You ain't seen nothing yet
26 September 2017 09:15 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mandy de Waal

Thank God for science!

  • Mandy de Waal
    mandy de waal BW
    Mandy de Waal

    Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.

I am ashamed to admit it, but despite the fact that I was raised by an Arthur C. Clarke-reading agnostic, I’ve dipped into the self-help section. You know that burgeoning book category populated by writers such as the Duchess of York, otherwise known as “The Royal Disappointment”.

While not shaming herself on national television by pimping out her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, blogs on The Huffington Post:

“I married Her Majesty the Queen's best looking son. I agreed to become a naval wife. Two weeks after we were married, we were separated; he went to sea, and I went to the second floor apartment at Buckingham Palace. I was so sad without him. I saw him for 40 days for the first five years of our marriage. I was broken hearted. I missed him beyond words, beyond the description in these writings. I needed my man.”

If you’re searching for the literary style of which this writing is reminiscent, try William S Gray and Zerna Sharp’s “Fun with Dick and Jane” infused with a smattering of any Mills & Boon.

Fergusson’s self-help book “What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way” is filled with advice that should now come in handy, following her cringe-worthy confession on Oprah in which she referred to herself as “a tiny little newborn chick”. The book sports chapters entitled “Taking what life grants you”, “Spending wisely”, “Quelling panic”, “Rejecting rejection” and “Surviving your critics”.

But Fergusson is hardly a heavy-hitter in the self-help stakes, which is possibly why she’s selling access to “Her Majesty the Queen's best looking son” for about 500 thousand quid. The self-help big guns in South Africa for 2009, according to Nielsen Bookscan, were (drum roll):

“The Love Dare” by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Promoted as a “daily devotional that steers you through the fiery challenge of developing a strong, committed marriage in a world that threatens to burn it to the ground” this Christian book has sold more than 3 million copies and has been published in 23 languages. It is basically a year of “devotional invites” that dare you to enhance your relationship with your God and your spouse through rituals of reading, prayer and action. Chances are it will sell a few more copies following recent revelations in the Zuma household.

“Waag dit om lief te hê!”– No prizes for guessing this is the Afrikaans translation of “The Love Dare”

“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” by Steve Harvey which is sub-titled “What men really think about love, relationships, intimacy and commitment.” Harvey’s an American talk-show host who promoted his book on Oprah and the book’s all about showing women how to figure out how men work. No surprise that this is a best-seller.

But let’s get back to my confessional.

In a moment of weakness, I picked up a book written by Brandon Bays. Worse than that. I went to one of her workshops. I know, I know. Almost as disgraceful as the Duchess selling access to her ex, the Prince, but my mea culpa is that I had experienced a violent trauma, it was a profound moment of weakness and people I knew had recommended Bays to me. (What the hell were they thinking?)

What did I get for the R1,700 I forked out? (The price of the book, which thankfully I never read, and the workshop I walked out of?)

One yellow-haired Brandon Bays who claimed to be able to rid me of my shadowy ills with a process she calls “The Journey”. The marketing bumf promised: “The Journey is about Freedom. Freedom to live your life as you’ve always dreamed it could be.”

In retrospect, I realise this sounds a lot more like an advert for something with wings, but before you judge too hastily, let me reiterate that after my run in with violence, people were literally chanting “Journey, journey, journey” at me. The process was hailed as a breakthrough methodology that would remove all known and unknown psycho-toxins from my system. After about the sixth recommendation I thought I’d give it a whirl.

On the fateful day I experienced Ms Bays I arrived at a nondescript hall in Midrand that was populated by intense, artistic looking types. We were ushered into a hall packed to overflowing and I took out my pen and notebook (journalist’s habit), but the woman sitting next to me put her patronising hand on mine and said: “Put that away. There’s nothing here for the intellect. What Brandon says speaks deep to your soul. You will remember it with your whole being.” Later to my horror, I’d realise how right she was.

At that stage I should have run. But I had paid money and felt obliged to see what I was getting for my hard-earned cash. The show began with the yellow-haired Bays being introduced by one of her followers as something akin to the second coming and called “Her Holiness”.  Bays then walked up and down the stage, Anthony Robbins-style, and told her story while sobbing intermittently. Core to her process was a self-hypnosis where she dialogued with everyone who had ever transgressed her, and then forgave them at some imaginary camp fire. Apparently this dissolved a huge tumour inside her stomach which may or may not have been malignant. No scans were shown. No X-rays were offered. No doctors notes proffered. Everyone just took her word for this. I mean she wrote it in her book for Pete’s sake.

She then invited someone to come on-stage and have a personal journey session guided by “Her Holiness”. A diminutive, French man was elected from an eager crowd and taken on his own personal journey resplendent with camp fires, forests and a conversation with an imaginary psychopathic mother who by all accounts had abused him something horrible. At one point in the process, he appeared to be in a trance and wailing, “Mama, mama, mama.”

I should have left then, but the drama was much better than anything I’d ever seen on reality television, so I stayed. When the catharsis ended there was only one dry eye in the auditorium (mine) and we were shepherded off to another hall without chairs for our own personal journeys conducted by our fellow fools who had also too hastily parted with their money.

As the process began, I opened my eyes feeling much like the girl peeping during prayers to see strange faces engaged in a ridiculous ritual. Around me people were in various states of hypnosis. Some were are wailing, some sobbing, while others were quietly revealing their innermost anguishes to complete and absolute strangers.

This, quite frankly, was not something I was keen to participate in. I told my “journey cohort” I was leaving. She called a facilitator who called an overseer and soon there was a huddle of “journeyers” beseeching me not to quit. They earnestly told me that, if left to fester, the psychological wounds inside me could later manifest as cancer. I told them I’d take my chances and walked. They persistently followed in a gaggle suggesting all manner of diseases, but stopped short of threatening me with the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. By that stage I was laughing at them, but mostly at myself. What, oh what the hell had I been thinking?

If I’m in trouble now, I steer clear of the self-help section and head towards the science or philosophy sections of Exclusive Books because I know that’s where I’ll find a writer I can trust. Those sections are populated by people such as Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, logician, mathematician and Nobel Prize winner who didn’t base his thinking on hocus-pocus. Rather he based his writing on something we can all believe in. Science.

  • Mandy de Waal
    mandy de waal BW
    Mandy de Waal

    Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.

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