The Art of not Thinking: Reviewing ‘Alice isn’t Dead – Part 1’

The cards like to say that “Life is a Journey, enjoy the ride.” Advertisements also like to say it. They all simply assume that a ride and a journey are two pleasant things that co-interact into a harmonious synergy. They don’t allow for the idea that these things might not be pleasant at all. They just probably don’t have the experience…

I’ve mentioned being on a journey and one of the things this ride has taught me is that I tend to think too much. I am an expert thinker and with schizophrenic type job that both forces me to spend a lot of time engaging with people and spending vast amounts of time on my own, I have perfected the art of overthinking things, especially because my imagination and the world I used to be able retreat to within it has become a little barren.

Here’s a little life lesson.

People who think a lot aren’t necessarily right in the conclusions that they come to. They are just normally very convinced of them. As I was starting to become…

So, in a desperate attempt to try and find ways to distract my thoughts and simply enjoy all of the rides that I am forced to go on, I’ve tried to find ways to distract myself. For the longest of time, my imagination hasn’t been the key. It was in fact a door with a lock on, one that I’ve only recently started breaking through to. Other means had to be consulted and, seeing as driving under the influence and drugs are simply wrong, I’ve taken to listening to podcasts. Podcasts are a delightful side effect of our ever-expanding technology. In the same way that self publishing has opened up the floor for all sorts of authors, podcasts and the sites hosting them have opened up the floor for all kinds of shows. Some are good, some are bad and some, a very select few, are simply unmissable.

Alice Isn’t Dead is one of them. I can describe it simply as being a little off beat, engaging and unique. Three things that are very hard to achieve in this modern day life. A serial fiction, it follows the story of a truck driver who is searching for her missing wife while crossing the wide span of America.  The format is engaging, with the driver actively communicating to the listener in the moment. Sounds of the truck intermingle with a strangely intimate monologue from a person whom I can relate to. My wife isn’t dead or missing of course – but I am a woman alone, driving endless highways while seeing both wonders and horrors alike.

A woman who understands the frustration of someone cutting her out of her lane and who knows the volume at which such lonely curses can be cast…

Part one of Alice Isn’t Dead spans over ten episodes or “chapters”, if you will, each telling of a unique occurrence that skilfully weaves itself towards the climax of the tale. I’m reminded a little of the thrill I used to get while watching X-Files (the old one before the age of smartphones…) where the mysteries addressed are never fully solved though expertly concluded. I’ve missed those mysteries, of wondering how the writer will bring it all together. I’ve missed engaging into a story that I could not predict. It is what sets this podcast aside from most tales I have come across over the past few months.  And, it has kept me engaged enough that I have not felt the need to think about my own inner spirals to the incorrect conclusions too much.

It is not an audiobook but a strange piece of creative art that somehow works in the medium in which it is set. If this review was about dishing out stars, it would probably have gotten five out of five. As it is, this isn’t to be seen as some sort of rating, simply an insistent buzz in the reader’s ear that should encourage one to listen to it.

Alice Isn’t Dead can be found on online here or on the Podbean app (that can be found in Google Play Store) or iTunes.

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Experience – The Unexpected Part 2

The last weekend in February 2014 was a nightmare for me. I had come back from the hospital’s emergency rooms with a diagnosis most dire. According to the radiologist, I had torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder and was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery that following Tuesday. I had been booked off from work for a week, something that would’ve been a blessing under less tense circumstances. As it was, I was devastated, not because of my shoulder, my mind had a strange way of just accepting it, but – I was almost certain that I was going to lose my job. I had been warned by the emergency room doctor that I was most probably not going to be allowed to drive for three months. Driving played an integral part of my work and my company had a habit of getting rid of people who couldn’t do what they needed to. From firing my manager for tearing all of his knee ligaments, to firing a colleague on his death bed of brain cancer, tolerance towards injuries wasn’t going to be on the table. I had had to call our HR officer to explain to her why I had to leave the office early. She had listened to me in shocked silence then tensely told me that she wasn’t going to tell my CEO until a week later because that would give me another month’s pay check at least.

I struggled to get my affairs in order that weekend, organising with people to take care of my pets, trying to figure out what I would need for at least a week in hospital (worst case scenario) and putting my contingency plans in order for when I lost my job. It was a harrowing two days, made even more so because I couldn’t sleep from the pain.

