Thoughts Behind The Gratitude Journal: 2021

Gratitude Goal for 2021: To express gratitude for the ability to show love and integrity, in spite of what has happened in the past.

The resilience of a child is admirable in that it can endure large amounts of strain without the child holding back from showing love to whomever is around to receive it –and hopefully give it. Ideally, the child should not be going through anything too stressful but I have often observed that children bounce back quite quickly from tough times in the family and can more easily form healthy relationships afterwards than adults do. Of course, the issue will still affect the child –sometimes in ways that can manifest themselves in adulthood. But it is amazing that children have the capacity to welcome health after trauma.

Adults on the other hand… We need persuasion. Once something painful has happened in our adult lives, we curl up and die a little; we find it hard to welcome well-meaning strangers, or even to tell the difference between a stranger that has come to plunder and one that has come to help bring out our good side; we sometimes even dig in and vow never to try again, to never really live again, or to never to have a similar relationship again –allowing one person to ruin one area of our lives forever.

Yes, situations hurt. But once someone has meddled with our equilibrium or once we’ve destroyed ourselves, unfortunately, it becomes our responsibility to deal with the damage. It’s either you let the situation swallow the rest of your life whole or you learn the respective lessons and move on. Or do we secretly expect our lives to roll along in perfection? If you are alive to give yourself another chance at something you used to enjoy and value, why not do just that? We like to ponder the meaning of life. What if it is simply to live thoroughly? Whatever that looks like to each of us –simply and quietly or complex and loud. Every day. Without assigning impossible expectations to life, to each other. (Like 100% success rates in every aspect of life.) Without apology.

There’s also the issue of how adults tend to enjoy their own pain, with people competing to be the one with the heaviest problems in the room. We wear our challenges like badges of honour and hold on to them in the hope of being empathised with, or pitied, or being found to be relatable. We value our losses and weaknesses far more than all the people and the things that have stayed constant and faithful in our lives.

That said, sometimes it is a privilege to be able to get over things at all. Those of us who can do it take it for granted. But it really is because of chance that some are more susceptible to giving into the trauma of trauma than others. Just as some children can rise above challenging times easier and in more healthy ways than others, so it is with adults. It is not even about who is stronger but is mostly a game of chance.

I just think it’s important to leverage our luck, wherever we can find it, rather than repressing it in the name of relatability. Because there are people who need empathy (however much society is willing to give) more than others. I find solace in thinking there is someone who has been through a similar situation and actually rose above it to such an extent that they no longer feel it has a stronghold on them.. I think people think others care more about hearing an ‘I’ve been through it too’ than a ‘you could also look at it this way’. Or maybe they think the latter is patronising. But I really would rather have the latter (from a trustworthy source).

At the end of 2018, I met a woman who taught me the ‘you could also look at it this way’ mindset and my problems have shrunk ever since. Very slowly but surely. (She’s one of those women who makes you feel that there is a sisterhood after all in this world. She’s real and compassionate in all the right measures. She tells you the truth no matter how brutal, which has always been how I learn best. There are so many things women hold back from telling each other until it’s too late. And also there are so many lies women tell each other so that we grow up with a very skewed view of how things really work in the world. She’s one of those who tries to catch you way before you feel you need to be caught. She says things as they are, not as we wish they were –which has done me so much good. I now feel I am armed in some strange way. She makes womanhood NOT feel like victimhood. (I had begun to feel men recognise the advantages of being a woman more than some women ever will.) And in general, she makes being a person in the 21st century make sense –via different points of view, not just her own. She is rare (in my own experience) in the world of women (and also humans, overall) and I wish every girl had someone like her from the jump.)

I feel more ‘ready’ than I did when all I knew was that someone else has gone through the same things. Because I’d rather not as many people had gone through the same things. (What was I supposed to do with that fact? Because even though many had experienced similar things, we each went through them differently –leaving us feeling that no one will ever understand us.) I feel that there is a higher probability that I will be able to handle whatever rears its head next. And my past mistakes and traumas no longer define me. Sometimes, the residue of pain is still there. But I have become less and less angry. Less and less of a reflection of the past. More and more capable of being who I am, properly. More and more capable of building new and much healthier relationships. I know better *how* to rely on people, how not to, and what I can offer the people I rely on. And how to cope when someone sees nothing, no value in me. And when I’ve strayed too far… I know when I don’t necessarily need to be strong. I know that my perspective is not all there is. I can be the ‘main character’ one minute and be a supporting character the next –because both are relevant. I am learning to better balance being a human being and being a woman (yes, I can see the irony –if irony’s the right word for it. But sometimes it’s as if there are human beings then there are women then there are people and everyone is a person/is included in that group called ‘people’).

