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Looking at her now, I wonder who she will be when she grows up. It seems certain she will be an only child, as her parents say they don’t want any more. She is just the age that I was when my mother died. Remembering myself then, it seems hard to believe that I was this young. She will be four in a couple of months.
Today she has claimed me for her friend. Lying in the shade under a tree, looking into her soft brown eyes, and swopping fairy stories, I feel touched and almost intimidated by her trust.
“Beyond the song and dance and the sound of gunfire the African continent is inarticulate,” says the ad for Lesego’s play,
. I wonder if that’s true? Sometimes it does seem hard to find the words. I am sitting at the
drinking coffee. Judging from how deserted it is, it seems the year is easing into itself. I haven’t been here for at least a decade, if not more. I try and imagine what it’s like during term time, alive with actors taking lunch breaks during rehearsals, and students wanting a break from the University canteen.
“Hey these lighties can’t act hey!… And this oke wants that oke’s goose. And that chick…” Eavesdropping on a conversation at the train station about a local soaps.
In the scheme of derogatory terms for women, goose always makes me cringe a bit more than chick. It somehow seems more loaded. (Or is it just that chick just seems lighter, smaller, cuter? Goose always seems to imply heavy, slow, stupid…) Thought the speaker seemed surprisingly sweet. That’s the way with derogatory terms a lot of the time, isn’t it? I suspect he was just using words. No offence was intended.
“Let your body breathe itself,” Ilse once said. It came back to me again today. The way, when I become anxious, I tend to hold my breath, and find it difficult to re-enter the rhythm of my breathing. But if I just relax, and stop trying to control the in and out process, my body does seem to know what to do without my help. After all, the body knows how to breathe when asleep or in a coma, what does it need my interference for?! Trust the body… trust the body… trust the body… trust the body… trust the…
I wonder how it will be when I live in Cape Town, and my intellectual and physical lives meet. Cape Town is such a physical place for me. When I live here I will be able to write a bit, and research a bit, and then go for a walk along the beach. Unlike now, when I unplug for two weeks, to walk and talk, and then back to the words on a screen and on the page and long periods without any social interaction. I wonder how the balance will be then. The best of both worlds I hope.
It’s my last sleep in this bed. Soon Kate will move, and things will change for her, (for the better). It adds a strange dimension to my life, seeing my friends on this once a year holiday to Cape Town, and catching up with chunks of change that have happened in our lives. It gives an uncomfortable sense of time passing faster each year. The year flies by, and the children seem so much bigger and more articulate each time. Not much longer that I can pass on outfits to them. In-between we adults have out little successes and dramas.
I love the way – when I stop trying to control everything – they seem to hang together so perfectly. Just finished reading my Stephen King book
, which I started at the beginning of my holiday. It seemed to be just the right number of words for what I wanted to read during the holiday, so I’ll leave you with some closing thoughts from him: “In the end [writing is] about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.” Prepare for take-off.
Is it just me, or have we – in our misguided attempts at cost saving – created whole industries for managing these costs? Think for example about your cell phone (if you have one that is, I don’t) of all the options, ‘products’ (yeah, right, when did services become products?) etc on offer. Per second billing, call after this time, this person, that person, and it’ll be cheaper. Cheaper than what? At my calculation, it’s almost as expensive to use a cell phone as it is to make international telephone calls (in SA at any rate). And people use them like toys.
I got side tracked by what became a ‘cell phone rant’ (no disguising my pet hate, huh?). My real point was this… in order to manage all these ‘products’, and whose dialling when, and whom, and exactly how much it costs etc, you have to employ a whole army of people to manage it. Yes, computers do some of the work, but there’re still the people who handle the accounts. Where do you think their salaries come from? The world has become invested in being cute. Designer this and label that. Let’s face it. We’ve become an excessively superficial society.
“Whenever I leave you, I feel exhausted,” says Romano. From anyone else I would hear this as criticism. But from Romano it’s more like “You make me think about so many things.” We see each other only once or twice a year. What with his schedule, and different lives. But history. So important at our age. He’ll mull over some of the things that we’ve talked about, until we meet again. I on the other hand have to go home and live with my head. I think too much. Mental indigestion. My exercise class starts again on Monday, thank God!
Sometimes I resist being in Africa, and resist seeing what I see. It all becomes too overwhelming. I suspect half my friends find me depressing because I am constantly commenting on poverty. And still others laugh scornfully when I mention I’m reading Suze Orman’s
Courage to be Rich
. But I can also see that thought is creative, and poverty/victim mentality does nothing to lift us out of dire circumstances. Perhaps this is why I become so frustrated with South African’s who don’t see the paradoxes, and aim only to live the good life. “A world in one country”, says Satour.
