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So does this actually mean I’m committing to this? Not my strongest point. I usually say no to things, and end up doing them anyway. For fear of failure, or letting someone down. I remember the advice in “Juggling for the Complete Klutz”, about the first rule being a willingness to drop the ball. Maybe it’s cos ‘they’ teach us to do everything with all these rules. Play the piano with these fingers. Type with these fingers. Use these words. Chicken, but I’ll probably decide on the last day of the month if I was actually doing this or not.
Ever check the expiry dates on your medicines? Just happened to today. Woke up with the flu, the first in two years. And the cough drops had expired. Funny that. Expired. We use that word for dead. The cough drops were dead. So’s the diarrhoea medicine. And the heavy duty pain killers. I wonder if Olbas can really expire. Smells good anyway. If I could learn one Buddhist trick, it would be to determine my own expiry date. Imagine that. To be able to tell everyone: “tomorrow I will be checking out”, with all affairs settled. No need to worry.
Sandton the other night was an eye-opener. The Convention Centre. Al Jarreau live. Fairly expensive tickets. And almost the entire audience was black. I’m not sure why I was quite so surprised. The richest formerely white suburb of Johannesburg. There’s barely anything there *I* can afford. Perhaps working in the NGO sector I’ve not seen just how much things actually are changing. Five years ago we wouldn’t have seen that. I feel relieved when the disparity is about economics, not about skin colour. That’s the way of the world. And Mr Mbeki’s neo-liberal economic policy. But things are changing, slowly.
“Nobody goes into town anymore” the woman said. To which Har Bhajan replied, “When I was last in town, there were lots of people there…” Of course, what she meant was, hardly any white people go into town anymore. (What is that, the way certain people become invisible, depending on who’s looking?) In truth, I don’t, if I can help it. Only with a specific mission at hand. Apply for a new ID book, renew a passport. Labour Department today, to pick up my unemployment cheque. I wonder how many people at the Sandton concert have been into town lately.
I feel the need to explain what I wrote yesterday. “I’m not a racist, you understand!” (Well, how much can you make yourself understood in a 100 words?) That’s something we do a lot here. Explain ourselves. We also laugh a lot. At ourselves. And each other. Hey, it’s better that the early nineties, when it was hard to find anyone who was a racist, or supported apartheid! You didn’t talk about it. Now we talk. In fact, now there’s a whole industry developing around it. Change Management Consultants. Not a job I’d want. I admire (some of) them, nevertheless.
When I was growing up, my Dad used to fill in the “religion” box on forms with: Non-sectarian. At the time I thought that was our religion, there were Catholics, Protestants and Non-sectarians etc. Recently I realised that I’m quite religiously non-sectarian. Makes me realise if we ever move really far from our childhood religions. Or, like the Prodigal Son, do we leave only to return bringing with us (hopefully) our *own* language and accessories. Before my Father died I said to him, “you give your children gifts, but they don’t always use them in the way that you intended”.
Michael said I should be writing books. Books, mind. Not just “a book”. Of course, I’m flattered. Everyone has at least one book in them, ‘they say’. And then there are those who produce a *body of work*. How about that?! For my 6th birthday, my father gave me The Complete Works of Lewis Carol. I’ve still only read ‘Alice’. My favourite story/fictional character. Played her twice in my acting days. Once on stage, then spent a year dubbing the voice on 52 episodes of Japanimation. I’ll think about writing a book. In the meantime, I’ll stick to 100 Words.
I installed a stats programme on my website today. “So?”, you might ask. And you’re right, it’s no big deal. Except to me. Growing up with an electronics technician in the house, I never really learned to do technical things. Dad was always handy. I’d take them to him. There was a computer in the house from the early 80s. But it held no interest for me. Never understood the fascination of playing with a machine. I’ve never played a computer game. But when playing with another person at the other end of the computer became possible. Now THAT’S fun!
The sun finally came out today. We had two weeks of spring in early September. And then, on September 12, the sky turned dark and it was colder for days than I’ve ever experienced in Johannesburg. I came here 18 years ago, to do a job for a week, and here I still am. After years of “big clouded winters”, one of the things that kept me here was the weather. Dry sunny winters, with brief afternoon thundershowers in summer, that you can smell approaching. Mmm… At least that’s how it used to be. I’m glad the sun came back.
I asked my friend Karima why she’s been renting a car for the past year. Why she doesn’t just buy one?! “And this differs from your hiring a tv for the last 10 years how?” she asked. It’s true. I’m not quite sure anymore why I never bought one. At first I couldn’t afford it. And then I think my Dad convinced me that the tube on a colour set eventually blows, so better to rent and hand it back. He still had a black and white set when he died. The hired set went back today. Got my own.
