What keeps you tethered to your life?

16 Dec

58 18th

This is 58 18th Street, Parkhurst. It used to be the house I owned. Or at least, I owned a third of it (my ex-husband owned the rest).

This address still holds power for me, because it represents the last time I was a person of consequence in Johannesburg. The city of gold is a city of stuff, and to matter in this town, you need to have a lot of it.

Back in 2008, I mattered. I owned property. I was paying off  a car and I had a good job in senior management. Then I moved to a new life in Sydney and that fell apart and so I came back and then things imploded. I’ve been trying to put the pieces back ever since, something I’ve chronicled fairly extensively elsewhere.

Now, I am a demographic anomaly: at the very age at which I should be solidifying my place in comfortable, middle class society,  I have nothing. No children, no spouse, no car, no house, no job. I am free in ways that very few people my age can conceive of. But at the same time, I feel completely out of step with the expectations of society and the lives lived by my peers – and that’s a very uncomfortable place to be.

Every now and again I meet people who remind me of my own situation, like Fatima (below), who sells hummus and chickpea fudge at the Bryanston Organic Market, and used to work as a project manager for WPP before she moved back to South Africa. She sells the hummus because she has to, she says. She’d love to earn a salary again.


Everything is up in the air. Besides the schlep of packing and the availability of seats, there is nothing to stop me from getting on a plane and flying to Sydney tomorrow. Now that the Land Rover contract has come to an end, the only things tethering me to this life are family ties and the fear of having to start all over again.

You all have things that keep you tethered to the lives you lead. I used to resent some of the things that kept me tethered; now I long for them even as I fear committing myself to them. Not knowing where you’re headed is a very lonely place to be.

18th street

Suburban certainty. I miss it.


4 Responses to “What keeps you tethered to your life?”

  1. Dave December 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Would it be cliche to say “I thought I was the only one…”? At age 38, I’m 9 months into rebuilding my life after a spectacular cataclysm. I’m about to mail my family, to ask why I am doing this…what is this journey for…because there are days it feels like I’m living this life for a host of other people, and not really for me…that I’m just whiling the time away until I don’t have to anymore. So, what keeps me tethered to my life right now is other people. It’s certainly not me.

  2. PM December 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    A sense of exploration, the wonder of “What next?”, a desire to see and observe and understand–and for those things that seemingly can’t be understood (Newtown comes immediately to mind), a sense of patience, awaiting the unfolding of mysteries–both good and bad.

    Oh, and the hope that maybe I can make something better, make a difference somewhere.

  3. PM December 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    What about your art, Sarah? Is there a connection between you and people who now possess some of your art? Is there a connection to people who like your art, but don’t possess any–who like to view it? And what about your readers? Isn’t your writing another “art” of yours?

    Connections do not come solely in the form of things. You can be tethered to people, ideas, institutions and practices just as well.

    I expect that the lack of possessions will bring these into much clearer focus for you–so tell us about them.


  1. She asked, “What keeps you tethered to your life?” I am not sure. « Bloggsy Malone - December 16, 2012

    […] What keeps you tethered to your life?. Journalist adventurer Sarah Britten asked this question, after some deep revelations about her own life. At this very point in time, I am about to email my family and ask them to remind me why I am doing this journey. It’s not an attention thing – I need a little help here…I am lonely, and this time of year is not one I relish. More and more this journey feels like it is for other people – which is fine, because it should be a story which can help anyone in my situation – but it feels very much like what I want is being excluded. It’s fair to say that’s all bullshit, but still…I feel it. […]

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