prince and King even more strained than they already where.
He devised the following ditty, which he sang to himself on his way to the dining room each morning, to make sure he didn’t fuck things up:
When young Master is at table,
And his mood is not so stable;
The wife and husband pawing each other.
Poor Hamlet being distraught that his mother
Has so easily taken this new king’s side;
Her love for his father she now has to hide.
Remind young Hamlet that he too can take a whirl
At love and passion with Polonius’s girl
Tell him that the time has come
For him also to get some
When they are in love and want to flee
Young Master must instruct her, “get thee to a nunnery”.
My friend Adriann recently told me that she simply cannot abide by people having deep dark secrets. Because I treasure her so much, I’ve decided to come clean and reveal to her all my deep dark secrets, one at a time. Adriann, this is for you:
Hey Adriann, remember that time we came over to your house for a long overdue Girls’ Night?
Yes, with the veggie kebabs and the chicken. And that delicious bread.
It was really tasty! We polished off everything. And the strawberries for dessert were perfect.
Yes, it was a lovely evening. But there’s something I need to tell you.
It’s not too serious, really, depending on how you want to look at it.
I mean, no-one was injured. Or died.
I’m glad you see it that way too. It isn’t too bad then, right?
Ok, I’ll tell you.
So you know how I told you I was getting that phone call and I went upstairs to your room to take it?
It was our first phone call before he and I went on our first date. I was so excited, don’t you remember?
I know, it was a very smooth move, wasn’t it. So refreshing after all those smiley face messages and ‘How’s Things’ texts.
Those days in the dating trenches were harrowing! My favourite of all the weird messages I got, was the guy who would have seen in my profile that I’m a writer. His first message to me was: How RU?
No, I didn’t even respond. What would be the point?
Anyway, yes, it is agreed. To have a phone call before the date was a very charming touch. And sexy, actually.
Did you ever share that recipe for the Japanese Christmas cake with the book club group? It was one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tasted.
Yes, the one from last year. Okay, okay. Just so you know, I’m nervous about telling you this secret, and I am deliberately stalling.
Because it’s going to completely change your opinion about me.
I’m risking a lot here, but okay. I’m going to have to trust that our friendship will weather this revelation.
No, I’m not being dramatic. Wait till you hear.
Okay fine, I’ll tell you. I was sitting on your bed and we were having our conversation, and things got a little, well, intense.
Yes, you heard me correctly. We were talking about… actually, I don’t remember exactly what the words were anymore.
But one thing led to another and next thing…
Yes, I’m afraid I did.
I’m ashamed, Adriann. I really am. It was a complete abuse of your kindness and trust.
I just couldn’t help myself. Your bedside drawer was beckoning me to open it, and so I did.
And I saw the… ah… you know, the…
So now I also know. Are you upset I told you? Should I have kept it a secret?
You left me no choice, I had to tell you. I’m telling you all of my naughty stories one by one because you don’t like people having deep dark secrets.
I’ve been particularly productive in the blogging department this past week. I think this is because all the thoughts I’ve been storing up for the past months are being allowed to come to the fore, now that my teaching year draws to a close.
December is a tricky month for me. I don’t have my full quota of students to see, which means I have time on my hands. The month has already been allocated a long to-do list, but there is a part of me that feels guilty because the reduced teaching schedule means reduced earnings. That’s just how it is, but the situation still has me mentally wringing my hands.
There’ll be no excuse for not blogging my 500 words a day during this time, but maybe, along with all the other activities I have planned for my down time, I can also work on my book. I worry, though, that I’m putting too much pressure on myself. I certainly have far too many expectations of December. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. To challenge myself to complete the tasks I enjoy doing is surely a good thing, don’t you think?
I’ve often thought of changing the name of my blog, because I certainly have not been contributing 500 words a day to it. But I’m afraid that if I change it to, say, ‘My 500 Words Whenever I Feel Like It’ as my Beloved suggested, I won’t work so hard to achieve the goal of daily blogging. So for now, the name will stay as it is, to remind me of the aspiration I have to write regularly.
The trick, though is to figure out what to write about every single day. At the moment I have all the content I’ve been storing in my head while busy throughout the year, but I fear you’ll be reading about how paint dries in a few weeks’ time when I’ve exhausted all my ideas and thoughts. I suppose that’s part of the challenge. Knowing that I have the time to write means I become more focused on my surroundings and more curious about what’s happening in the world – from what’s happening down the road, to what’s happening on the rest of the planet.
