Digging For the Light

My current memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, (published April 2014) isn’t my first attempt at memoir. I started what I thought would be a memoir twenty-two years ago. At the time, I thought I had begun to write so I could  finally record all those stories I’d been telling people ever since I arrived in America from Africa. Stories that came from growing up in a small Zambian copper mining town and a sisal plantation in Zimbabwe, as well as all those road trips my family took to Congo, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya where my larger-than-life dad always managed to wangle invitations to the most unusual places. I had plenty of material. What I didn’t know was that I’d intuitively chosen writing to explore my own personal myths in an attempt to reconcile the past.

I ended up with a 500-page unholy jumble of flashbacks. It took another eight years to “straighten” out my mess, only this time I ended up with a YA novel and sequel, Monkey’s Wedding and Mine Dances, with two teenage protagonists. A white girl and a black boy, set in Zimbabwe and Zambia. The scope of my story had become too large, or so I believed. Or else I wasn’t ready to dig all the way into the bedrock of self.

That opportunity came when my husband of twenty-five years started disappearing for weeks at a time without explanation or apology.  The marriage had been headed for the rocks for a while, but I hadn’t expected this. I had deluded myself into thinking I could fix it. Scared, hurt and angry, I started writing Loveyoubye to vent, but mainly to gain insight. To complicate matters, I had to return to South Africa to help my mentally impaired brother move from one residence to another. And then there was the dog. The love of both of our lives. She was getting worse. What to do. He became more subversive. I tried harder. We wobbled along. I wrote. Without giving away the ending of my story, I will tell you this, through searching for and finding those exact words that brought to light the deepest parts of me, I found release and power.


Fun, Fun, Fun!

Back in  February, I took a trip home to South Africa to visit my son, Layne, and his family, and to attend a couple of weddings.  Lots of sweet family bonding (grown son Layne to his workmates: “my mommy made my sandwich this morning.”)

Me, Daegan, and Layne at Illanka's wedding
Me, Daegan, and Layne at Illanka’s wedding

And then last month, I spent an incredible two weeks in Spain and Portugal with my other son, Darin, his family, and in-laws. Nine of us. They’re all foodies and adventurous, so we had a blast. We synched right into 2 o’clock lunchtimes and 10 p.m. dinners, which, in Spain for us, always included tomato bread, Jamon Iberico and fresh sardines–in any form: small white and raw, or big and grilled.

In front of our Barcelona piso--nephew Axel and Kylie the Great
In front of our Barcelona piso–nephew Axel and Kylie the Great
My grilled sardines in Seville market near our piso
My grilled sardines in Seville market near our piso

Funny incident in a very swank restaurant in Seville. Intrigued by the “chlorophyl” soup on the menu, I inquired as to the ingredients. “Que?” came the answer from one of the woman servers. This time, I mimed my question, mouthing the words as if she were deaf. “Ah,” she said, realization dawning and then, looking pleased with herself, said slowly and deliberately in a thick Spanish accent, “Chlor-o-phyl.” The soup was delicious.

Chlorophyl Soup
Chlor-o-phyl Soup

I’ve never been one for Sangria, but I must say there’s nothing quite as refreshing as the way the Spanish make it, especially on a hot summer afternoon. Portugal has its shots of Ginja (a traditional Portuguese drink made with sour cherry ginja berries), available around every corner in alcove-like bars or in these huge enclosed markets filled with food stalls.

Sharing Sangria with Lily
Sharing Sangria with Lily
Shots of Ginja in that Seville market
Shots of Ginja in a Sevilla market

There’s a certain joie de vivre that’s evident in both Spain and Portugal: that music trio, in a sprawling Seville market near our piso, that sprang to life as the market was closing at midnight just as my daughter-in-law and I were making our way home after dinner with the rest of the family. We stopped. I ordered a Ginja, she got a beer and we found a table out on the cobbled street. Little kids charged around, chasing each other and playing futbol in the street. I rocked in place. She pretty much did too. My PhD, non-finger-snapping, non-dancing, serious daughter-in-law. It’s good to get away.

