I was scheduled to do a radio interview this morning, Saturday 4 July 2020…. I overslept. The interview was scheduled for around 9:00 am. I am tempted to say that no human being should be out of bed before eight or nine, but I was up working until the sun came up this morning, and slept through the alarm. The interview was meant to be with Jenny Crwys-Williams for Khaya FM Radio. Crwys-Williams is exceptionally knowledgeable on books. I feel terrible for letting her down. I work damn hard to keep appointments!
Anyway. Crwys-Williams wanted to interview me on the chapter I wrote for the book, Lockdown Extended: Corona Chronicles, the second edition of Lockdown Corona Chronicles, discussed here by the inimitable Melinda Ferguson. Crwys-Williams said she was interested in the writing, the style and the way I wrote the chapter – it was called, The absence of meaning and the tedium during Lockdown, or something similar. I try to avoid reading things that I have published.
To make up for my no-show, I will try to address what I think Crwys Williams wanted to know. At least so some of Khaya FM listeners can get a sense of why/what I wrote. I can only apologise for not being available for the interview.
Why I wrote the chapter in the way that I did?
I worked as journalist, a reporter, photographer, sub-editor, and the last full-time position I had was as political correspondent for Sowetan, between 1988-1995. After that most of my writing was either academic (though I should be careful not to over-emphasise that), speechwriting, and policy-writing.
In each incarnation I would write about things out there, people, politics, political economy and society, and within existing more or less fixed bodies of language, and lexicon.
Having returned to journalism, as a columnist, actually, I am, these days, living on the margins of society, financially, and socially as a “struggling writer” – but with the chapters (I have a chapter in the first ebook, Lockdown: The Corona Chronicles as well as in the second) I purposefully stepped out of the boundaries of daily journalism and reportage. I resorted, at this late stage in life, to the way, the style, the diction, and the vocabulary that better reflected my own insights, and the daily grind of dealing with the abundance of reality around me. This style of writing does not go down well in daily newspapers.
The Book is about Lockdown and the Corona Virus. What should the reader take away from the book and my chapter?
Nothing. But, to be honest I haven’t read the book, and I remember very little about the chapter I wrote. I do remember, however that in both chapters (I wrote one for the first, and another for the second edition), I take my personal disposition and anxieties, and inserted them in the text. I also referred, in the first chapter, to the kind of collective anxieties, neuroses, and the way the virus suddenly made us think about freedom and unfreedom. I don’t expect that what I write to be normative or instructive, in the sense that it can or should help people make decisions – I did that in journalism and policy-making. It may sounds a might pretentious, but I have no better way of putting it, but the shift from what is expected of me as a journalist and columnist (the act of writing my weekly columns) to writing the chapters in the Lockdown series, are something like the transition from non-existence to existence. I think I read about that transition a long time ago. It made sense when I read it. Anyway, I don’t think that my editors at Business Day or the Daily Maverick would allow me the luxury of this kind of introspective or (secular) confessional writing. I don’t blame them. For the record, I have not studied either one of those (introspective and confessional writing – other than Rousseau’s Confessions), so I could be talking rubbish.
The point here is that in writing the Lockdown chapters I dug into myself, and reflected on my own life – at perfect or imperfect moments – and, believe it or not, expressed the realisation that my own life is, actually, meaningless, and to some extent superfluous and unnecessary. So it is deeply reflective. In that sense I give no instructions or advice to anyone on how to deal with being locked down. In my case, a series of personal events in late October, or early November pushed me towards an event horizon, that edge of a black hole which, once you crossed it, you entered the black hole where nothing makes sense, and you are shredded, as it were. Whatever scientific explanations there may be, and there are many, the point is that as far as we know, there is no way back out of a black hole. From the very little I know about black holes, when you are dropped into one you die.
So it was at this point, with all these things swirling in my mind, that I wrote both chapters. It was the point where, freed from the strictures of journalistic writing, I could confront the absurdity of my own longing for a better life, for good things – without succumbing to the self-satisfaction of being alive. This is, in some sense, a realisation of the impermanence of life. We are alive, every minute of our lives, but that minute rapidly belongs in the past – it no longer belongs to us, except as a memory.
But as mentioned above, the series of personal events at the end of last year, kept pushing me towards the event horizon, and now the virus threatens to push me (and anyone else, I guess) into that black hole.
Without knowing what Crwys-Williams was going to ask me, other than a brief sms exchange, this is the best I can do.