Perhaps for now this is My 500 Words A Day in the Month of December. But maybe, just maybe, I get the knack for blogging every day with relative ease, and an article about paint drying can turn out to be quite a remarkable thing.
This spring, instead of just thinking about it, I have decided I had to actually do something about the gnawing feeling sitting with me for a long time now, that I need to grow something. I used to have notions about growing exotic plants and flowers, and having a nice lawn. Lately my focus has turned to growing food.
Over the years I have come to an understanding that continues to baffle me. I live on the continent of Africa. I know that we have everything anyone could ever need on this continent, not only in order to survive, but to prosper. Rich soil, minerals, gases, sunshine, rain, precious metals, precious stones – all the raw materials needed to create industries that thus far, other economies have been thriving on more than us. What frustrates me is that with all these resources at hand, on our continent, there are so many people who suffer; who go to bed hungry day after day, and for whom every single attempt at moving forward is a battle.
We all know that when your blood-sugar levels are low because of a lack of food, you are unable to think properly. How many times have you, for whatever reason, not eaten for a while, and your hunger has weakened you, made you irrational, made you incapable of doing anything meaningful? You have the luxury of opening your fridge, or stopping on the way home from work to pick up some food, or ordering in. But what about the people who live in a state of hunger constantly, without those options?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to alleviate this problem. There is no quick answer, but I persist in the notion that the one thing no-one should go without ever, is food. We have the capacity to grow food everywhere, and in my naivete, I don’t understand why it is not being done. What is wrong with growing tomatoes and spinach and pumpkins instead of grass on the sidewalks? What is wrong with growing fruit trees instead of oak trees? What is wrong with someone who is hungry picking fruit or vegetables that are grown in common spaces? I know some might say that the farmers would lose out. But would they really? There will still be plenty of people who are happy to pay for the convenience of buying food at a store instead of going to pick it from a roadside garden. What I’m saying is that we should not only have to exchange money in order to get food. It should, especially in places that have ideal conditions for growing, be growing in public places and available to anyone who needs it.
I suppose the next thing people would want to know, is who is going to tend to the public food gardens. And this would be a good question. Is it not possible that people who are looking for work would be happy to tend the gardens that feed them, so that their hunger is satisfied and therefore they have the physical capacity to go out and look for work?
And then they’d ask where the seeds would come from. And then they’d worry about people stealing the plants, or taking the food and selling it. They would worry because food would not be able to be used as a political tool as it currently is during election time: “Look, I’m giving you a meal. Now vote for me.” They would worry that people are not so easily manipulated when they have their wits about them because they are not malnourished. They would worry that when children are well fed they are easily educated. Which politician wants well-educated masses deciding on who their leadership should be?
Do you see the more sinister concerns around hunger? The reasons for keeping people hungry? It is my opinion that we have to thrive in spite of the politicians. To this end, I am doing my little bit and starting to grow food, that will hopefully be planted in easily accessible spaces.
Sometimes, you just want to share experiences you are going through. You want to say the words out loud, to confirm that you are not going crazy, and that you have a valid gripe/ feeling/ concern about an event that has either already happened, or you are in the throes of dealing with. There have been many times when thoughts have swarmed my head and I’ve tried to make some sort of sense of the buzz. I like to meditate, to reduce the buzz to a hum, and for the most part, afterwards things start to make sense. But on the occasions that doesn’t work, I like to talk to somebody.
What I have noticed is that I have different requirements of the person I’m offloading on, depending on what’s troubling me. And perhaps I should make my expectations known upfront so as to avoid a heartfelt outpouring of feelings leaving me feeling worse than when I started out. There are occasions when I really want to know what the other person thinks. I want them to tell me what they would do; or if I am over-reacting and being unreasonable; or if what I am saying has merit. At these times I yearn for another point of view, and welcome it.
There are other times, though, when I would like someone to listen. Times when I’m not asking for advice, but needing a sounding board where my words are echoed back at me. I’d like them paraphrased, to be sure I have my thoughts straight. I am not asking for judgement.