Music at midnight

Portugal had some surprises for me: piri-piria deliciously hot spice prevalent in Southern Africa and Angola, and of course, Maputo (old Mozambique–what used to be Portuguese East Africa, where we spent many a holiday). And then there was that custard-like tart with a self-forming crust that in South Africa the Afrikaners call melktert that I came across in a Lisbon cafe. I even met a thirty-something-year-old Portuguese waiter who waxed nostalgically about living in Johannesburg for the first fifteen years of his life. Small world.

Melktert (milktart) at Lisbon cafe near our apartmento
The old red light district (taken from our 18th century apartmento window in Lisbon)

Must say, though, the Spanish and Portuguese aren’t big on veggies. No matter, Salmorejo, Spain’s version of gazpacho (pureed tomatoes, onion and bread, topped with Jamon and drizzled with olive oil), as well as blistered Padron peppers, more than made up for it.

Samorejo with shrimp
Samorejo with shrimp
Tomato bread and Jamon at 4 Cats, Picasso's hangout
Tomato bread and Jamon at 4 Cats, Picasso’s hangout
Dining in the street in Barcelona
Dining in the street in Barcelona

As for all the magnificent buildings and churches, many with Moorish influence, there are way too many to mention. Except for the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s giant basilica in Barcelona. This was the most awe-inspiring structure I’ve ever encountered. A truly mystical experience. It wasn’t the religiousness of it, all the icons, crosses and paraphernalia that struck a chord, or even that hush-like aspirational resonance some churches acquire over time, although it definitely had that. To me the building, which was begun in 1882 and still in progress (Gaudi died in 1926) was a living edifice, a testament to the spirit of creativity. Louis Sullivan, the great American architect, described the Sagrada Familia as “spirit symbolized in stone.”

Tower Sagrada

Me in Sagrada
Inside Sagrada Familia

My horoscope for 2015 predicted foreign travel. It also predicted that I would be socially very active with friends and family, have fun at parties and social gatherings, and that my friendships would deepen. Uncanny. Right on all counts. And we’re only half way through the year. What’s next? Maybe a trip to New York to meet with a publisher who’s going to give me a giant advance on Monkey’s Wedding? Wait. That’s not foreign travel. Okay, how about just a phone call from said publisher instead, and a bike/river cruise instead, one that will take me from Vienna to Budapest? I’m ready to go again.

Me by steps & graffiti
Sevilla graffiti

Kylie and me hugging Me & Lulu at lunch first day

Kylie and Lulu-Ole
Kylie and Lulu-Ole!

What a Year It Has Been!

It’s Loveyoubye’s first anniversary today!

Me, Pete, Janeen, Dawn

It has been an entire year since I hit the stage at Laguna Beach Books clutching my fresh-off the press memoir, Loveyoubye. There I sat with bad hair, (perfectly reflecting my fear-filled chaotic thoughts), feeling as if I were about to be dashed on some invisible rocks below. I am a bushbaby after all, more comfortable in the wilds and anonymity of the Zambian bush. Instead, it turned out be one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Call it an “emergence,” if you will. You can read all about it here.

Since then my journey with Loveyoubye has been exhilarating, life-affirming and exhausting (it takes a lot to get a book noticed!). Along the way, I’ve made some wonderful new friends. And then as a bonus, during the last six weeks, Loveyoubye has received three awards: Feathered Quill’s Silver Award for memoir, finalist in Forewords’ IndieFab Book of the Year, and finalist in the International Beverley Hills Book Awards.

Looking ahead, on April 18th, I’ll be at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, on the USC campus in Los Angeles, meeting and greeting, and signing books. I’m really looking forward to it. The festival is a book lover’s dream, and this year I’ll actually be a part of it.

Meanwhile, I’m charging ahead with getting my novel, Monkey’s Wedding published. It’s all spiffed up and making the rounds of agents and publishers. Mine Dances, the sequel, is next. I’ve got to ramp it up a bit after all those changes I made to Monkey’s Wedding.

