I am sitting in a café in one of Johannesburg’s wealthier suburbs, Morningside. The music is blaring, huge echo around me of hip and trendy people meeting, chatting. The coffee cups clinking behind me on the coffee counter. To tell you the truth I can hardly think it’s so loud, let alone begin to fathom what my first blog should be about. I’ve been advised, that I need to write to my Podcast audience, so that they can get to know me better. The volume is high all around me, as well as inside my head! I keep thinking and feeling like I am going to have a panic attack!
I can’t do this!
Everyone else seems to be tuned into their meeting, others chatting with their friends intently. The people on their laptops all look like they are in great flow, focused heavy in concentration, and they know exactly what they are doing here.
I on the other hand do not!
If I do have a panic attack, what will I do? Will I just get up and walk out, without paying. I couldn’t possibly do that, that will bring more attention to me. What if I just, freak out without any control, and shout so loudly, that all this clanking and chatting comes to a shocking silence and everyone stares at me! That will be so incredibly embarrassing. Keep your cool Jen, stop thinking!! Then the cycle of thoughts goes over and over in my head again, like a hamster on a wheel.
All this silent inner trauma, while I’m sitting alone at a table in a busy café originally coming here with the idea to write my first blog. The sound gets even louder, I must gain focus on my cappuccino. It’s not a fucking joke! I must pull my shit together. I know why I’m feeling like this.
I am afraid of what people will think of me! I’m afraid I’m going to write something, and people will think it’s stupid! I’ll lose my audience. I’m afraid I don’t know what’s going happen to me, next month, or in the next six months. I don’t have a stable normal job. I haven’t since I left my recruitment company. I’m thinking that I’m throwing myself out there like a fool, for what, a silly idea, a dream in my head to be a well respected interviewer, podcaster and talk show host. What if this all fails?
I’m afraid my efforts will amount to nothing.
This cafe is called Naked. Of all names, Naked. I feel bloody naked! I feel super naked and exposed! On all levels. As I mentioned, I’ve been advised that I must write something personal so that my listeners and followers can get to know me a little more. Who is Jen Rodd? Well, right now Jen Rodd is sitting in a café to do something she doesn’t want to do. To do what I have been told to do, and Jen Rodd feels vulnerable, exposed, and ironically NAKED!!! That’s who Jen Rodd is right now.
If my Italian friend Giuliano were hearing my thoughts, he would pull off my accent and say … “ohhhh I feel sooooooooo exposssssssed”. I would burst out laughing really loudly, because while I understand the loaded nature of that mocking sentence, I know he loves me anyway, and it would take me straight back to the moment, and the island where that sentence became a stamp to my name.
Roughly eight years ago, we were riding our bicycles on Texel Island in The Netherlands. It was one of those experiences which I didn’t enjoy doing.Looking back HOWEVER, I see colour and I feel alive.
Actually… Stay with me for a moment now…because I seem to be veering away from the panic attack. I’m gaining focus, I have less attention on myself in this café, sitting here all alone, and somehow, I’m caring less about what others could be thinking of me now. Perhaps now I’m starting to look like I too, actually have a reason to be here, somehow now I feel that I do have something to share …
A story for you…
Myself, and my husband Camiel, were spending a weekend away on Texel, one of the famous Dutch islands, with our very best Italian friends, Sara and Giuliano. We all lived in Amsterdam at the time, food brought us together and food will forever keep us together-a story for another day.
They all decided that we should go on a bike ride to see the island. I on the other hand was not so enthusiastic. In Holland you cycle everywhere to get from A to B, so cycling was not a novelty, rather a necessity, and in Holland the weather most of the year is pretty darn cold!! I pictured sitting by the fire, reading a book and having a few good laughs.
So, peer pressure and majority rules. There we were on a bike ride through Texel. Now on this day, it was very cold, and I really don’t fare well in any temperatures below 10 Degrees. I go into a state of rigor mortis.
It’s pretty flat in The Netherlands as whole, and the islands are no different. There’s a lot of water, sand and longish wispy grass.
Texel is known for its lamb, so you will see a whole bunch of lamb dotted all over the island grazing in the fields.
As you cycle, cold and merrily with your friends, carving through the grassy flat fields, the colours which will lock into your mind’s eye, are greens, whites, yellows and then grey on the tarmac, and a lighter grey in the sky above you. Perhaps you see the odd black spotted lamb, among the many white ones.
Eventually after cycling for what seems like forever, on the repetitive canvass, you’ll arrive at the ocean.
Here you will meet the North Sea. A rough blend of faded-brownish-blue-green water mass, with a lot of white sea horses fighting for the shore. It’s a windy day!
