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It’s my anniversary today. On this day last year I started doing 100 words. Part of me wonders why I’m still doing it. A bit obsessive-compulsive, what, Andie? Perhaps. But on the other hand – like exercise and tooth-brushing – there are good and bad habits. I feel apprehensive that if I lapse, I will stop writing. Somehow making a commitment to you, that I will show up every day, gives me more purpose for doing it than a self-indulgent journal by the bed, or a lonely entry on the vacuum of my hard drive. Suspect I’ll be here for a while.
She has been standing there for about two years now. I have moved from compassion to irritation with her. I think it was when she began to bring her younger child with her. I want to go up to her and say, “Are you going to stand there for the rest of your life?!” I suspect if nothing else throws itself at her she probably will. It’s hard for me to know how much she’s just passive, and how much trapped. But my gut feeling is she could do
to change her life. Tolerance with professional beggars wearing thin.
The problem in Africa, reckons Paul Theroux, has to do with aid. We have created a situation of dependence, and people have responded accordingly. Watching a film about Lucille Teasdale has me thinking about these things again. She spent her entire adult life creating a hospital in Uganda (and having her efforts torn down again and again) and died eventually from AIDS from an infected wound. “Succession plans” is a phrase that comes up again and again in the NGO sector. And yet how should I respond when a hungry person puts their hand out? Where does independence begin? Africa.
Not a great day for an eclipse. Unusually overcast. But I’m particularly bad at these sorts of things anyway. Find them difficult to see. Even when you point out the stars to me, I find the patterns hard to decipher. Kind of like those pictures where you can begin to see something quite different in the picture, once you let your mind (rather than your eyes) begin to blur. It’s as though it takes every ounce of my energy to keep my feet on the ground, and if I shift my attention for just one moment, I might take off.
The things you learn about people… “There was a devil, and as a result we will never run out of stories. The very thing that could have destroyed us and driven us to silence ultimately led us to open our veins on white bond and make a living.” So says Lynn, the (younger?) sister of playwright David Mamet. “I would take a bullet for him,” she adds. In an essay
he tells how his stepfather threw her across the room cracking a vertebra in her back. Was this the price of his snappy dialogue? This House of Games?
Now Lynn Mamet is a script writer on
Law and Order
. This week’s episode dealt with a man responsible for a botched attempt at having his wife murdered. “Why didn’t you just get a divorce?” asked the detective. It was my silent question too. It seems her career was more successful than his. She was a judge. He, not a very successful architect. She held the purse strings. Is this the new gender equality? Where men feel so threatened by, yet dependent on their wives, that they feel compelled to kill them? I suppose it’s been happening metaphorically for years.
Returned his Bukowski book. “It’s for guys,” he says.
“Very entertaining after the fact,” I say. “But he must have been hell to live with. Like most of your friends!” I add as an afterthought.
(I’m reminded of the afternoon Kate and I spent with them, and were offered Ritalin. “No thanks,” I said. “I don’t need slowing down.”
“Oh no, after a certain age it works like speed,” one of the near sixty-year-olds responded.)
I guess one of the good things about Bukowski, was that he probably got guys who wouldn’t otherwise, to read poetry. Arguably a misogynist though.
It’s rare that I spend an afternoon in the company of such masculine men. And by that I don’t mean muscle bound and fast cars. I mean masculine energy, devoid of a hint of the feminine. This is evident in his living space, amongst other things. The house needs a ‘woman’s touch’, which he – unlike many other men – is unable to provide for himself. He comes from a time when marriage and families provided the order between the masculine and feminine. And yet the last thing in the world that he wants is a woman telling him what to do.
He tells me about “guys who get married, and end up emasculated. I was with this friend of mine the other night, and he kept on looking at his watch, and he said ‘I have to go’ at some ridiculous hour.”
“Like midnight?” I laugh.
“At about eleven,” he reckons.
I try to explain to him that for some men – who have chosen family over the single life – it would not be a chore to return home. Perhaps, I suggest, Bukowski was not alone because no woman would put up with him. But because essentially, he wanted to be alone.
Still on the subject of the boys and the girls, I return home to Oprah. Apparently a trend’s now developed of divorce before thirty. (Don’t darn the socks, replace the spouse.) ‘They’ say that in the olden days – when life expectancy was shorter – marriages were only expected to last about fifteen years. (Hmm… in that case I have plenty of time!) As my friend Michael said the other day. If you still have both your parents, you’re lucky. But if you still have both your parents, and they’re still together, you’re a rare species.
Families and How to Survive Them
The combination of confidence and openness that he has… The feeling that one is safe in his hands, but does not have to hand over power, as is the case with so many others. It’s such a gift. He also has beautiful eyes, a direct gaze, and a very calm but in control manner.
“Once you’ve been with her, you won’t want to be with anyone else,” he says. “And I’m not saying that just because she’s mine.”
