Sunday, November 29, 2009

Behind Closed Doors

Just spent half an hour in the wardrobe department, getting changed for my new job. I’m an anti-parenting guru. I have shunned the grey pants and white shoes of the Dobson generation. I have shoe-horned myself into skintight jeans and a tiny t-shirt, and am ready to undo the nonsense you have been taught by your mothers and their mothers before them. Somewhere back there in history is the original mother who looked at the pink blobs of dependence before her and thought to herself ‘Oh. Shit. What the hell do I do now’?

She’s my heroine. The real mother. Not the woman who has more household skills than an overachieving girl scout has badges. Rather:
The woman who does not end her day in a peach-coloured glow of satisfaction at the way in which her nurturing skills have nudged her innocents towards wholeness and adulthood. The woman whose tears are concealed as collateral damage from cutting onions for the meat and two veg meal. The woman who has a very sore finger from hitting a door frame instead of the child in her care who drip, drip, drips water torture of nagging and whining until she’s infanticidal. The woman whose allies are the stranger-support network she plugs into on the internet and the banshee yells of music she is revisiting to remind her of the carefree person she used to be.

The woman whose fractured future is subsumed by the unpatterned chaos of the present. The woman whose sanity is not defined by coming up with a day full of educational distractions, but who cries herself to sleep praying to a god she no longer believes in that she won’t dream. The woman who knows society has norms, but tells a clerk to go and fuck themselves because that off switch sheared off at three am while trying to mutter loving words to an incessantly crying child. The woman whose bulging life is reduced to a flabby-stomached emptiness after the pills cauterized her ability to enjoy highs and lows.

The woman whose only friends are the DVD player that buys an endless loop of time in which she can remind herself again of all the household flaws which need attention, and the wine bottle which seems to be emptier earlier and earlier.

It may not be you. But it’s someone you know. What do you do for her? Love her, don’t lie to her. Allow her to hurt, but help her to heal. Point out the lies from the truth. Hold her. Whisper to her. Love her. It isn’t pretty, but it is the truth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I have XY chromosomes, too.

I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt her. She was just part of the haphazard crowd we knew then. Brought together under trying circumstances and made to co-labour under the watchful eye of the overseer. We’d get hopelessly absorbed in the minutiae of the mundane and puerile tasks invented to keep us sane, and escape like migrating ungulates during the short period of fresh air allotted to us. There was no seething discontent, no fermenting malevolence. As quickly as the sun is eclipsed by the moon, my sense of moral value slipped into shadow.

She was perfect, in almost every way, and in the surge of violence that rose through my veins, I hated her and wanted to destroy her. For no reason other than that she was in competition with me, she challenged my emerging manhood. The room, its’ institutionalized nature confirmed in grey paint, was too small for both of us. Life and lives can change in an instant. Mine did. 34 years on, I can remember the meaningless bloated feeling of pride as I destroyed her. I took her carefully crayoned picture with the painstakingly curved name written underneath, and tore it up; she’d created something more beautiful than I. I was caught- violence against women is sometimes an immature response to emotion, and so, ill-concealed, and duly punished. I have never forgotten or repeated this kind of aggression to a woman.

You could read this and think I am taking the piss, but I am not. Violence against women starts at age four, or five, like this. It grows and metastasizes, and becomes an all-consuming force, which finds release in adulthood. I was a child. I tore up a girl’s picture in the first grade. I could have cultivated that and become like other men, my brother men, whose violence was nurtured in classrooms just like mine. Some men do not develop control mechanisms. Some men are raw emotion, shambling children who respond to life as ids- Life for them is about food, sex and satisfaction. I am barely better.

So. I will respect women. I will teach my sons to do it, too. I’ll teach my daughter to demand it. The most important lessons learned in school are often not the ones graded in black (or swathes of red, in my case), but the ones you carry with you beyond the ‘I can drink smoke get a job be a grown-up’ day of graduation

Watch your children. They learn, they absorb. They are the ones whose ley lines are still malleable, whose continents and oceans have yet to settle.

*16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign
The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children is a United Nations campaign. It takes place annually from the 25th November (International Day of No Violence against Women) to the 10th December (International Human Rights Day). Since 1999 the South African Government has run a parallel campaign that includes issues relating to violence against children. This campaign focuses primarily on generating an increased awareness of the negative impact of violence on women and children as well as society as a whole.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We'll be friends... Forever...