What I’m really looking forward to though, is starting something new. I’ve got a couple of ideas gestating. Onward!

Sunshine, Family, and Good Hair

I haven’t posted for three months! I’ve got excuses though: a nasty bout with Shingles (the aftermath of which continues to plague me), and two botched eye operations. To top it all, I contracted bronchitis a couple of days before I left for South Africa to visit my son and his family, and to attend the weddings of my two step-granddaughters. Three weeks later, I’m revived, the bronchitis burned away by the 90-degree South African sun, plenty of sleep and hugs, evening chats by the pool, and hanging out with my hilariously refreshing sixteen-year-old grandson, Daegan. To satisfy my taste buds, I’ve been indulging in my old favorites: biltong, tangy gherkins, Peppermint Crisp, Bovril, fish paste, and nougat.

2015-02-12 11.58.24

Last Thursday, I was treated to a day-long visit to Dinokeng Big Five Game Reserve, outside Pretoria. The 490-acre reserve is partly-owned by my step-granddaughter’s fiancé’s parents. Get this, rhinos are rounded up at night and placed in a protected enclosure because of the poachers. The elephants are tagged and monitored. Definitely not the Africa of my childhood, but back then it wasn’t open season on rhino horns and elephant tusks.

2015-02-12 11.08.30

I was dismayed to discover I  couldn’t remember the names of the buck we saw, except for impala. My dad must’ve turned in his grave. All those trips we took through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, for all those years, when the animals weren’t always in game reserves, with him pointing out this buck and that, and then quizzing me. It has been a while, Dad. (That’s a red hartebeest male below.)

2015-02-12 13.45.59

We spent the night in one of the individual lodges. Something out of a House Beautiful magazine, with air-conditioning in the bedrooms and a jacuzzi right at the edge of the bush. Definitely not the round thatched huts I remember, yet it still managed to maintain its South African identity.

2015-02-12 09.34.56

My last wedding is this evening, an elaborate affair for Illanka near The Cradle of Humankind area, at Memoire, an old farm converted to a wedding venue. We’ll be spending the night, followed by a champagne breakfast under stinkwood, willow, leopard, and acacia trees. And then I’m headed back to Southern California, a nasty 22-hour flight. I’ll sorely miss my family. I’ll also miss  the “good” hair I’ve been experiencing!

Looking Back at My Day of Fear

I do my best thinking hiking up and down the hills of Laguna Beach, my adopted city. This afternoon, I’m heading up that one hill that parallels Laguna Canyon Road near my home with my Staffies, Fergie and Jake. Got a lot on my mind. The hill is steep with fabulous views of Catalina and sunsets. It was up one of the higher hills I figured out the meaning of life. Okay, maybe not the entire meaning of life, but certainly some key elements.

Loveyoubye_Full Cover 9781938314506 6Dec2013.indd

Today, the publication of my memoir, Loveyoubye, Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, is on my mind. It’s coming out April 8, 2014 from She Writes Press and I’m freaking out. Me in the public eye, giving readings. In front of people.

I stop to  watch the dogs chase a rabbit. It was my Jazzercise buddy’s comment the day before that I could be on Oprah that set me off. Totally unlikely of course, but it sent me running to my dark place, the one where I’ve already spent some time anguishing over the actuality of putting my life out there. I got over it, well, more or less, when I sent the manuscript for Loveyoubye to the publisher. But now the reality of going public is looming.

It’s Sister Damian Marie’s fault. She was the one who gave me this phobia about being in front of a group, adding to my good South African children-are-to-be-seen-and-not-heard issue. That time she sentenced me to an entire week of standing in front of her class at St. John’s Convent School in Nkana, Zambia. There I was on display below the banner she had strung above the blackboard–“To Thine Own Self Be True”–all because of that excuse letter I had written for myself. I can still feel my smirking classmates’ eyes bore into me.