Monday dawned and I was whisked off to the orthopaedic surgeon by a friend of mine. The pain wasn’t any better, but the night before I had realised that I could move my arm again. Just a little, and it hurt like hell, but I was starting to doubt the diagnosis of the first radiologist.

I was very fortunate to end up with an orthopaedic surgeon who looked first and cut later. He was gruff, appearing almost irritated that I dare intrude on his practice… But he was thorough. He doubted the scans immediately, moving my arm, getting me to move it and finally deciding that he would rather have them taken again. I was send for the full treatment, an MRI scan, an x-ray and a sonar, all pointing to one thing.

My ligaments were intact. Damaged yes and I did have a muscle tear but it wasn’t big enough to require surgery. The main problem wasn’t my tendons or ligaments, it was my shoulder joint. I had bursitis, something I didn’t even know existed until it was pointed out to me. Essentially, in layman’s terms, its an inflammation of the soft pad on which my shoulder rotates. Anything can trigger it, though I was told that it rarely occurs in women my age. It is treated, not with surgery but with cortisone injections right in the joint. Surgery was a last option for treatment. All I needed to do was rest, see a physio, and come for injections once every few weeks until it cleared up. There was an underlying problem, with all the scans pointing to the possibility that my shoulder joints were degenerating due to a misshaped acromioclavicular joint. That would have to be corrected with surgery, but it was something I could post-pone until I’m ready for it. The first order of business was simply to get the bursitis to clear up.

It was as long a recovery as the surgery would’ve been – but it wasn’t invasive.

In fact, it was a message.

Something had to change. My body couldn’t handle the pace and stress anymore that I was under. I had to take it slow, take care of myself, be aware of my limitations.

I had to sort out my life because it wasn’t working. Some people are brought to realisations such as this by a miracle, an epiphany. I am such a stubborn person that the only way I was made to see on what a destructive path I was, was by dragging me to a halt through near crippling pain.

The bursitis took months to clear up, the pain lingered for weeks and still bother me sometimes. I had to go to physio simply to get the joint moving again. My medical aid didn’t cover half of the medication and procedures that had been done so I was at the mercy of a kind friend who did pro-bono work on me. And work? Work was unrelenting, unsympathetic. I don’t expect to be babied but in the course of those weeks in which I struggled to get permission to leave the office early to go to doctor’s appointments and physio appointments I realised that I had to leave.

It wasn’t going to be easy. For those who knew me before 2010 would remember how hard I struggled just to get this job in the first place. And, a part of me is a strong creature of habit. I wasn’t earning a bad salary, I just had to work my ass off to get it. I was conflicted, feeling as if changing my companies would be like a betrayal. There are very few things that are as stressful as a new job and with my shoulder, I didn’t know whether I would be able to cope.

But, I knew that I had to figure out a way because it also dawned on me that I wasn’t coping anyway. This injury was proof of it, even the situation under which it occurred wasn’t right. I didn’t want to find myself on dodgy roads anymore needing to change my tyre for fear of being robbed and murdered before rescue came.

And I didn’t want to work for a boss that had absolutely no humanity in him.

Experience – Unexpected, Part 1

2014 had started quite bleak for me. My last colleague and friend at my previous company had left us in January, one of 9 people who had moved on to greener pastures throughout 2013. I was completely on my own and the mercy of a somewhat unreasonable boss.  I was doing the work of 3 sales persons, monitoring all of the projects the veterinarians had started and doing grunt work like delivering product because our teams couldn’t dispatch anything in time.

I was at wits end come February 2014, travelling more than 8000km (5000 miles) per month. On one particular journey in February, I was rushing from the small town of Swartruggens to Zeerust (another small town) when I got a tyre puncture. Now, something I have to add is that this is quite a regular thing for me. I considered waiting like a damsel in distress on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere but then I realised that I a) didn’t have the patients to do so and b) didn’t want to risk being mugged. So, I got into my overalls that I normally keep for farm visits, changed the tyre and set on my merry way. I didn’t even think about it twice, apart from the grumbled realisation that I was going to have to replace another tyre.