Hope this isn’t just me… When I was young, the end of a friendship usually came with a harmless drifting apart. Friends could get through the weirdest issues, even violent pull-your-jumper-over-your-head fights, and still stick together. I don’t know if it’s universal, but we used to say:
“Make friends, make friends, never, ever break friends. If you do, you’ll catch the flu, and that will be the end of YOU” During this recitation, you’d be shaking hands vigorously.

So it was natural that social networking sites got much of their success from primal friendships such as these. Suddenly, you are thirty five, and not able to hang out with your mates every day, and it comes to you in a flash- Whatever happened to that guy I used to be best friends with in grade three? With those early sites, you could track them down with some minor detective work, and find out that they are now just as middle-aged as you, working as a printer, and have 1/3/5 children and two exes.

Right there, you wonder what the hell happened to the kid you used to chase around the playground, the one who taught you swearwords like dammit, and fudge. The one with the dirty knees and the scabbed elbows, who could score a goal from the halfway line (well, the prefab classroom). You send a couple of messages, and eventually he’s just listed as a friend.

Then came Facebook. You never truly had friends until you had at least 500 of them on FB. Friends who poked you, invited you to become part of their zombie force, friends who sent you growing flowers and birthday cards, and fanpages, and events invitations, and pictures of their holidays at the seaside and their pets. You could spend hours thinking up a status, with just the right punch to reach as many as possible.

Then the fatigue set in. The endless keeping track of hundreds of people, the weariness of opening and closing chat windows, the realisation that most of them weren’t really friends. In fact, some of them pissed you off a little bit every time you saw the amusing avatar they’d designed.

So began the unfriending- apparently the most popular word in the UK last year. The sloughing off of dead skin friendships. Cathartic, yeah!

There must be a point to this…
Oh, yes. I’m not trashing FB, or networking sites (apart from MySpace, which is like, sooo old, dude, and that school one which has refused to let me deregister. I’ll be stuck in school forever, always a fear of mine)- but rather just taking a look at what friendship is, or isn’t.

Some of the best friends I’ve met in ages have been new ones, on Twitter. Seems unlikely, but it’s true. Cool people, normal people. Funny people and sad people. It’s like walking into this room full of friends at almost any time of day. You can sit and have a drink, or laugh, or even ROFL or PML. That’s actually not such a bad thing. You can ignore or block the bullies, and if you want to be alone, you switch off.

Is it superficial? I don’t think so. Most of the people on there are actually friends in some way or another, and happy to include you (or at least too polite to tell you to sod off). You can’t shake on the friendship, but you also can’t pull the other person’s jumper over their head or try and gob in their eye.

So. Social Media made it possible to be friends forever. Even after you die, your profile sits grinning out, a perky cartoon figure, or a sinister eye. There is no end, to you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm not afraid of heights

Remember the first day of school? It was a momentous thing. I was four and a half, dressed up in my best denim suit which matched my brother’s, and wearing remarkable tan-coloured semi-platform shoes. It was the 70’s. My friend from up the road came and took part in what was to become an annual tradition, the taking of photos of new haircuts and feet about to get blisters after the summer holidays of running through grass barefoot. It wasn’t a bad day, and I was allowed to take my teddy; he helped. But I never got over that tension of starting something new.

It came back throughout school, especially since we moved quite a bit, and also when we emigrated from the UK to South Africa in 1981. A new country. The feeling of being out of your depth is both tantalising and terrifying- you have no frame of reference other than what you have already experienced, and sometimes it isn’t enough. It happened with first girlfriends and job interviews. It happened with first TV interviews and radio spots. It happened with travelling and parenthood.

There’s part of me that remains a small boy squinting into the sun, the camera trying to capture a moment in time. I stand there with my school satchel, hoping that the presence of Teddy Edward will somehow bring comfort, and ease the distress of shifting from one environment to the next. I’m that kid. The one about to meet new friends, and discover the esoteric wonders of writing and learning. It’s always been worth it in the end. The first step, but I realise too, that I’m not afraid of heights.
I’m afraid of plummeting*.
*I had to go and do a post-post google- two other sites with similar phrases. But not ones I've seen before. So kiss my ass, other sites :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Things Are Looking Up