There I was on display below the banner she had strung above the blackboard–“To Thine Own Self Be True”–all because of that excuse letter I had written for myself. I can still feel my smirking classmates’ eyes bore into me. “I guess I never got over it,” I tell the dogs, and we continue up the hill. Of course, if it weren’t for the American Sisters of Saint John the

Of course, if it weren’t for the American Sisters of Saint John the Bapist who came to Nkana to school us heathens, I wouldn’t be here in Laguna Beach. Them with their rich slangy accents, their inviting American scenes plastered all over our bulletin boards, their art projects, and their sometimes unconventional ways. That’s what inspired me. Despite whacking us over the knuckles with rulers, their rigid religious beliefs, and their disdain for us, they fed my curious nature. At twenty-three, I left Africa, and years later, I made it to Laguna Beach,

That’s what inspired me. Despite whacking us over the knuckles with rulers, their rigid religious beliefs, and their disdain for us, they fed my curious nature. At twenty-three, I left Africa, and years later, I made it to Laguna Beach, capital of the unconventional. This is where I finally became an artist and a writer.

And this is where I will have an opportunity to get over that humiliating day in Sister Damian Marie’s class. Her with that damn banner strung above the blackboard, always pointing to it like it had to mean something to me. Hell, all I wanted to do was survive her class.

Now, it has meaning for me. In the coming months, I’ll think of Sister Damian Marie’s banner and I will survive being in front of the class again, but, this time, I will understand what it means to be true to myself. I will complete the journey I began when I started my memoir. Reading out loud, speaking my truth, I’ll take one more step to the authentic self I aspire to be.

Great News, Bad News & Even Better News

I just looked at the date of my last posting: October 24th, 2014. Well, at least it was in this year. Here’s what’s been happening since then. Good news first.

I Finished My YA novel,  Monkey’s Wedding!!!

Zimbabwe sunset

In my last posting, Weirding OutI wrote that I was thirty pages from the end and that I wanted to get it done by that Thursday, which was November 1st. Well, it didn’t happen. Instead I got the shingles. That’s the crappy news.

Overnight, a gang of little gremlins carrying blowtorches and hat pins took up residence on my left hip and my stomach, and have been burning and stabbing me for most of the day, and with all they’ve got after midnight. Oh, and then there’s the itch. The rash isn’t even there anymore. It’s all the nerve endings under the skin, which those little bastard gremlins are playing like a harp, discordantly of course. I’m told this can go on for two years. I’m all nerved out. I can’t concentrate. Everything hits me wrong.

Except for Monkey’s Wedding. Working on it gave me a focus I couldn’t find doing anything else. It made me feel less helpless. It gave me back some of my power. The only thing, though, I found myself changing the story completely. Now, the ngozi, you know, those powerful fire spirits in my story, instead of being controlled by the witchdoctor Anesu, and vanquishing evil Karari at the end, they take her over and set him free. And then they kill Elizabeth and Tururu and take over the world. Wait a minute! Those aren’t gremlins under my skin with blowtorches! It’s the ngozi. They must’ve disguised themselves as shingles and have taken control. Oh, well, I think this new version sounds a helluva lot better than my stupid, family/political/mystical/coming-of-age drama, don’t you?

Weirding Out

I’m weirding out. I can tell. I’ve been spending  too much time alone: a week up in the mountains with just the beasties for company, and now I’m hunkering down to put the finishing touches on Monkey’s Wedding, my YA novel. Here’s the blurb:

Zimbabwe sunset

It’s a time of turmoil and change. Britain has just declared the country a Federation along with its two neighboring countries without consulting the natives. Many are starting to resent white rule. All thirteen-year-old Elizabeth McKenzie and fifteen-year-old Tururu, her family’s servant, want is to be friends. But circumstances conspire to work against them. To make matters worse, a local witchdoctor has called up ancient fire spirits to wreak havoc that will make the British overlords look like saints.

