Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - A Restrospective of Highs and Lows

Today is December 22, the longest day of the year. This morning I took the neighbour's dog for a run since they're away on holiday and I've been babysitting her. Bubbles is a miniature dachshund, or in ordinary parlance, a sausage dog.

Since it was a clear, blue beautiful day, I had a swim in the dam before finishing up on the second half of my run.  That's when it happened.  A short-haired lady was walking her dog.  She was about 20 metres away when her dog emerged on the path. Just when I thought they were going to have a sniffathon, the bigger dog started mauling the much smaller sausage dog.  Around its neck.  I'm not sure who was more shocked.  Bubbles didn't even have time to tjank, she was already being throttled.  I tried to pull the dog away, when that didn't work I tried to kick the dog, aware that the monster could turn on me.

The dog finally released Bubbles when it felt its owner doing something, or Bubbles going limp, I'm not sure exactly which.  And for a few seconds Bubbles lay in the dirt completely limp, I thought she was dead.

The good news is she was strong enough to get home (2 km of walking, mostly uphill) and her tongue remained pink and her airways clear.  The bad news?  When I stopped a mountainbiker at the entrance and I squirted a little water on her chest, a small fountain of blood poured out. Her chest was thick with already congealing blood, and some obviously deep puncture wounds.  The collar had provided some protection from the big dog's jaws, but there was a deep incision right next to the collar band too.

I took her to the vet and at the time of writing blogging, she's still there.  I'm supposed to pick her up at 17:30.

Anyway I think the above pretty much summarises my year.  It's been a test of nerves, and verve, and in a real sense it's felt like 'never a good deed goes unpunished'.  It's also fair to say I don't think I can talk honestly about the lowest of the lowlights or the highest of the highlights, which is unfortunate.  What I can disclose is:

The Lowlights:

I signed up to study Chartered Financial Planning this year, bought the books and study guides and invested a fair amount of effort. I also applied for a job at Old Mutual and was fairly advanced through their process when I threw in the towel.

I decided to pursue Financial Planning based on an extremely poor first quarter (in terms of photojournalism work), my contrained income came to some extent from the excesses of the festive season.  Despite doing a fair bit of research, speaking to CFP's etc, I'm not sure how the 3 years of articles clause slipped my radar.  I was happy to sacrifice a year of study, but I certainly don't have the luxury of making this a 4 year project.

The Financial Planning itself was a mixed bag.  I enjoyed the law, and economics but didn't enjoy the tax, and calculations formed a large part of the course.  The math is so advanced one has to buy a special calculator which allows one to program the equations.  I'm not a math dunce, and I scored 80% and higher for my first dozen or so quizzes.  But math isn't my strong suit nor my cup of tea, and it's not something I want to spend my whole day doing.  I do think part of being a successful CFP is being able to communicate effectively with your client, including writing clear, simple and effective financial planning goals and strategies, and I was excited about that, and thought I could do well at that.

  When I was in the thick of my studies, and I discovered how little I was earning due to the brain drain of this course (ie I was doing less and less photojournalism) a sort of survival mode kicked in, and I realised, I simply didn't have the resources (intellectual, emotional or financial) to keep this sideshow on the road all year.  I was simply burning too many matches as it was. I did try to cover myself as I'm not naive, but unfortunately some of those arrangements - which I thought were clear and trustworthy - fell through.  And so mid-year, I chucked the course.  It wasn't a proud or a happy moment, but I'm glad I did it then and not in August, September or now.

Feel free to skip the italicised section below.... which is a protracted moan against a glorified google group who call themselves THE SOUTH AFRICAN FREELANCERS ASSOCIATION...[Subscription is R500 for the privilege of being spammed by streams of inanity best delivered straight to your Junk Mail folder]

A couple of other lowlights...off the top of my head?  SAFREA, the glorified google group of wannabe freelancers expelled me for criticising Samantha Perry, an editor who refused to pay for work already delivered, and who then defended her dishonesty at the CCMA, and after all that, wanted to fly the freelancers flag, claiming to be one of us.  

This link, you see, was bandied around SAFREA and its members were nodding and murmuring supportively and I was like, hold on, this editor is talking about 'freelance happiness' and yet she singlehandedly made my life a living hell!  It's disingenuous. It's dishonest. She sabotages my work and defends not paying for it, claiming to stand for the freelance cause! And then when I queried Perry's integrity not as a freelancer, but as an editor I'd worked for for more than 2 years SAFREA rallied to her defence. In other words, SAFREA were defending exactly the kind of behaviour that makes freelancers lives hell, and they were defending a non member at that.  

Why would you ignore the mewling of a paid up member in deference to an 'allegedly' corrupt editor, masquerading as 'one of us'?  In other words, why would a member of a certain online community be sucking the dick of a non member?