Sometimes I am the angry indication of an accidental fire, blanketing the innocents around me.
Sometimes I am a jet stream, a memory of power, of surging to a destination.
Sometimes I am just a wisp, a series of horse tails flicking at the cool outer reaches of the atmosphere, remote.
Sometimes I am the big-bellied pregnant mother of the skies, threatening to break water over needy landscapes.
Sometimes, I am a gallery of surreal portraits, none remaining constant- I can’t stay still.
Sometimes I am the accessories drawer to the sun, my purples and pinks and oranges there to show off her beauty.
Sometimes I am a magician, with my pockets full of rainbows.
Sometimes I am an artist, my palette and my canvas full of blank promise.
Sometimes I like to lean on mountains for support- they never shift.
Sometimes I wait for the evening to descend, and in the morning, like an afterthought, I lift.
Sometimes I lift the hems of my cloak, to display my hoarded silver.
Sometimes I seem as full-bodied as the earth, and
Sometimes I am merely an echo of breath on a cool morning.
Sometimes I am as small as a man’s hand, cupped over the horizon, and
Sometimes I dominate, a shadow-parent adopting all of mankind.

Some Stains Never Come Out

It’s laundry day. After a few weeks of defending mankind against fiendish megalomaniacs, your spandex tends to start smelling a bit gamey. Your architect was initially puzzled by the request to have a telephone booth installed in the master bedroom, but he was a professional, and managed to match the lamps and curtains in a way that it all came together in an aesthetically pleasing manner. You always remember to check your pockets these days- last time a defused neutron bomb you had stashed in your cloak accidentally went into the fast-spin mode, it took days to hose off the walls, and the cat has never trusted you since. You won’t make the mistake of mixing colours, either. Part of the point of having a cool costume is so that people will look at you in awe, and feel a deep sense of trust. They tend not to do that so much if you have a pink tie-dyed chest mantle. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for the gear to dry. In all your years as a crime-busting demigod, only once have you exposed your butt by having to speed after an out-of-control satellite plummeting towards earth clad only on a towel. The YouTube clips are enough of a sore reminder for you not to do that again. Took you ages to lose the epithet ‘Mighty Buns’.

It’s actually quite soothing; waiting for the rinse cycle to finish, and you can see the charm in it that makes ordinary mortals want to do it every day. Besides, it gets to be a bit of a drag- being on call all the time. Just when you want to watch a rerun of the last series of Will and Grace, the signal comes through, and you have to rescue AGAIN some spineless person from whatever space zombie/clone/bald dictator. You’d think people would think twice about hoarding money in steel vaults or cooking up super drugs in unsecured laboratories, but they never seem to learn.

There’ve been at least two occasions in the last four months alone where you’ve spilt your pot noodles, and had to go through the whole washing process again. Could they not turn down the volume on the Rescue Alert siren? For goodness sakes, it may sound loud to them, but you have the hearing of an alert puppy, it’s bound to make you jump a little in your La-z-boy. Yeah. Life isn’t just all fame and glory when you are awesome. When you have a spare moment (as if!) you make a mental note to visit the people at Marvel comics and tell them so. They have a responsibility as media professionals to tell the truth. Maybe if the kids didn’t grow up with such an inflated opinion of you, you could go to the Holiday Inn near the sea for a few days occasionally, and sip pink drinks with little umbrellas in them. Fat chance.

{It’s been a long year. My super powers are waning. Anyone offering to buff up my booties? No, man, I mean the ones on my feet. Sheesh. Mortals. Can’t take ‘em anywhere}.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How Not To Be A Psychopath

There are always two options. Choice is sometimes as easy as coffee with milk or without, or to wear a t-shirt or buttoned shirt. Sometimes, though choices are harder. That’s because they come with more lasting consequences. If you want to win a card game, you could stick an ace up your sleeve, or shoot your opponent in the forehead. Clearly, the consequences here are having soggy bits of playing cards inside your shirt on wash day, or difficult to remove bloodstains. The governing mechanism for consequences is called a conscience. A conscience is what makes you different from someone who is a psychopath. A psychopath can have a chest freezer full of dismembered whores and wander off to watch Days of Our Lives without a second thought. If you have a conscience, you will never waste your time on mindless soapies.