(This article is not necessarily about womanhood, by the way. It’s just that womanhood was one of the facets of this year’s gratitude goal. It’s as if the more I mature, the more that topic demands to be examined.)

And so this year, I wanted to take the time to be grateful that I have the right to be resilient (and to change) yet to depend on people and not to base my identity on how those I disappointed see me or how I see them; or even on those who disappointed me.

Chances are, we didn’t know what we were doing to each other at the time, anyway.

I’m grateful for the woman who was put in my path and opened my eyes to my own resilience, helped me remember myself. And to remember all the good, inner things we undo with time in the name of relatability/getting along with other people. And the fact that it’s not over yet. I define the things that happen to me or the mistakes I made. I no longer have to look back at the past and make it a barrier to receiving everything and everyone I want in my life.

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Copyright © 2021 Tebogo Ndlovu

Thoughts Behind the Gratitude Journal: 2020

Maybe we’ll wither and die. Well, of course we will. But maybe we will be mocked, stones hurled our way because we don’t own houses and pot plants. Maybe our skeletons will lie in our graves long after we’re gone, mourning all the success we could have had -success valued via the quality of the couches we could have had, the threadcounts of the sheets we could have owned, the extra cars and holidays we could have flaunted.

Or maybe our skeletons will be grateful that we dared to choose. That we even realised there was a choice.

No, this is not a poor man’s anthem. This is a recognition of the value of choice. The choice to value life over and above the assumed value of life. That living and existing is enough over and above the thing we call net worth. That a human being can be weighed by the beauty of their choices, the various colours of their love, the honour of their free will -rather than what that all amounted to in dollars and cents.

…the honour of free will, the will to live the life we each want – regardless of how lowly it may be perceived by family, friends and the masses. The will to be a plumber in a world of white collar dreams. The will to happily own nothing in a world that is calling for a fight against ‘owning nothing yet being happy’. The will to be a housewife when the future of work has been proclaimed female -if not automated. The will to strive for a house in the suburbs, a spouse and two children when that can be looked upon as accomplished brainwashing. The will to wander, a nomad in a culture that pushes us to settle down.

Maybe our skeletons will be grateful for having lived at a time when they could be anything they wanted (when whoever said that could actually mean it): the acting-accommodation for a soul that was old-fashioned or trendsetting or comfortably mundane or in the middle or world-renowned or on the fringes. All we needed to do was choose, those of us who could choose.

We know ourselves, the ones who were lucky enough to be in an environment where we could find out that we could choose. Where our liberties are not as few and far between as the world would like us to believe. Where the Sub-Saharan sun shines on landscapes populated by unpredictable economies, stubborn cultures and even more stubborn subcultures that insist, “But did you know you could…?”

And you wouldn’t believe the breadths of the coulds. Things unimaginable to my mother – just one generation away. And I know what you’re thinking: it’s always like this. From the beginning of time, the first family: the generations were broken up by cracks and gaps -gaping differences each issuing out sensitive and sensible arguments, at times waging all out war -pressing fissures deep into, against our roots. But then why does this time feel different?

With us, it’s not a matter of free will. Not anymore. Now, we have the privilege of free will. We don’t have a few options open here and there. We have a wealth of options. But we know it, this time. We know it. It’s not something we will find out from our children. The coulds have been revealed to us and now we live them. Whomever so chooses – if she dares, if he dares – may live them.

And more and more, some of us don’t have to die for our chosen coulds…

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Copyright © 2021 Tebogo Ndlovu

PS: This article is based on my concept for my gratitude journal in 2020. Every year, I set a theme for what I should remember to be grateful for. My 2020 theme was based on some of the thoughts above.

Checking In

Hi, there.

I hope you’ve been having some good days and that the rest have been unexpectedly loyal.

Just checking in to let you know: I had scheduled some posts for the 20th, the 23rd, 26th, etc. But I still wasn’t happy with them right before the first one was due to publish. So bear with me while I fix the problem. Chances are my best shot will have to be good enough if I’m still not content with those posts by the 1st. If you’re expecting to hear from me in your email, I’ll be in your inbox by next weekend. I’ve drafted my emails to you but I need to go over them again.

I’ve received a few respectful comments over the course of the year about how the poetry I publish here may be negatively affecting some people. Any time that happens, I urge you to take a break from this blog and regularly visit Keith Kreates. Well, at least that’s one of the things I do whenever I feel quite down. He’ll turn your emotions in a more positive direction. At the moment, I do not seem to be writing upbeat poetry. Turns out ’tis not the season.

I was just thinking the other day that I’ll write bluesy posts versus nothing at all so I’m not too worried about what I’ve been coming up with. As gloomy as it is, I’ve enjoyed coming up with it and sharing it with you all.

Don’t take what you see here so seriously 🙂. It is just one stranger’s point of view out of billions.