Look, overall, things weren't working out for me for a while at SAFREA, I have to say.  One of the tannies in charge with giving us PR for our R500 yearly subscription - Helen Yuckerman - was really reluctant to do PR for me, iow promoting work I'd published and quoting me in one of their many PR releases...I couldn't quite understand what the problem was with Helen...even when I started emailing her reminders that I'd already written the relevant PR, all she had to do was use it, so why wasn't she?   Turns out Yuckerman is pals with Perry, and of course, if you're getting and giving jobs for pals, you don't want to fuck that up by singing the praises of someone your pal doesn't like, even if it's your job to sing those praises. I only saw how deep this nest went when the ass licking tweets emerged - both women praising each other on twitter for being 'so supportive' of one another.

Of course, when the 'management' at SAFREA have their dirty little fingers in pies with shady passive aggressive editors who butter some contributors bread on both sides (who cares about someone elses little mishap), they'd rather defend their private little club within a club, pet the little cash cow than stand up for a fellow member (me) who got shafted to the tune of R15 000. Who cares about honesty and ethics as long as your bread is buttered, right?  And who cares if the 'tough guy' editor treats you like dirt, as long as those cozy little relationships with other freelancers remain. 

 Interestingly enough, when I started posting news of my Amazon books to the SAFREA group you could almost hear a frozen, resentful silence.  A million 'well dones' for a Blog Post on how to make a Turkey Sandwich, but not a single thumbs up for a book on the Oscar Trial.  Interesting.

Is that a group you want to be part of?  Where we are jealous of someone elses success, because that success shows someone elses inadequacies?  Where you try to undermine someone's success as a way to feel better about your lack of achievement?

I'm not sorry I'm no longer part of a group who I'd basically allocated to my 'Junk mail' email folder because 95% of the stuff they discussed was pretty puerile.  You ask a question, about needing a personal contact, and some dumbass who thinks they're a smartass says: "Have you ever heard of Google?"  

I did ask SAFREA to provide an official reason for my expulsion but thus far, they haven't furnished me with one. Fortunately, since moving on from SAFREA I seem to have improved.  I guess some people have the effect of 'dumbing you down'.

Moving on...

I've had the threat of having to move (again) hanging over me for most of the year.  I've deteriorated quite a lot physically over the 2nd half of the year.  I lost around 8-9 kg after December 2013, and kept it off for the first of the year.  From around June/July the weight slowly crept back up.  I'm still not quite the Michellin Man I was last year this time, but it is frustrating to have made so much progress and then giving up the ghost to some extent.

A final lowlight, my year started with a trip to George. Despite travelling to London and doing an Epic Namibia trip in 2013, somehow I was still suffering from FOMO in December, and so when I got hold of a similarly single girl friend of mine - I'd known her for a while - we decided we were going to hang out, and just enjoy each other's company over the festive season.  Do things together, just be outside and doing lots of physical things together etc. And of course when I arrived in George, she was already gaaning aan with some other dude.  I guess I was her back-up.  I don't know what I was but it was a lousy situation.  In some ways it was good to meet new people and to get out, but it sure as hell wasn't fun having my nose rubbed in it.  Which brings us to:

The Highlights

I said goodbye to one or two relationship in 2014, but it was really gratifying to reconnect with some old friends, some going a really long ways back (David Maartens, my squash buddy), and others that I've lost touch with a tad, for no good reason.  (like Dennis Perry, my movie buddy).

My brother Casey and I have also had a bunch of dinners and squash games this year, which has also been a lot of fun. My resolution for 2015 - to beat my boet in squash, as things stands he remains unbeaten!

Photojournalism has been fairly good this year, despite an unsuccessful attempt at a career change at the beginning of the year.

I was published for the first time in Afropolitan, People, Longevity, Africa Geographic and Pick 'n Pay's Travel Ideas.  I was also published for the first time in Business Day, with my name appearing above the Business Day strap on the front page.

I think I finally smelled the coffee in about the middle of the year. I had been trying to maintain an unfulfilling friendship with an ex-girlfriend and I finally decided to just let it go.  Not just the relationship, but also the friendship.  I basically said: "You're single, instead of resisting it why don't you embrace it for once."
 And that's how I handed myself over to The Dark Side.  I decided being single was the perfect opportunity to put my heart and soul into my writing. Which is by its very nature a very solitary pursuit. I wasn't 100% sure what I would be writing, I just knew I'd be spending a lot of time in The Dark Side and that it would involve writing.

It was around about that time that I met Vernon Baumann a local crime fiction writer.  I'd contacted him with the idea of investing effort and attention in my fiction aspirations; but what happened was I let slip that I'd accumulated a lot of rejected Oscar Trial journalism.  He told me how to get it Kindle ready and left me to do the packaging.  On June 6 I published REEVA IN HER OWN WORDS, and the next day, RECIDIVIST ACTS. Both of these were essentially magazine and newspaper pieces that had been accepted and then rejected by half a dozen publications. To date, of the 8 part series, these two are by far the best selling of the narratives.  Incidentally, today - the 22nd of December - is the 200 day milestone.  Since publishing on June 6 (almost 7 months ago) I've had exactly 4 non sales days.