“Just cos you’re blessed,” I say.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Wonder Woman’s the dental hygienist. He’s my new periodontist.
I’ve been thinking a lot about James Kilgore lately. Who is he really? His friends and colleagues seem shocked to see him as anything more than a committed development worker. I recognise his wife from my neighbourhood not too long ago. I wonder if she knew about his days with the
Symbionese Liberation Army
, and the Patty Hearst kidnapping, which seem so far away now. If not, I wonder what it’s like to lead a completely double life. Not being able to share your past with even the closest people to you. Lonely.
Perverse responses to the excesses of capitalism.
It was fitting that I bumped into Gretha today, just after buying Suze Orman’s
Courage to be Rich
, since she did the narration for
The Money Game
. I felt like I needed a little New Age reminder about faith, hope and charity. I knew she’d appreciate the humour/synchronicity of it. She – who was wobbling this time last year like I’m wobbling now – is decidedly happier. She said she was going through a midlife crisis this time last year. Ah… so
what it is. Thought it was just my poverty mentality anxiety perverse response to the excesses of capitalism. Phew.
Sorting through some papers of my father’s today – which I’ve been putting off for a year – I came across a book given by my mother’s father, to her and my father. It’s curious, because I had been led to believe that she’d had no contact with him since she was ten. The inscription reads: “May you have many years of pleasure and good living.” Sadly it was cut short. The book is
An Introduction to Alchemy
. My cousin said of him “I learned the meaning of cruelty from watching him with my mother.” The incomplete jigsaw puzzles that are families.
“All history,” says author Susan Griffin, “including the history of each family, is part of us, such that, when we hear any secret revealed, our lives are made suddenly clearer to us.”
I wonder at what point in our lives we begin to internalise the unspoken messages about the keeping of secrets. What we are sanctioned to talk about or not. And which of the messages are from family, and which from society. The things we understand are not spoken about in “polite company”. Perhaps this is why we’re addicted, as a society, to soap operas. Secrets will out somehow.
Day of Reconciliation
today, and I’m still thinking about the keeping of secrets…
I read somewhere that asking someone to keep a secret is an unfair burden to place on them. Of course we all need witnesses to our crimes and violations, but arguably asking others to keep our secrets, is asking them to share our pain and discomfort. There’s just so much one can take. Said Nietzsche: “There will be few who, when they are in want of matter for conversation, do not reveal the more secret affairs of their friends.” Could it be more burden than boredom?
Still on the subject of secrets, a thought from Clarissa Estes today:
“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace new, some-place better.
There are oceans of tears women have never cried, for they have been trained to carry mother and father’s secrets, men’s secrets, society’s secrets, and their own secrets to the grave. A woman’s crying has been considered quite dangerous, for it loosens the locks and bolts on the secrets she bears.”
She is quite delightful. “Where are you from,” I enquire?
“You’re the first Thai person I’ve ever met. Are there many in Johannesburg?”
“Not a lot. Some,” she says, and relates the usual crime stories and bad experiences. But she laughs about them. She has a lightness I can’t say I’ve experienced before. “Are you afraid of living in Johannesburg?” I ask.
“No. If it’s my time, it’s my time,” she smiles.
As the person at the next table said in
When Harry Met Sally
: “I’ll have what she’s having.” The food at the restaurant here was good too.
I’ve been reading about Alfred Jarry, author of the
plays. Drank himself to death on absinth by the age of 34 (“drink practised as discipline”). His diet consisted of “fish caught at will anywhere in the Seine”. His work prefigured the theatre of the absurd, Dada and Surrealism. But probably the most interesting thing about him is that lived he lived on the second and a half floor of a building where the floors had been cut in half. (He was a midget, so it suited him fine.) So
where that reference in
Being John Malkovich
Still on the subject of Jarry (sort of), I’m fascinated by the way that artists/eccentrics are celebrated after their death, but can barely manage to live during their lifetimes. As my friend Kate pointed out, most of the impressionists were independently wealthy, and could afford to paint. Van Gogh, on the other hand, wasn’t in this privileged position. “Bella Bartok died of starvation!” my father always used to say indignantly. How much did Jarry make his life difficult, I wonder? And how much could he really just not fit in. His last two plays were only staged after his death.
Where is the balance between “cooperation” and selling out, artistically speaking? I’m not talking about producing what a market wants, but avoiding being contrary as a matter of principle, and consequently causing alienation to self and others. There are those, Yehudi Menuhin comes to mind, who seem to be born to do what they love. Arguably he was interpreting already accepted work, rather than creating something original of course. And then there’s his protégé, Nigel Kennedy, who managed to be accepted as a punk classicist. Something of a mystery. Somehow, though, I think we have to avoid deliberately swimming upstream.