If, perchance, some of you meant that I inspired you (hides blush, puts on modesty) to come up with some bluesy poetry of your own otherwise you’re okay then (breathes again) thank God. Can’t wait to read it! (hoping you’ll share)

If I completely misunderstood your comments, picture us sitting at a table laughing our heads off, hot beverage in hand.

In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying the last few months of this year. It’s almost Christmas again. We made it! (To this moment, anyway.)

🥂

’til next post; take good care.

-T. N.

Stolen Joys

My gratitude goal for 2020 was to learn to appreciate free will by exercising it.

I’m quite lucky. I live in a country that many wouldn’t want to belong to at this moment in history.

Yet I do have certain freedoms. A lot of people in this country don’t have the freedom to dream. Life is all about survival for most. Seeing beyond that is difficult under such circumstances. But for some, we can deal with the issue of survival and dream about what comes after that at the same time. We have the privilege of free will. If my job torments me, I can figure out how to supplement that income and leave – especially now that this volatile country is experiencing an upswing. If I have an abusive husband, divorce is a possible option. I was not born into the kind of circumstances where child marriage was ever something that could happen to me. I have had the opportunity to travel and experience totally different cultures. I could go on.

The long and short of it is that I would be lying if I said I had no choices in life, because in some ways, I have had the advantage of free will where someone else didn’t or where it would have been dangerous for that person to activate it.

So, at the beginning of the year, I dedicated 2020 to activating the freewill I do have and using the privilege of exercising this free will in order to straighten out a few things in my life. I thought that doing this would be a good way to show my appreciation for this gift. And I’m proud to say it worked. Not only did I manage to deal with key things that had been a thorn in my flesh for a few years now, I also was able to see where I could have taken responsibility but fell short.

It’s true what they say: a lot goes wrong while the rest of us are passively thinking there’s nothing we can do. I became the solution to problems I thought I was not equipped or positioned to handle. I learned how valuable each of us are. When we think we’re not, is when somebody needs us or when we need the best part of ourselves the most. Thinking we’re not important serves no one. It’s not that we’re insignificant, it’s that we opted out of significance: in our families, amongst our friends, at work, in our love lives, in achieving our goals, in being true to ourselves.

I also learned that shortchanging myself when times are good means that I’m definitely a victim whenever a crisis hits. If I’m a victim, I can’t help anyone who never really stood a chance. It’s a domino effect.

That was 2020. I learned to take charge of my free will in order to give myself what I need by putting my advantages to good use. I don’t regret them, I don’t apologise for them, but I do take on the responsibility that they come with. I’ve learned to enjoy that freedom and responsibility. I acknowledged all my good and bad points, owned them, built some good stuff on them. This way, I don’t get to blame anyone else for my mistakes. I don’t get to blame my culture, my upbringing, my environment, somebody else. Instead, I build my life on my strengths and the advantages that all these things gave me – while I dull my weaknesses and, eventually, transcend the bad hands that were dealt me. And, in the first place, I’m actually alive. I’m so relieved I’m still healthy and breathing (and still around to think about what to do with my hair next.) I get to wake up and run my life, eat, be silly and fantastic in the little ways I’m silly and fantastic. I get to be able to even be myself. So many don’t have that privilege.

I titled this post ‘Stolen Joys’ because what I got from this year was snatched from the jaws and clutches of a year that was supposed to be horrible. Yet such fine pearls and life came from it, things I haven’t even mentioned here.

I’m truly grateful.

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Copyright © 2020 Tebogo Ndlovu

The Act Of Wanting (3/3): Owning Your Deep Desires

…And the journey continues.

This is the last instalment in a three-part series concerning being in conscious alignment with one’s subconscious wants and vice versa. (Do I mean to sound like a wanna-be spiritual guru? Not at all. Oh well…)

I thought I’d share some tips I use to check myself whenever I seem to be straying from who I am (=somebody who is important to herself) or what I want. How I know when this is happening? I start to do inexplicable, self-destructive things that make no sense even to me. In addition, my bar or standards for what I consider self-sabotage lowers. Then I realise I’m not right with myself. Here’s a little example. I say that writing is important to me, right? And that I want to become a talented writer someday. (Yes. If I wasn’t born gifted I’m hoping I’ll become gifted. Leave me to my madness, please.) When my standards are high, I’m making time for writing no matter how busy the rest of my life is. I’m waking up at 4 or 5am. I’m reading novels and essays as well as writing during tea and lunch breaks at work. I’m editing before bedtime religiously, after reading another chapter of someone. And every night before I turn the lights out, I’ve scheduled a blog post for the next day or three. I’m doing everything I can to stay on track. It doesn’t matter that sometimes there are power cuts or sometimes I don’t have access to the internet or my devices are not co-operating. It doesn’t matter. Because I’ve already done everything possible to counter those eventualities.