I now know that I have to make my needs clear, right from the start. Over the years, I have taught myself to listen to what people are saying to me. Really listen. I can remember a time when in conversation, I would be watching the other person’s mouth move, waiting for them to finish so that I could tell them how I had done the thing better than them, or that I had had the very same experience. I didn’t give any thought to why they were choosing to confide in me. Without realising it, I was making every conversation about me and my opinion. I’ll go ahead and blame the beautiful arrogance of youth for that. Somewhere along the line, I started becoming aware that I was doing too much talking, and needed to start listening. It also dawned on me that maybe people didn’t actually want my help. They just wanted an ear. I made a decision to only give my opinion if it was asked for, or if the conversation suggested that is what was wanted.
These days, I ask people if they would like to know what I think or what I would do before I chip in. Just a couple of days ago, my teenage nephew sent me a message asking me if there is ever a time when one should not give their opinion. My response was: “Yes.” I then asked him what the intention of voicing his opinion would be: was the intention good? Did it mean to be helpful? Was it kind? It gave him food for thought.
The discussion was a reminder of how many times I have avoided causing someone harm by taking the cues from them as to how they wanted me to respond to what they were saying. I don’t always get it right, but I am trying. Sometimes, instead of having a way with words, one should just do away with words altogether.
My friend Adriann recently told me that she simply cannot abide by people having deep dark secrets. Because I treasure her so much, I’ve decided to come clean and reveal to her all my deep dark secrets, one at a time. Adriann, this is for you:
Hey Adriann, remember that time we went to Humble Harry’s for coffee after I found out my ex was cheating on me?
No, the second time. It was just before you left for your holiday in Vietnam and we were discussing what you should pack.
No, you didn’t go on about it too much. I needed something other than my crumbling marriage to think about and it was a welcome distraction.
Something happened that day that I never told you about.
It’s something small, really, but I wanted you to know.
Because I don’t want to have any deep dark secrets you don’t know about, that’s why.
Ok, remember the sexy biker dude who was sitting at the table next to us?
You don’t? He was gorgeous! He had such a beautifully chiselled nose. Like a Michelangelo sculpture. We were salivating over him.
Ok, maybe it was just me then.
Seriously? You don’t know who I’m talking about? He was an older guy, working the complete biker look: Longish hair, leather jacket, huge biker boots, faded jeans, legs going on forever.
I know, you were really distracted. Packing for a month long holiday is hard. But it worked out in the end, right? Three dresses, four sarongs and a jersey, liked the bloggers suggested.
Yes, that’s the one I’m talking about. Funny how you remember his bandana. I guess it’s the older biker trademark, isn’t it?
I feel a bit shy telling you now.
Ok, here’s the story. You know how there’s that long corridor leading to the bathrooms at Humble Harry’s?
Yes? So when I was coming back from the bathroom, Mr Sexy Biker Dude was walking up the corridor towards me. Probably going to the bathroom too. He kept his eyes on me the whole time and I thought I was going to burst. His stare was so intense, I just kind of froze on the spot and watched him. Like a total dweeb.
He kind of, kept walking towards me and I just couldn’t move, and the next minute he was standing right in front of me and I could spell his Old Spice cologne mixed with cigarette smoke, and…
Hang on, I need another coffee. I’m getting short of breath just thinking about it again. Another one for you?
Ok, fine. The coffee can wait. I’m not proud of what happened next. Actually, maybe I am a little bit.
All of a sudden he was standing right in front of me, so I went up on my tiptoes and I kissed him. Just like that.
Wait, there’s more. He twirled a lock of my hair around his fingers, then he held my face with both hands and kissed me back. First, very gently. Then we had a full on snog, right there in the corridor by the bathroom at Humble Harry’s and we only stopped because we heard someone coming.
Oh my God, Adriann, it was wild. I was running my hands through his hair and feeling the leather of his biker jacket and I ran my hands over his six-pack stomach. His hands were, like, all over me.
Before I knew it, the whole delicious episode was over. We pulled away from each other when we heard footsteps, and then he went his way and I came back and sat with you as if nothing happened.
Don’t look at me like that.
Nope, never saw him again.
Oh, so now it’s too much information, is it? Well, that’s my story, and I’m telling you all of my naughty stories because you don’t like people having deep dark secrets.