Sadly, these are mostly things beyond your control. If you are gardening, and you have to throw some snails over the wall into your neighbour’s seedling herb garden, then this is just one of those incontrovertible acts that makes up life. Should your neighbour then decide to ‘go organic’ and build a massive compost heap against your wall, it reflects a sore lack of judgement on his part, and it is a good thing to help him in some way, such as making use of all that money he spends on home insurance by tossing a Molotov cocktail though his bedroom window on a breezy summery evening. Neighbourliness is good. Once the home has been rebuilt, and the inheritors of his estate move in, bake them a cake, and gently tell them the Rules to Living Next Door To You.

The great irony in life is that it is always others whose character flaws are the biggest stumbling blocks to you on your path to enlightenment. Never waste your time being with people who think they are doing their bit for society by exhibiting tough love, or dishing out constructive criticism. Those things are really just out there to piss you off, so rather only befriend fawning sycophants and toadies. They are loyal and generous, and your butt will always glow pleasantly with the saliva of their subservient kisses.

It isn’t easy to give you advice for the whole of life in one go, so start small. Buy a can of petrol, a few bottles and some rags, and maybe a whetting stone for your knife collection. Knives should never be left dull. You can thank me later, when everything starts falling into place for you, and I shall meekly offer the other cheek for you to kiss.

*note: psychopaths steal images off google. I, however, merely enhance them with my brilliance. You can thank me later, Herge.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Felt, but not forgotten.

Songs, tastes and smells are the eternal echoes of childhood. They ring off the walls of our brain-pans, reminding us of snapshots in time, of firsts and lasts- the perfumed cacophonies of memory.

For me, touch and texture is just as evocative. I can shut my eyes against the images, close my ears to the music, and clamp my jaws against the sweet-and-sours of youth, and still hold in my mind some pivotal remembrances.

The rasp of my father’s cheek against mine, the cool of my mother wiping my mouth with a spit-dampened tissue, the feeling of thick pile carpets under my feet, the tactile absorption I used to used to feel as a child when stroking soft velour fabric in reverse, the coolness of sheets against the damp fevers of childhood illness, the grittiness of sand on a beach- warm under an Indian summer thunderhead, the promising yield of pressed play-dough as small fingers conjured shapeless prehistoric beasts from the mock-creation toy, the this-won’t-hurt sting of an inoculation, the this-is-going-to-hurt-you-more-than-it-hurts-me of a caning, the waxy feeling of the heel of your hand after scribbling with crayons, the warmth of a parent’s hand guiding you through snowy woods, the strange heat versus cold of sitting in front of a bonfire with the night behind you, the surprise of a paper cut, the transference of feeling rooted to the soil as you clasp the patterned bark of a climbing tree, the coolness of glass as you trace the path of a raindrop down a window pane, the yammering pulse of the broken-winged crow you found under a bush, and the terminal feeling of evocativeness when tracing the chiselled words on a marble gravestone.

Close your eyes, reach out, and create memories.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

He puts it WHERE?

When two people love each other very much, they kiss a lot, and when they have both decided to, they may have sex. Sex is when the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina, and then something called sperm comes out of his penis. A woman’s body produces eggs every month, and if the sperm meets the egg, a baby can be made. A man and a woman sometimes have sex because it is fun, and it feels nice when it is with someone you love. Men and women sometimes also touch themselves on their penises or vaginas, which also feels nice, but doesn’t make babies. That’s called masturbation. It isn’t bad, but you should only do it in private. Sex should also only be in private, and only when you are old enough to look after a baby. The other thing you need to know is that sometimes bad men or women might try to make you have sex when you don’t want to, and that is wrong. You should always say no, if you don’t feel good about it. You must tell a grownup like your mom or dad, or a teacher if someone tries to make you have sex. Sex is very special, but only for for grownups who love each other. If you have sex with a girl or a woman, it can make a baby, which is a lot of hard work, and costs a lot of money to look after. The other important thing you need to know, is that having sex can also pass on sicknesses, like HIV AIDS, and other things. It is very dangerous to have sex with someone you don’t know very well. If you are careful, and you know the person, you will be able to talk about sex before you decide to do it, and you will know if it is safe or not. A man should wear a condom, which is like a rubber hat, on his penis. A condom helps to stop the woman from getting pregnant, because it catches the sperm, and it also helps to stop sicknesses from getting passed on. You know, you can always ask mom or dad about something if you aren’t sure. Sex is not a bad thing, but it can be very confusing, and that is why it is better to wait until you are old enough, and you feel ready. Any questions?