But when my standards are low and I’m being self-destructive, I always have the perfect excuse. I’m entertaining people who have zero respect for my schedule while I make all sorts of allowances for their schedules. I’m spending extra time with people whom I love but who always take liberties with my self-esteem. I’m forgetting that guarding my peace is a constant endeavour until I am able to remove myself from toxic environments. I’m forgetting that how I feel, my time and my self-respect are my responsibility and are mine to protect.

So here are a few things I do to get back on track. Here is how I own my deep desires:

1. Say them out loud and/or write them down (right before you thoroughly dispose of the piece of paper). This works for me if what I’m desiring sounds horrible to me. I’ve found myself saying:

“I only did that because I am so lonely right now and I’m desperate to belong.”

-which made me sound pathetic

“When she said nothing I do should work out because her life didn’t work out the way she wanted it to, it made me want to make sure my projects don’t work out. Because who would I be if I didn’t have her approval?”

-which sounded so twisted, I was appalled

“Of course, he doesn’t care about me. Why would he? The other guy? No, I want someone ‘better’ than that.”

-which made me think, ‘Pick a struggle, b*tch! Plus you know you don’t even want to pick anyone because you think they’ll all hate you once they know you. How cliché and how effed up are you? Is there no end to your issues?’

([sigh] Yes. Myself and I actually said that to me. The nerve…)

So once I’ve said these things, I can’t take them back. I spoke them from my heart. I said it. So now it IS. And I need to do something to replace what IS with what I want there to be. It already was because it was in my soul/spirit/head. But now there is no denying it.

And it might take some time and unintentional messy behaviour to decipher what you even need to say to yourself. Some of it has taken me years. But every second was worth it. I’m more at peace knowing than not knowing.

2. Wean yourself off your unhealthy desires. Based on my above examples, (a) I would go about this by taking care to enjoy the time I spend alone even more than I usually do as well as making quality time for people who have been trying to reach out to me while I was pushing them away in favour of the people who make me feel like scum. I find that I am usually only as lonely as I allow myself to feel. The world has been kind to me in certain respects. There are people who actually appreciate me. It’s what I do with that affection that either makes or breaks my friendships. As I mentioned yesterday, taking responsibility is important. Here I’d be weaning myself off the desire to desperately belong; the desperation was never necessary. Some people made me feel alone, I let them and, in the process, I let the people who actually appreciate me go. Context is crucial. (b) Get away from anyone who directly or indirectly encourages you to fail nomatter how much they tell you they love you. (c) Remind yourself each morning of your ‘dateable’ points: good, precious things that come naturally to you –always have since you were a child – and go for people who particularly appreciate you when you’re being your best self without trying much.

3. Fill that gap with something else and don’t romanticise your flaws. So in example (a), you’d do that by filling the time when you feel lonely with quality time with yourself and people who are sincerely good to you. In that quality time, do your favourite things and do something for those people who genuinely care about you. Show them things that you love about them, not because they’ve helped you but just because you have also grown to genuinely care about them. I know some people will say every human interaction is a transaction anyway but you don’t have to do it the greedy, unfeeling way, right? (b) After getting away from people who make you want to self-sabotage, fill the gap left by your desire to fail with remembrance. Remember a time when you got an accolade that became dear to you and the influx of positivity winning that accolade brought into life. Soak in that feeling then set a goal for yourself and work steps to take towards the goal into your daily routine. Don’t forget to set timelines. When you achieve the goal, make sure to celebrate with people who would truly be happy for you. Rinse and repeat until you can feel it in your bones that you deserve to win when you set a goal for yourself. *And please don’t romanticise your flaws.* People you’re trying to get away from will try to make it sound like you were living your best life when you were miserable, why did you change, and all that. Remind yourself that those were not the good old days and keep it moving.

4. Start hanging out with people who represent what you really want. For example, if you’re a daughter who wishes she had a better relationship with her mother, hang out with friends who get along well with their mothers in a healthy way. This counters that ‘absoluteness’ that happens when something has been a staple in your life, causing you to subconsciously believe that life is like that and daughters ‘just don’t’ get along with their mothers.

5. Act as you really want to be. I don’t like the phrase ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ but I do agree with it in this case. Put on the attitude you want to have towards friends, colleagues, men, women, children until it becomes who you are. If that attitude is that you want to be respected, treat yourself with respect in front of everyone around you until that is your reality. Put on your best clothes regularly, walk with your chin up, smile at crying babies, if someone is mean to you cut down the amount of attention and time you usually give them, express gratitude when you would have complained because this sends the message that your life is going to be okay and you’re able to handle it, make time for your own needs.

That concludes this series. What it boils down to is this: the day you acknowledge what you really want is the day you decide who you’re about to turn into.