Currently I have 18 books available on Amazon, two of them available in paperback.  So while I generated around 6 books over a 7 month period (averaging about 80 000 words), I edited 10 more (besides the first two) which were works of fiction, or satire that had been stewing in the drawer for years. The reviews (huge sigh of relief) have been mostly positive across all titles, and I think REEVA IN HER OWN WORDS has done particularly well with 14 reviews versus titles marketed by major media companies and given massive amounts of PR.  [Reeva: A Mother's Story has 15 reviews to date, and the the Mandy Wiener/Barry Bateman book  has 19.  Carlin's book has 4, and Marida Fitzpatrick, a News24 journalist whom I interviewed only to be asked later not to publish a review, just 2. Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen is one of the best books of the bunch, 39 reviews and you know why?  It interrogates the bullshit no one else was prepared to touch.]

So while 2013 was a good year for me in terms of travel and photography, 2014 has been an immensely productive year in terms of writing.  I've also established some affirming and satisfying relationships, especially with Lisa Wilson (Juror13) who co-authored the last 4 Oscar Trial books with me.  With Megan Dale I've also written a few magazine articles on Fitness, and I'm hoping that will continue to lead to other projects.

I was also interviewed on two major radio shows, Kom Praat Met My, Johrne (apparently his longest interview ever) and Jacaranda FM's morning show with mischief maker Rian van Heerden.  In that show I was set up with Piet Byleveld.  Since this is included in the 'highlights' section, ja, I guess it went off pretty well.

Other highlights included launching South African MAN after a separate deal fell through.  Within a few days of launching the site we'd already secured two advertisers, and in our first month we achieved over 20 000 page impressions. Leslie's podcasts from New Zealand have always come with a smile and often with lots of inspiration too. Working with my mate Brian Stepanek ( a dude I met in Seoul, who now lives in Bloem, what are the chances?) and designer Christo Norton has been really good, and I hope in 2015 I can be a better boss, with more and better perks.  It's not always easy to bring a baby into the world, but I think together we've done a phenomenal job.

And my trip to Plettenberg Bay to cover five star accommodations for Plett Tourism in October was a very welcome change of scene.

And meeting Hanneke Dannhauser.  She's an extraordinary young woman, and besides the Abpocolypse Series, it's been real sharing her journey through also not the most straightforward year.

Hopefully these setbacks make one stronger in the places where you got punched in the gut.

Update:  I've just fetched Bubbles from the vet.  She's lying on the floor next to me now, her neck shaved and covered in a bunch of yellow stitches.  The vet says a puncture wound missed an artery in her neck by about a millimetre.  He says the skin around the artery is shredded, but the artery itself was sort've hanging in the tissue, undamaged.

As I've mentioned above, most of the best stuff about this year I can't mention, and so too, some of the worst stuff.  What I can say is this year has been a test of...I guess...spiritual resilience.  In many ways it felt like my circumstances could not get any worse, and I guess if I didn't enjoy my work as much as I do, I might have gotten pretty despondent, and even depressed.  I've had my moments. There's a been a truckload of sleepless nights and insomnia that skriks for niks. No, it hasn't all been fun, the Post Strike for example has effectively denied me an income (Amazon pays by cheque) for about five months.

I have been fortunate though, to be able to rely on a small handful of friends - I guess I could call them 'patrons' - who have helped and supported me through not the easiest period.  THANK YOU to you, you know who you are!

Looking forward to 2015: Lisa and I are bringing out a hilarious satire titled The Blade Rower.  Most of what we've written thus far on Oscar has been fairly dry analysis, and as we've gone further into the narrative we've become increasingly prepared to laugh at how ridiculous some of the people have been in this court case. The Blade Rower is a satire that gives Lisa and I an opportunity to vent some of our true feelings about how idiotic many aspects (and personalities) have been to us.

I'm also starting a part time job in February just to relieve some of the financial strain, but if I know my luck, on the day I start work, the Postal Service will finally deliver.

Then there's a biography I've been working on, about a well known headmaster.  I have interest from a major print publisher, but as things stand, I think I'm going to maintain creative control and publish it the same way I've published all my books thus far.  A lot of people still prefer printed books, but this year, for the first time, ebook sales were more than printed books.  And so I think one has to stick with what works.  I also enjoy making my writing as interactive as possible, and an interactive narrative somehow brings books slightly closer to gaming, and movies, and I have to say, I find that terribly exciting.

 I'm counting on a far more physical year than 2014.  As productive as I've been with language, I've allowed my conditioning to slip far more than I'm comfortable with. Hence I've entered the Two Oceans (56km) - which will be the furthest I've ever run in one go.  Today's run (nearly killing the dog) just shows what can happen when you set foot outside your door...

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