5 min read

Pruning Time

February is for letting go.
Pruning Time
Dr. Robert John Thornton - The Temple of Flora (1797-1810)

Hello loves!

February, from the Latin Februa, the month of purification, purging. It's still pretty grim here in the northern hemisphere, skeletal trees stretching into freezing grey skies.

One of the things I most love about living in the UK is how much it forces you to live with the seasons. The reason the British talk about weather so much is that there's so much bloody weather to talk about. The daily rhythm of my life here looks so different in spring, summer, autumn, winter. One has no choice but to exercise differently, eat differently, commute differently, socialise differently, dress differently. This is a huge contrast to Durban, where I spent the first twelve years of my life, where "winter" was about three degrees colder than summer, and "spring" was two weeks of mild wind around August. I kind of like the seasonality of England, having to completely reinvent my routines every few months.

And now, in frigid February, I feel like a bear sluggishly shaking myself awake after several months of winter rest. Since moving to the northern hemisphere, I now insist that the year really begins on 1 March, as it historically used to (this is the reason October is called October - it was the eighth month). January is no time for resolutions. There's no point attempting to improve yourself in the short dark days of January and February. All of nature is telling you to rest, to lie fallow. Nothing in nature is designed to grow consistently and infinitely. Expecting consistent productivity from yourself is a surefire route to burnout.

I have this Chinese money plant (Pilea Peperomioides), once my pride and joy. It's been getting more and more bedraggled over the past few months, its heavy main stem flopping over, leaves curling up in distress. I've tried so many things to save it. A grow light. More water. New fertiliser. Frequent misting. Nothing's worked: it continues to glare at me from the shelf. There's nothing so demoralising as being judged by a houseplant.

I know, someone call the houseplant abuse hotline.

A week ago, I finally took drastic action. I gave up.

I lopped off the tips of the healthier side stems and put them in a jar of water. Already, just a few days later, tiny roots are pushing through. In a few more weeks, I'll be able to replant those fresh healthy stems, and start afresh. I should have done this months ago, cut back the old to make room for fresh growth.

I've been thinking a lot about the power of pruning, about the liberation of letting go. Asking myself what other parts of my life need a good clear-out so that I can make room for the new. The pruning is often painful. Letting go of something you've poured your hopes and your time and your effort into is hard. But it's necessary.

Is there anything in your life it's time for you to let go of?

Because when I peer closely at the world, I can see signs of spring: snowdrops pushing through the soil, delicate cherry blossoms confetti-ing petals across the pavements, tiny pink buds on the tips of hazel trees sending their pollen on the wind. In Joburg, I hear it's still sweltering. But a new season's coming. It always does.

Some lovely things for February

  • Music: I've had Florence & the Machine's 2022 explosively joyful Dance Fever album on repeat recently, especially the song "Choreomania", named after the dancing plague in Europe in 1518. It feels like a good song for dancing in the springtime.
  • Adult books: Appropriately for the shortest month, I've been reading a lot of short novels. Durban-based writer Sven Axelrad's Buried Treasure is - indeed - a real treasure, a strange magical realist story about a girl who apprentices with a grave-digger who's losing his eyesight and has been burying bodies in the wrong graves, meaning that their ghosts are all stuck in the graveyard unable to move on. It's strange, poetic and constantly surprising. I've also been loving The Queens of Sarmiento Park by Argentine writer Camila Sosa Villada, about a found family of trans women who collectively adopt an abandoned baby boy. The story is meandering but the characters and setting are unforgettable. Nick Cutter and Andrew Sullivan's The Handyman Method is a fun horror romp about a man who goes mad renovating his house (very relatable, as someone who has recently bought a 140-year-old flat). Read it if you liked the TV show Channel Zero. For nonfiction, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah's The Sex Lives of African Women is an utter treat: a diverse collection of interviews from across the continent (and diaspora) about love, identity, violence and pleasure.
  • Kids and teen books: If you've got a generally reluctant reader around 8-10 who liked Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Louie Stowell's Loki: A Bad God's Guide to Being Good, try them on Eva Amores and Matt Cosgrove's wacky and hilarious Worst Week Ever series. For younger teens, I've recently dug Viking Boy by Tony Bradman, a rollicking adventure about a boy on a mission to rescue his mother and avenge his father's murder, with thick strands of Norse mythology. Gina Blaxill's You Can Trust Me is a twisty whodunnit dealing with class privilege and date rape that older teens will gobble up.
  • Games: Do you like 700-piece board games and also solving the climate emergency? Try Daybreak. One of the designers is Matt Leacock, who also designed the co-operative game Pandemic, and it feels quite similar in play style and scope. One to four players play as world powers trying to achieve "drawdown", where the world is capturing more emissions than we are producing, while trying to survive the crises resulting from rising temperatures. It's a great educational tool; I felt it really captures concepts like tipping points, sources of resilience, preserving existing carbon sinks versus speculative geo-engineering R&D, and the trade-offs we have to make between investing in mitigation and emission reduction. It's also extremely fun, once you get a hang of the rules (I'd hesitate to recommend it to people who haven't really played board games before; the rule set is fairly complex).
  • Poetry: I loved "Aerial View", a buoyant little poem by one of my favourite contemporary poets Jericho Brown, about how everyone venerates the lion, but he'd prefer to be a giraffe. I want to be a giraffe/And eat greens of every variety/Straight out the tree. I already/Like to get high. Lions need/Animals like us. We need no prey./I already won't chase anybody/For my food.

A little gift for you

Hey, do you want to read the first page of my work-in-progress new novel? YES friends, we're doing another monster story. This one involves a lot of body hair and sewers, and it's really an exploration of rage. I'm reworking the last act, then my agent is going to take it out on submission. Wish me luck!

Two requests

  • South Africans living abroad, do you know that you can register to vote in the elections this year? You've got to do this soon, though! Here's the link.
  • South Africans living in South Africa, have any of you ever struggled to get inaccurate information corrected on your credit score? Or, do you have some other wild credit score-related story to share? I'd love to interview you for an article I'm writing, please hit reply!

Wishing you all the courage to prune the dead branches in your life,