Being born in (arguably) the most beautiful city in the world is like losing your virginity to a great lover, it spoils you for anything else. Both have been true for me. On the beach in San Francisco, I remember thinking, “this is the best you can do?!” But Johannesburg is remarkable too in it’s way. Built on a mine dump, in the 50s the council gave each family a tree to plant (or so the story goes), and now it is a tree-filled city. I can live without the sea. I can’t live without trees. Cape Town has both.
African people believe you can only communicate with God through the Ancestors. Makes sense to me. How can I connect with the Divine, but through knowing where I come from? Not having children myself, one of the fascinating things about watching my friends have children, is seeing how two people that you love, make a third, who’s more than the sum of the two of them. A new person, much like them. And yet different. “The sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.” Sitting up late at night, I’m reminded how I am like my father.
Sophia arrived today. Do you have a friend like this? You met somewhere, on a job, through a mutual friend, and s/he’s somehow been there ever since? Not in the sense of being taken for granted, but reliable, dependable, unconditional. That’s Sophia. She lives in London. So seeing her brings mixed blessings with it. Her visits punctuate my life. Last Christmas. Next birthday. Next year. A year older. Now we are all connected. We can keep in touch. But “doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” sings Carole King. I wonder, will we ever live in the same city again.
Ever thought about how long you travel to and from your place of work? I calculated that I spent SIX MONTHS of eight years travelling to and from my last job. About 4320 hrs! And this to a physical space I didn’t even enjoy being, to sit in front of a computer all day, in air-conditioning, under fluorescent lights. Now I work at home, with the sound of the birds, and the view of the trees. It’s more lonely, but less stressful. I don’t have the medical insurance anymore, but I feel a lot healthier. I sense I’ll live longer.
Sometimes I think if I’d had little brothers I’d have learned to understand men better. I’m struck when I’m with my friends’ little boys how affectionate and tactile they are. Much more so than the girls. Toni reckons it’s because they’re more needy than the girls. The girls are independent and contained. The boys seem to need assurance that they’re loved. How is it that they go from these vulnerable little creatures to “when men are depressed they invade another country”? Something seems horribly wrong. There’s a school of thought that says that violence is a way of making contact.
Today is the Day of Reconciliation in South Africa. Originally ‘twas the Day of the Covenant. Kind of like Thanksgiving. The Afrikaners promised God that if He helped them win the war against the Zulus, they would observe this day in His name, and so they did. After transformation, the holiday remains, but it’s symbolism has changed. It’s also the day that signifies the end of the working year, as most people take leave from today until the new year. In a moment I will take down my suitcase and rescue my holiday clothes from the drier in the laundry.
“A life is a lot of paper work” says my friend and playwright Steven Dietz. I have to echo the sentiment of the character in “Hackers”, who said “Yugh…HARD COPY!” Sorting through medical insurance files today, I have to wonder, is this who I am? The history of my body’s aches and pains? Keep all papers for five years, my Dad said. Tax forms and love letters perhaps, but I don’t think all this is useful to me. It just fills me with anxiety, for which no doubt I will need therapy, but don’t have insurance to cover. Holidays tomorrow!
So this is the real test…writing in a book with a pen and sans word count. I wonder why it has such a different feel to the computer? The finality of ink meeting page. Unalterable. I always find it strange sleeping in a new place. I wonder how we got from our nomadic days, when carried everything that we had and needed from place to place, to here. Now we seem to have so much ‘stuff’, but how much of it do we really need? A change of clothes, a toothbrush, a good pair of walking shoes, a good book.
Our currency, the rand, now stands at R12 to $1. This from R7 to $1 last year, and 77 cents to $1 in 1977. Like 9.11, it’s unnerving to speculate where it will all end. If it continues at this rate, it means that international travel will become completely inaccessible to middle class South Africans. It’s ironic that the flip side of globalisation, is the separation and isolation of the world’s poor from the rich. My friend Kate reckons maybe this is the time for us to get out and see our own continent. Sounds like a plan to me.
Just a few minutes amidst the pine before I begin to feel the air going in and out of my lungs of its own accord. It’s hard to believe that one is actually in the city. Probably the antithesis of this for me was being on the London Underground. Convenient, but why would one want to live like that? Like a mole, with advertising screaming at you wherever you turn. No birdsong or trees in sight, unless you hang out in Hampstead amongst the rich and famous. Our money may be worth shit, but the wealth of our natural environment...
A day filled with people. That’s so rare for me. More often than not, most people that I encounter are at the end of a computer screen. The virtual world adds value, but it’s a poor substitute for the experience of the smiles and the sound of laughter. I often feel like Lillian Hellman who said that she was eternally haunted by the ambivalence of wanting to be with people when she chose to and solitary when she didn’t. It’s hard to know, when my time in Cape Town is only on holiday, what real life would be like here.
