I was given a year, not to live, but to write…a book. I didn’t have to get a job, cook or clean, unless I wanted to prove I wasn’t a freeloader. For that year I didn’t prove anything. Tried. Failed. Learned.
My parents gave me a choice, finish college or live in Johannesburg, South Africa, with my aunt and uncle for a year. I packed my bag; one suitcase which could not exceed 44 lbs., was a challenge, considering it had to hold a year’s worth of clothes, but I did it. (Mini skirts don't weigh much). It was a great experience, a year living under apartheid, but as I’ve often said if I had a do-over, I would have stayed stateside and finished college; Rutgers.
My year 12,000 miles from home, taught me a lot about how the world works, about how what we see and hear on the news isn’t actually what really happens. No matter how free we think we are, how informed, how sophisticated the internet, (no internet back then), we see what someone else wants us to see; government, media, individuals. Political diatribe aside, this is not what this is about, it’s about that book I had a year to write, that book which tuned out to be a miserable attempt at a failed education. That book which started it all.
I don’t remember the plot, probably because it didn’t have one. I do remember the name of my main character, Violet. Where the hell did that name come from; the color of her eyes maybe? Don’t remember, don’t care.
I do remember the hum of my uncle’s electric typewriter, plugged into a transformer the size of a New York City phonebook. The transformers were used because US power was different than RSA power. Enterprising Yanks and South Africans stole the transformers out of the US Coke machines. My uncle didn’t steal it but he bought it from someone who did.
After a quick tour of the beauty which was South Africa back then I spent two months pounding out the story. Don’t remember what the story was about, probably because it didn’t have one. Day after day I communed with those keys dreaming about fame, fortune and a flight back home. I hated South Africa. I wanted no part of system which not only strangled blacks but the whites who ruled them. I should have kept a journal, a diary; I should have jotted down my experience like a good writer does, but I did not because I was so wrapped up in misery.
I wanted to go home more than I wanted to breathe.
But as life does and people do, I switched things up, got a job, fell in love and then went home with a marriage proposal and a dream of living half way around the world forever. Couldn’t do it though, couldn’t give up freedom both personal and political.
And the book; gone to the memory of a girl named Violet. What did I learn? That writing can replace loneliness for a while but by the time you reach a hundred pages you better have something of value to hang on to besides the hum of a typewriter and an unrealized dream.
Writing a book is a project, a serious project taking dedication, discipline and time, lots and lots of time alone in your head and away from people. I’ve written two. Loved almost every minute spent creating something other than myself and almost love it as much as life.
South Africa is free now. It’s wonderful the news reports say, it’s beautiful Oprah sings, but I’ve heard about the ghetto which once was my beautiful neighborhood. I’ve heard about their Aids epidemic. Do I ever want to go back, maybe someday?
And what about that young beautiful Swedish South African boy I fell in love with. I think he died; if not from life than in my mind. It never would have worked. No transformers for hearts.