The last time I visited Monkey’s Wedding was right after I completed my memoir Loveyoubye. I was ready to send it out again, but a quick peek told me I could do a helluva lot better. The experience of writing a memoir had given me a whole new perspective and a confidence I never had before. So here I am, thirty pages from the end when all hell is about to break loose. I want to get it done by Thursday, that’s when this one publishing contest closes.  So I guess I’ve got to stay weirded out until then.

Art and Love Gone Wrong

Second of a series of excerpts from my memoir Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, released April 2014. 

Quick catch-up. My husband starts taking off for weeks at a time. No explanation, no apology, just yards of attitude. After twenty-five years of marriage no less. Here I’m thinking back to when things were good between us.

2014-10-07 01.27.35

I remember the day I cast his face in plaster of Paris for the mask. He lay on his back on the cement front deck, Vaseline smeared all over his face, his beard and moustache matted with the goo. I’d finally persuaded him to go along with my experiment, but he almost lost it when I kept slathering on Vaseline. He couldn’t even stand sunscreen on his face. So there he lay, two straws sticking out of his nose while I kneeled beside him with a bucketful of plaster, slapping it on. I hoped this was the way it was done. All I knew for sure was that I had to hurry and finish before the stuff set. Just as I was about to plop down the last handful of plaster, he grunted.

“What’s wrong?” I yelled. Sticking his index finger in his ear as if I’d broken his ear drum, he made a rolling motion with his other hand for me to hurry.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m almost done,” I said just as his hand came down on top of mine. Plaster flew everywhere, some of it plugging the end of the straw sticking out of one nostril. He made a snuffling sound and, Frankenstein-like, struggled to his feet.

“Wait, wait!” Jumping up, I glanced around desperately for something to clear the straw. A bamboo twig? Too thick. He flopped back down and growled. I crouched over him.

“Snort it out!” I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. Doubling over, I staggered around, crying with laughter. He reached blindly for me, his growl now a muffled roar.

“Sorry,” I managed to gasp, and I kneeled beside him. I touched the plaster. It had set.

“Listen, I’m going to get this stuff off right now, it won’t be long, okay?” I bit my lip to stop the giggle that bubbled up and started tugging on the edge over his forehead. He roared in pain.

“I told you we needed more Vaseline!” I shouted. Twenty minutes and a million microscopic tugs later I held a hair-speckled mold of Larry’s face in my hands. He sat up and glared at me.

Now I couldn’t help the grin that stole across my face. His encouragement had led me to the world of the arts, a world I’d yearned for back in Zambia and didn’t know it.

Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound (support your local bookstore!)

And for worldwide FREE shipping, go to Book Depository

Book Review–“Mortals” by Norman Rush

Here’s the book description:

“Mortals chronicles the misadventures of three ex-pat Americans: Ray Finch, a contract CIA agent, operating undercover as an English instructor in a private school; his beautiful but slightly foolish and disaffected wife, Iris, with whom he is obsessively in love; and Davis Morel, an iconoclastic black holistic physician, who is on a personal mission to “lift the yoke of Christian belief from Africa.”


The passions of these three entangle them with a local populist leader, Samuel Kerekang, whose purposes are grotesquely misconstrued by the CIA, fixated as the agency is on the astonishing collapse of world socialism and the simultaneous, paradoxical triumph of radical black nationalism in South Africa, Botswana’s neighbor. And when a small but violent insurrection erupts in the wild northern part of the country, inspired by Kerekang but stoked by the erotic and political intrigues of the American trio—the outcome is explosive and often explosively funny.

Along the way, there are many pleasures. Letters from Ray’s brilliantly hostile brother and Iris’s woebegone sister provide a running commentary on contemporary life in America. Africa and Africans are powerfully evoked, and the expatriate scene is cheerfully skewered.