You will get off your bicycle, because you have cycled all the way to see the sea. You will walk down onto the ice-cold sand. Standing there bewildered now, as to your own whereabouts and why you cycled all this way in the cold so see this, You’ll be distracted by a few colourful kites flying in the sky, and you will see a good few brave men, doing pull ups into the cold air, as their kite surfers get yanked with the wind, high above, into the grey clouded mass.
My bones were brittle, my toes numb. I don’t have the flexibility to enjoy the moment.
There were no cafes to lose time in, or drink wine in and warm up our frozen bones. So, we got back onto our bicycles. I was desperately wishing that I was already back at the lodge. Meanwhile realising that I have another forty minutes to cycle still! Another forty whole minutes before I could feel warmth, comfort, a fire on my skin and a drink a glass of red wine.
I really had to put negative talk aside and soldier forward!
So, cutting our way back through the icy wind we went. Back through the same canvass of long wispy grass, enveloped by the same greys, greens, browns and yellows. The same many white lambs and the odd black spotted one.
It was probably about halfway back home when we passed an area which had a gust of wind so strong that not even ten thousand men would have been able to fend off. There I was, on my bicycle cursing whose ever idea it was to hire these bikes in the first place! The others were laughing so loudly, thinking this was a huge joke. Of course, they are all Europeans and know what cold is. I on the other hand come from South Africa and cold for us is a maximum of three months in the year, and a normal one layer of clothing, and a jacket will do the trick. Not in The Netherlands!
We ventured into this day to cycle around this iconic island, and to see the beautiful ocean; carpe-bloody- diem, I thought! We went, we saw, but the journey was not yet conquered! Laden, with layers upon layer of clothing and thick winter coats, pushing each peddle, felt like a ten-kilogram weight at a time. “For what” I was thinking? A couple of lamb, wispy grass and a few fucking kite surfers! Getting home felt like forever, repetitive and never ending!
This gust of wind that invited itself from out of nowhere, was the final blow. At this point I shouted out so loud to the other three…
“I fucking hattttttttttte this!! I feel so exposed!” To which everyone burst out laughing.
Since then, that sentence has never managed to lose itself in time and space. It is forever stuck to me, glued on my forehead. I am always reminded of it in any given opportunity by my friends and my husband — the joke is on me!
Now to this day, I have come to understand myself better, that I really don’t like to be in a situation where I feel I have no escape, and no control. Where I feel I have no protection, and the wind, rain, the cold, and the sun are beating down on me without my permission. I don’t like the cold! I hate it if a draft blows on my skin, I really don’t like to go out when the wind is blowing at all. I even hate the sun frying my skin to a raisin. But I mostly hate, having layer upon layer of clothing on me so that I can’t even lift my arms up properly. I like to be in control, and in my comfort zone.
But you see, this is the thing! If I stuck myself in those last two sentences above: in control and in my comfort zone… I would have nothing to share with you.
I would not have lived.
I would not have moved to London and started my own recruitment business. I would not have had my heart broken so many times and fallen in love even more. I would not have been booed by three hundred people in a public live talk show when I asked a vulnerable and brilliant question to man just released from jail, to be told afterwards by the directing crew, that was the best interview they had ever seen; and then to learn that I must own my own shit and believe in myself if this is what I am going to do — ask questions.
I would not have stood up on stage in front of a thousand people to make a fool of myself because the events manager failed to inform me of the missing award-winning film in the segment that everyone was expecting while presenting the final best documentaries at a major documentary film festival. Then to learn, that actually, I made it out alive and that I have what it takes to stand up on stage in front of a thousand people and make it work. I would not have started my own podcast show and learned about all these beautiful and wonderful life stories, which I have had the privilege of sharing with so many people, in the hope and understanding that these stories have in fact changed so many lives. And, right now, I would not be back in South Africa after 23 years away, close to my family, in my unstable homeland, and feeling a great sense of pride, and that I have come a long way.
I would not forever be the laughingstock, of my closest people, in the reminded that to be exposed, is in fact living!
To feel naked is being alive. To be sitting here in this café, scared of what others, and you my dear reader, listener, or follower — might think of me, is the exact gust of wind I need to brave through, so that I can understand and learn the next best thing about myself. In doing so, perhaps my exposure and vulnerability helps you just a little bit in some way.
The point is friends, we all need people around us to take us out of our comfort zones, and we all need to be exposed to the elements of life. Be it the natural elements of the universe, or the even to be exposed to the harsher elements of judgment. We must brave the uncomfortable and the uneasy, so that we can feel the heartbeat of life. Otherwise, we will just sit by the fire, and it will be Groundhog Day forever.
Expose yourself, and let’s be naked together.