My thoughts feel so scattered at the moment. If I seem incoherent or contradictory, don’t take that as a reflection of my writing skill. I’m being less anal now about what I’m writing here. It’s a place to blah a 100 words of that swirling contradiction onto paper. If you disagree with something I’m writing, you’re right. It’s one great big paradox. Getting to the AND, rather than the BUT… a lifetime’s work. Sometimes I’m really impressed by people who are just able to go fishing/sunbathing. Am I driving myself crazy? Living with chaos. I WANT ORDER! Can still laugh.
Like culture etc, is pace something that can make us incompatible as humans? I talk with him on the phone and feel exceptionally pressurised. It recalls how I used to feel when I was working in an organisation. “I have to speak fast, or I won’t fit in all the things I have to do.” Is this how he feels? But could it be that time is more like pixels, not a fixed measurement at all? Perhaps as I slow down, and take one moment at a time, it expands or contracts to match my rhythm? He stressed me out.
Sometimes I feel like Smea. I can’t say I enjoyed
The Lord of the Rings
(too much battle, and too little scenery), but I did love Smea. I can completely relate to him. That endless conversation going on inside me between the kind and the wicked parts of me. I’ve always thought I have no talent for playwriting. Can’t write long passages of dialogue. But God, if I just listen to myself I’d have material. Can’t say it would be particularly interesting though.
Tom Stoppard once said: “I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself.”
I ranted at her today. “Are you going to sit here for the rest of your life?” She knows that I’m not the enemy. I gave her a Christmas present, and bits and pieces before then. But really. She’s been sitting there for a year now. “Instead of sitting here, why don’t you look for a job?”
“No job,” she said. I’m pretty sure she’s South African. Can tell from her accent. But her English is poor. I suspect she’s from the rural areas. Of course I knew what would follow.
“You got gel?”
No, I clean up after myself.
It’s hard to explain to anyone who’s not South African…
“What, you have a maid?!” people might ask.
But even the most hard line lefties do. They just use the politically correct “domestic worker.” Not employing people is not the answer, as it leaves a whole workforce of women – unskilled to do anything else – unemployed. The problem is I hate having anyone else clean up after me (and I live in a small space, and earn little). Cleaning is my therapy. Having said that I hate cleaning up after others! But my mess is
Let the cleaning begin.
When I look at my friends’ lives, there always seems like so much drama going on in them. But isn’t that just the way when there are people involved. So I don’t have much traffic through my life. There’s no virtue in that. What did I read the other day… something about, “If you’re really careful, nothing good or bad will ever happen to you.” But I do think it’s also an approach to things. Shit happens. It’s a given. No use ranting, or moaning, or whining about it. Perhaps I seem cold. I’m not really. The opposite is true.
Is it just my perception, or have people become increasingly more greedy over the last decade? From Enron to Worldcom to… Listening to the financial programme on the radio there’s news of another (SA) company, where the board of directors have illegally given themselves a bonus of millions. As someone once said: “How many yachts can you water ski behind?” And this while the majority can barely afford to feed themselves. At this rate, is it any wonder that we have people sticking knives in our ribs to take our ‘stuff’? But it’s not just here, it’s a global trend.
“Free hair analysis,” the booth says. “Why not?” I think. I have the time. Might be fun/enlightening. Of course it’s not free. She wants to sell me shampoo (anti-dandruff), and the computer does in fact pick up a few patches of dry scalp. “I’ve always had a bit of dry scalp, but I’ve never had dandruff,” I say. “Well you know, dandruff can develop at any point,” says she. And of course this is where it starts. Scare you into buying the product. So as a matter of interest I check it out. Twice the price of what I use.
“Never buy groceries when you’re hungry,” I once heard. A sensible bit of advice, I’ve found. Now they’re giving away free coffee in the supermarket. Shrewd companies realise that good coffee is probably as much of an incentive as any to come to work. Make it seem like you’re spoiling employees, when all you’re really doing is providing them with the means to keep on going. Fridge magnet: “Coffee is what makes civilised life possible in these demanding times”. This is where NGOs are penny wise pound foolish. Pay employees badly, and can’t even pretend to be altruistic towards employees.
Some great opening lines:
“I realised the 21st century was going to be a dangerous place when a scorpion stung me on the left buttock while I was having sex in a tent early on January 1 2000.” (Caspar Greef,
“In the year he fully expected to die, he spent the majority of his fifty-third birthday as he did most other days, listening to people complain about their mothers.” (John Katzenbach –
Arguably the title, and the opening line are the most important parts of a piece of writing. Then you have to sustain the reader’s interest.