The next morning however, I woke up in pain. I had been in an unfamiliar bed and had thought that I had simply slept the wrong way on my left shoulder. The bed and breakfast lady, (who treats me like a daughter rather than a client) volunteered to rub my shoulder for me. I allowed her to do so for about a minute but upon manipulation of the joint the pain was so excruciating that I soon bid her to stop. I drank an anti-inflammatory and went to my car where I discovered another problem. The shoulder refused to move. I couldn’t lift it, couldn’t change the gears, couldn’t even raise my arm to the steering wheel. As I sat there in my car, more than 300km from home, I began to suspect that I might have a problem. I went to the local doctor, hoping for an emergency consultation but the good town of Zeerust has only 3 doctors and on that particular day, only one was working. The secretary immediately pinned me for a foreigner and sweetly said that she could only help me the next morning. I explained that it would be a very quick consultation, but no. I had to wait till the morning. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse at that stage and because I had to drive home, I didn’t want to take too many pain medication so I lost my temper with Zeerust and decided to head back to civilisation. I called my friend and physiotherapist on the way home and requested that she sees me when I returned. She was able to fit me in immediately.

As luck would have it, with only one arm and no way to safely change gears, I was struck in one of the worst rains storms I had ever driven in that day. A journey that usually took me two and a half hours now took me four and I’ll be the first to confess that I was crying from frustration and pain by the time I reached my friend. She looked at the shoulder but her prognosis wasn’t good or comforting. I either had bursitis, an inflammation in the shoulder joint, or I had somehow torn my rotator cuff ligaments. I had to go to the emergency room but as I didn’t have the strength for it that evening, I stalled till the next day.

Which happened to be a Friday.

In hindsight, my timing probably wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been, but I still feel that regardless of what time one arrives at an emergency room, the level of service should always be professional. As it was, my experience hadn’t been very pleasant.

For one thing, because I’m not in the habit of putting up a performance, the emergency staff didn’t take me very seriously, thinking that I was there to waste their time. My shoulder was in agony, I could hardly close my hand from the pain, but I didn’t sit there with a moaning expression on my face declaring how much it hurt. I was friendly to the admittance staff, joked a bit and very clinical with the doctor as I described my symptoms. Her doubt was clear immediately and I would never forget how she had looked at me and said:

“Well, you realise that we will have to do a scan. And take x-rays. If it’s not serious and we don’t admit you, you will have to pay for it.” She had said it with so much doubt, implying that I was lying that I was angry immediately.

“I’ve brought my credit card,” I had told her and gave her its limit. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to cover whatever expenses I have. And I know that I’ll be scanned, that’s why I came here because despite my many talents it’s the one thing I can’t do on my own.”

In hind sight, I might’ve been grumpy because of the pain that I was in, but with a sceptical look, the doctor had taken me to radiology and left me at their Friday staff’s mercy. They were the ones who had the pleasure of delivering the blow of bad news to me. A hasty scan later, the radiology department confirmed that I had indeed torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder. The only treatment was surgery and I was lead back to the emergency room, with the knowledge that my life had suddenly changed in the blink of an eye.

You see, I knew that this surgery was complicated and it took months to recover from. The icing on the cake was that a few months prior, my CEO had fired one of our previous employees because had he had torn all of the ligaments in his knee and the CEO didn’t want to allocate him the given amount of leave. With my left shoulder out of action, knowing how difficult it as for me to drive, I couldn’t imagine that my CEO would spare me.

The emergency room doctor had turned a corner in her behaviour however. Upon seeing the results, she was suddenly concerned, even asking me in how much pain I was exactly. Despite my shock, I couldn’t help but be a little bit snarky.

“As much as I was in when you first saw me,” I had said. “More so now that my shoulder’s been moved for the scan.”

She had the grace to apologise to me and even offer pain medication. But, it was a very thin salve for a deep wound. They wanted to admit me to the hospital immediately, to schedule surgery but the orthopaedic surgeon was out of town and none of the other alternatives were available. I was scheduled to see the hospital’s orthopaedic surgeon the Monday and booked off for a week. Surgery was tentatively scheduled for that Tuesday and I was send home for the weekend to sort out my life that felt as if it had been irreparable turned upside down.

Of Aliens and Pigeons.

If you’ve been following my tweets you’d have noticed that there’s been a bit of an extraterrestrial trend in them. I’ll confess that I’ve had alien invasion on the brain (in no small thanks to Mass Effect 3 marketing – I present to you exhibit A).

Now, my gaming addiction aside, there’s actually a little bit more to this than meets the eye. The weekend before last I was dragged to a company function in which we treated our customers (and their partners) to a night away at a local game lodge. One of the activities presented there was Lazer Clay Pigeon Shooting. Although not nearly as fun as the real thing (which I did a lot in England), it was an interesting activity to observe and also, to see what my colleagues were capable of.