Sophia mentions to me how the theme of
seems to weave its way through my writing. My favourite perfume; the town where my grandmother lived, and I visited her in California; and my first taste of the freedom of movement after I left home. It’s true, freedom is important to me. But what is freedom, apart from Kris Kristofferson’s “just another word for nothing left to loose”? Perhaps most important to me is freedom of speech, and why I’m so disturbed by the ever growing ‘culture of surveillance’ of Bush’s new Homeland Policy. Makes South Africa sound positively peachy.
Sign at the airport -
The following items are not allowed on board any aircraft:
Ammunition, Automatic weapons, Axes, Baseball bats, BB guns, Blackjacks, Blasting Caps, Bows and Arrows, Box cutters, Brass Knuckles, Compressed air guns, Corkscrews, Cricket bats, Crowbars, Disabling chemicals or gasses, Dynamite, Fire extinguishers, Flare pistols, Golf clubs, Gun lighters, Gunpowder, Hammers, Hand grenades, Hockey sticks, Ice axe/Ice pick, Knives including Religious and Hunting (any length except rounded blade butter and plastic cutlery), Kubatons, Mace, Martial arts devices, Meat cleaver, Nan chucks, Pellet guns, Pepper spray, Pistols, Plastic explosives, pool cues, Power drills - portable, Power saws…
It’s a blustery day outside, as Pooh would say. There is something decidedly strange happening to the weather. Rain in Johannesburg this winter, unheard of in the past. And this is Cape Town’s winter weather. I’m going to have to get used to it when I move back.
Kate isn’t here, but she’s left me a book of
101 Happy Poems
. There’s even one by Sylvia Plath!:
Clownlike, happiest on your hands…
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool…
Vague as fog and looked for like mail…
Farther off than Australia…
A clean slate, with your own face on.
You know those things where you go round the table and make a statement… I always freeze slightly. “What do you want for Christmas?” Soli asks.
“Peace,” says Toni.
“Everyone I love around me,” pops out of my mouth. From where I don’t know, but I mean it. It’s as if I have a dread of wishing for something that might not come true, or might be snatched away from me. Or committing to something I’m unable to follow through on. What are you going to do this year?” Nico asked last New Year. I achieved more than I anticipated.
“I didn’t know a blonde could be a boy,” said six-year-old Ethan, referring to his three-year-old friend Zakes.
“I used to think that cats were girls and dogs were boys when I was little,” I responded.
“So did I,” laughed Kyla, Ethan’s twelve-year-old sister.
“When I was small,” recalled Sophia, whose first language was Greek, “my aunt used to breed rabbits, and dye them. I used to think they
, and came back to life.”
Reincarnated as different coloured bunnies. “When did you realise your error?” I asked.
“I suppose when I was five,” she reflected. “When my father died.”
He once showed my something he’d written and it sounded a little contrived, as though he was speaking in someone else’s voice. “What distinguishes one writer from another,” I said, “is their use of metaphor.” I don’t know what made me think that, but it seemed right to me. Still does. His writing sounded like someone walking in another’s shoes. As though he was trying to learn to write, rather than just writing. Write the first word that comes into your head, says Stephen King. Don’t go searching for a simile when you already know what you want to say.
I’m feeling lazy tonight, so some thoughts from Stephen King:
“Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… place where coherence begins… I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing… It is a marvellous and flexible instrument that can be a single word long or run on for pages.”
And from a character in the novel that I’m reading,
The Restless Supermarket
“Where can we always find happiness? In the dictionary.”
The biggest difference between my 100 words now, and when I was sitting on this bed on holiday this time last year, is that then I felt I needed to tell you the highlight of my day, and now I’m more interested in the highlights of what I’m reading. I had a lovely day. Sociable. Just enough alcohol. But it’s Stephen King’s revelation that’s uppermost in my mind right now: “You may wander where plot is in all of this. My answer is nowhere. Our lives are largely plotless. I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”
The difference between the beach and the sea…
I imagine what those brave rogues of the seventeenth century, that arrived to colonise different bits of the planet, would think of today’s bikinied babes sunning themselves. Even from where I sit it seems vaguely ludicrous. But looking and listening out beyond the beach and the noisy crowd to the waves on the rocks, the sea is awesome. The crashing of the waves massages my eardrums after the noisy ghetto blaster on the beach. When I need to be reminded of something larger than me, I need only look out to sea.
“It’s been a hard year for everyone I know,” said Soli. Not sure that it’s been a hard year for me. A paradoxical one though. It began with our currency in the toilet, and my offshore investments doing well. Our currency now somewhat recovered, the income on my inheritance is not doing so well. A mugging that set me back in the faith in my fellow-man department (man being the operative word). Trips to two countries I’d never been to before. And eighty percent on the first quarter of an MA in Creative Writing I never planned.
Happy New Year.
The Tip Jar