Snippets of conversation overheard in restaurants. Kate suggests what’s profound about them is their mundaneness. I think she’s right. Our common dreams and fears. Extraordinary food at Rory’s. Asian chicken with potato rotis and green beans. Sounds ordinary enough. But subtle spices and arranged so beautifully on the plate. Garnishes of Chinese noodles and quall eggs. Brandy tart that creates orgasms in your mouth, and then a sharp cherry to bring you back to earth, just as you’re slipping over the edge. And Rory, in his bandana, sitting outside smoking a cigarette, smiles when he sees he’s made you happy.
Bumped into Ann out of the blue in a shopping centre. Ann is George’s wife. George was a friend of my father’s. When apartheid was still alive and well, George, a coloured man, wanted to open a bicycle shop, but because it was in a “white’s only” area he couldn’t sign the lease, so he asked my Dad to be his sleeping partner. At his memorial service I spoke about my father’s non-racism. After the service, Ann, a simple and kind woman, came to me and said, “What you said – that’s exactly how it was.” Thanks Dad for your courage.
We had to search for “soft serve” to accompany us on our walk along the beach today. You know, the twirly ice cream cone? Well just how old ARE you? Took us about an hour, but I was on a mission, and Kate was game. One of signs of getting old seems to be the “they don’t make things like they used to” syndrome. I wonder how long it will be before children don’t know the meaning of clockwise, records… I can’t seem to think of any other examples at this point. “Neither can I” says Kate from the bath.
Watching “Home for the Holidays”, I’m reminded of how contradictory the family organism is. Those whom we most love, and at the same time drive us mad. Well, that family makes most of ours look relatively tame. (Pun intended.) I don’t remember any food being flung in our house. It’s strange, as always, to be in my father’s house, surrounded by his things, and him not there. I grew up alone with my father. After I left home, he met a wonderful woman and helped her raise her two daughters. He left them his home. He left me this family.
Saw two very old friends today that I haven’t seen in half a dozen or so years. Graham and Ferdi. I met Graham the day after I arrived in Johannesburg. I was intending to stay for one week. That was 18 years ago. They are Graham-and-Ferdi no longer. They haven’t been in years. But some things just don’t change. Expressions. Mannerisms. (What was it that Kundera said about gestures in Immortality?) This town seems to agree with both of them. No difficult memories for either of them here. Not a bad place to migrate to. I feel closer to returning.
What a strange evening. Seeing old friends, and suddenly it turned into a scene from “The Big Chill”. Unexpectedly there were half a dozen or so of us there, who knew each other from another time and space, only now there’s another generation of people along for the ride. Didn’t take a death to bring us together though. It took mixed race couple, Soli and Toni, and their four gorgeous children, whose biggest skill is to create a non-nuclear family. Soli once said, “I want my children to know there are different kinds of people in the world”. It shows.
So wonderful to see Lara again, 17 years old, and all grown up and beautiful. When she answered the phone, I wondered if she’d even remember me. I last saw her about four years ago in passing in the supermarket, before that, years before. “I still have the book you gave me”, she says. I’m surprised, “What book did I give you?” Is it possible that I gave a six year old a book about Buddhism?! Apparently I did. I’m happy to have reached a time in my life when I can now be a friend to my friends’ children.
Great to be in a full cinema for a change. That’s Harry Potter for you. I guess we all want to believe that we’re special and don’t belong in our strange dysfunctional families. The little boy next to me - who looks white, but I can tell from his accent that he’s from a coloured family (you have to be here to understand) - tells me that he hasn’t read the book yet, but will be heading off to buy it when the movie is over. It strikes me that Harry’s done much for inspiring a reading culture. Thanks JK.
Staying at my father’s house for a few days. “Why can’t you see this house through anything but childish eyes?” he once asked. It’s a good point. I guess it has little to do with seeing, and more to do with cellular memory. It’s how I feel when I am there. (It’s easier to sit here in the restaurant and write about how I feel, than to write these words when I am there. I still feel vaguely uneasy there.) I wonder if a house has some sort of cellular memory. “If these walls could talk.” What would they say?
Half a lifetime ago, I was in Group Therapy. One of the tasks after the sessions was to do “Writings”. And if they weren’t done within 24 hours, this had to be discussed at the next session. So… Gary, Jenny, Jennie, Josi, Alice, Wendy, Penny, Susan and Dan, wherever you are: this one’s for you. I managed my commitment, and wrote 100 words a day for the last 31 days. Apart from the pleasure it’s given me, I hope this can act as some small restitution for the time I took up discussing my resistance to writing! Happy New Year.
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