The problem with being focussed on writing, is I find myself becoming focussed on writing the idea/experience down, rather than just having it. Marion Woodman talks about our need in these times to “concretise” an experience. And in this way we are “unconsciously trapped in our own materialism”. Those with a more visual eye photograph the moment. Or these days ‘capture’ it on film. Last year I caught myself saying, “yesterday I wrote” to friends, rather than “I was thinking…” or “in my experience”. This year I want to experience life like a dance, or a piece of live music.
Of course the irony is not lost on me how, now that I’m so focussed on finances, everywhere I turn there seems to be some reference to money/spending. I go downstairs, and a little girl is wearing a t-shirt that says “I love to shop”. (Great message her parents are giving her.) At the supermarket, flipping through a women’s magazine (research) there’s an article on how women are not just physically and emotionally abused, but financially as well. And my neighbour walked by my window just now talking on his cell phone: “trying to get a personal loan…” he said.
The problem about writing every day (non-fiction that is), is that every day you have to have something to say. And one of our problems, I think, is that we’re all so opinionated. Everyone has something to say. Sometimes I think that we just need to be quiet, and observe. Reflect, experience, process. Maybe share those experiences. But recognise that it’s just that: an experience. Like the stock-market, everything’s in a constant state of flux. Would you really want to be President for a day? I know I wouldn’t. As Voltaire put it: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Reading a story last night about Johannesburg in the seventies, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of missing my father. Missing him just being there, for better or worse, and that I hadn’t been kinder to him while he was alive. Realising how hard he worked, and how much life was a struggle for him. And remembering his generosity and unpretentiousness. But how did this essay call to mind my father? Perhaps it was just nostalgia. Nostalgia for a time when, however limited, and however much of an illusion, someone else was there to protect me from the world.
Perhaps the hardest part of aging, is the sense of loss. The older you get, the more likely there are to be people in your phone book who are no longer alive. And the more likely you are to know people who’ve died. The more likely you are too, to have known places that have changed, and in essence, don’t exist anymore. As the place changes, you loose that part of yourself that you were there. It still exists inside, but in a kind of isolation. Unless you have friends who remember it too, that part of you becomes invisible.
Sold my first article today! Suddenly the “please e-mail me an invoice for R1.50 [$0.15] per word” gives a whole new meaning to the equation. Each word becomes carefully chosen and valuable. Five words can buy me a cappuccino; fourteen words a t-shirt; 100 words can buy me someone else’s whole book. So I guess I should choose them carefully. In the spirit of “a book should be worth cutting a tree down for”, perhaps every word should be worth (to someone) paying for before we write them. Imagine if we thought carefully before we spoke, in the same way.
One of the worst things about having to go to a job every day is the way that it takes over your life. I don’t mean
. I love working. From home. With no-one controlling what I do when, apart from that it must get done. But having to be in a particular place at a particular time every day… it gave me the feeling of my life being over/mapped out/grey. Not to mention all the time taken up with inter-personal politics and other peripheral drama. You know the one about meetings… “where minutes are taken and hours are lost”.
The one thing about writing is that (particularly in our ageist society) you can do it at any age. It’s always the weirdest thing to read the words of someone that resonate so strongly with my own feelings, and then to discover that they’re quite old. It affirms that blessing and curse that Kundera talks about in
, about even when we’re old and wrinkled, we still think of ourselves as young. James Hillman reckons that the reason we have a problem with aging is that we can’t imagine the sort of old person we might become. I’m beginning to.
The other interesting thing about aging, is to imagine our friends aging along with us. I imagine certain people with silver hair, and others with none. Whose bodies will go first? Who will remain physically fit till the end? It’s a cliché, I know, but like old wine, it’s comforting to have had lasting friendships. To know similarly (if not like-minded) people, artists, all, at heart (if not in their daily grind). I’m grateful to know people who think about the world, and not just stuff, and survival. And I look forward to seeing the world through their children’s eyes.
So this is it for me. I’ve written 100 every day for fourteen months, and it’s been incredible. And now I know that I can write every day. But now I don’t want to. Some days I just want to allow the thoughts to pass through my head. I want to experience the day, rather than writing it down and concretising it. And on others, I write a whole article. When asked if she writes every day, British poet Wendy Cope says: “No… I tend to wait for a good idea to come along and hit me.” Me too, now.
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