Through lives lived ardently in an unforgiving land, Mortals examines with wit and insight the dilemmas of power, religion, rebellion, and contending versions of liberation and love. It is a study of a marriage over time, and a man’s struggle to find his way when his private and public worlds are shifting. “

My daughter-in-law turned me on to this book; she thought I would enjoy it because it was set in Botswana. That was definitely part of my enjoyment.  It took me back to my childhood, when Botswana was Bechuanaland, a British Protectorate governed by a paramount chiefBut it was Norman Rush’s seductive writing that captured and entranced me. How does he do it, I kept asking myself, how is he able to just keep going inside a character’s head, off on tangents not related to plot or to moving the story forward, making a point over and over again in different sometimes hilarious ways, sweeping me along. To some readers this is a turn-off, to me it was icing on the cake, a deep penetrating way to connect with the characters; it was like I had a ringside seat, one I could slip back into after being away a while and pick right up where I left off. I knew these people. I wanted to know more.

I just ordered Norman Rush’s “Mating,” which takes places before “Mortals.” Can’t wait.




Gone to Mexico. Adios.

This is the first of a series of excerpts from my memoir Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, released April 2014.

Larry’s note lay on the kitchen counter when I got home from work: “Gone to Mexico. Adios.”

2014-09-10 00.24.04

This couldn’t be happening again. I smoothed the small, hot pink notepaper meant for quickie grocery lists. My fingers shook. His neat little boy handwriting—letters so small and meticulous—so unlike his laid-back attitude—made the words seem ordinary, like he’d checked with me, like I’d agreed. Just like the other three notes he’d left on the kitchen counter over the past eight months, same cryptic message with a few changes in the wording, always Mexico, always on the same multicolored spiral notepad. Those trips had lasted anywhere from a week to ten days. I’d thought that after his last escape two months earlier, that would be it; he’d get back on track, maybe finally let me know what had been bothering him.

It suddenly struck me that our white VW was missing from its usual spot beside his 1973 green Chevy van in the vacant lot next to the house. He’d been driving the smaller car ever since he started working on the van’s engine two months earlier. I hadn’t even noticed. So would he be sleeping in the VW?

Or had he finally taken that surfer pal’s offer to stay at his Ensenada beach house? The guy had been inviting him for years; surfers down at his favorite spot in San Clemente were always inviting him on surf trips. They just wanted to hang with him. Everybody wanted to hang with him. He never went. He hated staying with other people, hated to be obligated to anyone.

After the shock of his first unexpected departure, I started thinking that maybe that’s exactly what he needed, time alone on a surfboard down Mexico way. Out in the ocean, catching waves, with that occasional brush with a dolphin he treasured so much—this was where he found his spiritual center. Maybe he’d finally grieve the loss of his mother. She died right before he retired, which was when he planned on spending more time with her. I knew that was a big deal for him. He felt guilty. Not that he said anything about it. No signs of grief, even at the funeral—well, except for convulsively squeezing my hand. The shrink told me he was probably depressed and advised lots of loving understanding. As far as our seeking counseling together, Larry told me I had the problem, not him.

I thought back to our confrontation after his last defection, two months earlier. Not that much different from the other times.

“Okay, so are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you keep doing this?”

“Doing what?”

We went back and forth like this for a bit, with me becoming more and more agitated because of his stonewalling. This, of course, just made him calmer and me crazier until I stormed off. This was how most of our confrontations went. But then he’d come through with a self-effacing sweetness and life would continue.

I glanced at the note. “Adios.” I felt my jaw tighten.

Amazon Review:

This delicious memoir has an emotional sweetness that spares no one. The story sweeps from apartheid era South Africa to picaresque Laguna Beach, and then back again as vibrant, flawed, and loving characters, including the dogs move forward. Each has a gift for life. The writer gives all the characters their say, and a bit of respect in most cases. It is the writers attention to detail that brings each of them to life, and thus each has roots in the story. She does this while maintaining a running drama of the mundane and erotic interruptions that pepper the narrative. Rossandra is such an exciting writer. She has an amazing command of the language and her emotional pitch of tragedy and triumph is sublime.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound (support your local bookstore!)

And for worldwide FREE shipping, go to Book Depository