It seems strange sharing my personal stories, but I’ve found healing through other people’s stories, and stories make us who we are. We are a collection of stories, stories from our past that have imprinted in our genes, and stories to come, paths we choose that determine where we may end up. Here’s my story.
In early 2016, I decided to start writing. We were enjoying the luxury of a sunny Arizona holiday, when I woke to a world of political speak that made me uneasy. I felt a sense of shame. I remembered how I’d grown up in South Africa, in a world of racial hate and pain, and done nothing. My excuse – my own pain – had stopped me from becoming involved in a necessary fight, a fight against hatred and injustice. But that excuse isn’t enough, and I still haven’t fully forgiven myself for sitting on the sidelines.
I decided to start writing to share my stories from South Africa, stories that still horrify and shame me. The journey seemed to be a pretty straight forward one. I would tell about apartheid, about a white minority government, about millions of people who suffered under an oppressive regime, and I would include the story of my own awakening to the horrors of South Africa. Simple, right? Oh, how wrong I was.
I polished 80 000 words off in about 3 months and sent the piece to my sister-in-law, the talented horror writer, Sarah Lotz. Nothing. Six months of dead space – the first few weeks spent tossing manically in bed dreaming of how wonderful the printed work would look, and the rest waiting, and realizing I wasn’t meant to be a writer.
The six months passed with no further writing, and then generous Sarah sent out a page of praise. She made valuable suggestions, but more importantly, she’d found a way to make me think I could write. (Many courses and drafts later, I realized what it takes to be a horror writer – a great sense of imagination – and she’s exercised that in finding praise for my early memoir). But – and that’s a big but – I initially blithely ignored her hints that I “could” look at writing courses.
I started another novel, a different novel, about 2 soldiers, one black, one white, one fighting against oppression and one fighting PTSD from fighting for a minority government. I polished that off in about 3 months and sent if off for publishing to 2 agents. Yes – those of you who are writers, probably even those who aren’t, are leaning back in your chairs, eyes wide, thinking who could possibly be so idiotic. Idiotic! Tru dat (I’m sorry – I’m learning that’s an appropriation, but I do it out of love for a phrase that always makes me smile).
Those of you with even a miniscule hint of racial sensitivity, would think who does this *%^& entitled *#@# white South African woman think she is writing a point of view of a person of colour. More than two years later I cringe. Luckily, I am not easily embarrassed, having a history of having embarrassed myself on so many occasions, I am now successfully immunized. Who says vaccinations don’t work?
The rejection letter made me pause – not an easy feat, as I am usually off running to polish off a task before heeding any instructions. I decided to complete a few courses. Thirteen courses later, and about as many drafts of another book, this time from a white woman’s point of view, I am realizing writing is a bit harder than it initially appeared. Who’d have thought?
But, while I’ve been on this writing journey, something amazing has happened. I’ve discovered a world outside of medicine, a world that’s led me closer to my patients and closer to myself. I’ve learned about my own inherent racism, how living in a racist society – and it doesn’t get any more racist than the society that bred apartheid – how a society like that insidiously breeds into you the ideas that different should be judged, that difference sets you apart, that difference instills fear and loathing.
You may wonder what this has to do with pain, but this journey has opened my eyes to all sorts of prejudice, helped me realize how we judge people, people in pain, pain expressed through addiction, or mental health illness, or pain that makes people struggle with everyday things that I’ve taken for granted, and how that judgement affects every person, how it reflects back on the person judging, and how it makes our world so far from where it could be.
I am continuing to learn, reading books that are enriching my life and hopefully helping me grow into a more compassionate person. I am learning about white fragility, about the legacy of racism and the damage it has caused, I am learning from authors, other writers, from other peoples’ stories in books, on the internet, Facebook, and on Twitter. I hope to continue learning and share what I have learned.
Have a great day and spread kindness and compassion where you can.