The ‘Alien’ theme took seed in my mind when I watched a colleague of mine miss pigeon after pigeon and after her fifth failed attempt at hitting the poor defenceless disk I found myself saying out loud:

“You know, when the Aliens come you’ll be amongst the first to go. I’m not hiding with you.”

The observers had a good laugh about it (though carefully when they saw me take the lead in the women’s shooting department and then finally almost win the shooting competition against the one client who had been shooting competitive for years…) and I got so distracted by the work that I let the subject drop.

It was only last week as I was driving from my one client to the other (through a desolate piece of farm land) that the theme came back. As I was driving around fairly early – there was nobody out on the roads. I found myself looking around and thinking:

I wonder if I’d notice if Aliens came and took everybody. Would they notice me? Would they not think to look in this god forsaken piece of land?
Maybe? Maybe not?

And of course, then I found myself thinking: What would I do if the Aliens came?

I’ve been amusing myself with this for the past week and although it’s not the most elaborate brainwave that I’ve had in the past couple of months, its shown me that I’m on track again, that what ever silence had trapped my mind in the past couple of months had dissipated and allowed space for more ‘silly’ thoughts. When I was in England I had reached a point in my life there that I had thought enough, that place where I had turned over every thought in my mind so many times that I was willing to just put it all on the shelf and let them sort themselves out.

I think (perhaps because of the extensive driving that I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks) that I’ve reached that point again. And, it’s a good point to be at.

So, hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me again. I’m hoping to continue back into some semblance of a routine and also log my writing progress (which I’ve been neglecting terribly).

NaNoWriMo is around the corner as well and yours truly will be competing again. I’m not shooting for the 100k words that I did last year. No, this time I’m hoping to accomplish something (And see a fellow Tweeter StillDormant in a dress) and to finally start working on all my outstanding projects again.

So watch this space and – if you see an Alien, call me.

I can shoot the hell out of it…

Power and a Reflection

I had one of my long business trips this week to a part of our rural countryside in the North West of our country. I travel there quite often and have come to have a standing arrangement with a Bed and Breakfast who take me in as their daughter, who sees that I am fed and who gives me treats which are not put on the tab of my account. I appreciate this, as it’s tough being on the road.
And, admittedly, as someone who eats most of her meals alone, it’s nice to sometimes sit down and have a family meal.
When I joined these people on Wednesday I was pleasantly surprised to find another addition to the family. A 19 year old American had joined them to experience the art of working and doing hunting in South Africa. It’s a part of a summer school project which had him and other youngsters placed out on farms in the surrounding area where they are to work with the owners so that they could learn what conservation was all about. This American, whom I shall name Sonny to protect his privacy, came from the city of New Jersey and have, to my knowledge, not had a lot of farm experience so this was all very new to him.
Something else that was new to him was the lack of computers and internet in his life because the family that he lives with comes from the BC age.
Before Computers.
In a strange way, I immediately found a strange kinship with Sonny – even though I didn’t express this to him. He was a foreigner, cut off from everything that he took for granted back home, and he was in an area where they not only spoke English just as a means of self defense, but he had no access to his friends or family if they didn’t phone (and the telephones lines are down more often than not in that area).
I felt sorry for him because I sensed in him the isolation that I had lived in for a short time in England. I had realized there how dependent we had become on the internet to keep in touch, to link up our lives with others. And, I had used it to communicate with my family – something he thought that he’d be able to do as well.
So, that night – as I was looking at him across the dinner table, feeling sorry for him that the family kept talking in a language that he didn’t understand, I offered him my work computer and internet connection – telling him that he could use it for as long as the battery held. He looked at me suddenly in a whole new light, in a way that could only be expressed as gratitude.
The thing was that, even though it was a bit of an inconvenience for me (I really needed to work), I realized that universally – we have to be other people’s family if they do not have their own close by. It’s something that carried me in England, where I went out with a kamakazi like attitude and build myself a family that rivals no other. People whom I love and depend on.
I saw a reflection of myself in this young man and realized that the best kindness that I could do for him, was to help him find some touch of normality in this foreign, isolated bit of the world. Even if it meant playing around on Facebook, it would give him some stability, some touch to the life he left behind.
Just as I had found ways to keep in touch with mine when I was far from home.