Yes. The time has come to have a chat with my oldest son (10). Despite being a father to three children, I feel totally ill-equipped to talk about sex, which remains a mystery to me even now. Anyone have any tips/edits or additions to my crude sex-talk format? Please don’t forward any pictures :-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


They lie, motionless, occasionally you see a glimmer of light in their emotionless eyes. They know they are being selected, that their bodies are being scanned, their curves and protrusions examined and weighed. They seem to try and blend into the corners, and hide their ripe flesh from hungry gazes. To no avail, they are beckoned out of their hiding places, and resign themselves to being served before you. You take it slowly, knowing that they are unwilling participants in this, until at last your appetite robs you of self-control and you tear into their soft pink thighs, the audible splitting sound both terminal and erotic. As their soft and perfect inner parts yield to your assault, you need to pause, and wipe your mouth; you call for more, until the sauces and juices have spilled down your chin and to the floor. Their nakedness does not offend, it stirs you, drives the primeval passion, your id seems in control, and you will not, cannot stop until the act is done and you fall back among the ruined evidences of your gluttony. Their sacrifice was your satisfaction, your desire their ruination.

There has to be a better way of doing this. I have the horrible idea I’m going to get crabs, next.

I need to get out more.

The rules have changed. In decades past, it used to be considered vulgar to use exaggerated language, to overdo emotions and adjectives. That was before the word ‘awesome’ became ‘AAAAAAAAAWWWWWEEEEEESSSSSSSOMMME’
I like to abuse language. What’s the point in having a vocabulary if all you do is whisper tiny nothings like ‘nice’, or ‘pretty’, or ‘good’? I like authors who aren’t afraid to take a passage of writing, dress it up in full fancy dress and then rip it all off again in the space of a sentence, sometimes even skinny-dipping a phrase or two.

Having said that, I do appreciate authors who can take the verbal equivalent of three sticks and build a log cabin image with them. People whose prose is like staring at a field of flowers, or an expanse of sea until one tiny detail becomes highlighted and exposed, all the more beautiful for the way it stands out in the utter sameness of its surroundings.

So in two paragraphs I’ve managed to put forth two contradictory arguments. That’s ok. The rules are flexible and mutable. Which is why I can do whatever I please. Yay Me!

So instead of saying I have a slight headache, I could say that I’m lost in the gabble of voices, the cacophony of the monkeys, angels and devils cawing and chanting out their temptations and refutations on each shoulder, the decisions being made after five different and needless arguments often based on nothing more than insecurities and the gutlessness that comes with being a non-rational adult, one whose life is framed and padded by whimsy and elation, rather than stern reflection and applied logic. The electron microscope of self-examination which ends in the exposure of feelings and self-absorption on the vast screen in front of my eyelids, the screen which seems to filter the evils of other people, reverse them and turn them into failings of my own. Lacking these ornaments of modern life, the technology, the complications, I become obsolete in my affections and my affectations. The sun scores a third-degree path across the inside of my skull, searing it’s way through organised thought, desiccating any attempt to reach out to others.

Just a thought. It happens sometimes. I need a bigger bass track in my head. The pace seems to be either too fast or too slow. Somebody switch on the metronome, so I can get outside my head, please.

Now. Let’s talk about you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And in the News today...

I’m not afraid of people with green faces and pointy hats, or shrouded in sheets with chains a jangling. I’m not scared of zombies or werewolves, vampires or trolls. I generally don’t suspect that school janitors with screws loose are hiding in my closet armed with cleavers, and graveyards are just a place where dead people become soil.

The horror of Halloween is just a caricature of what superstition and ignorance once considered scary. It’s actually quite funny to see people dressing like Goths and hamming it up. If Halloween was about real horror and fear, it would be about the endless snippets of human tragedy on CNN, or the mundane confessions handed over in the courtrooms and police stations across the world. We’d dress as anchormen and women, and practice saying things like ‘and at the top of the hour today we bring you breaking news of a plane crash/suicide bombing/earthquake… Hundreds dead’. We’d be social workers and court-appointed psychiatrists, trying to make sense of murdered children and abused women. We’d be doctors having to break the news to teenagers that they really could, and have, contracted HIV from their first sexual experience. We’d be working at clinics watching drug addicts riding the broken rollercoaster from hell, or be swabbing the bedsores of the neglected aged as they lie in death’s waiting room.

Horror is what we choose to accept as the norm in a world of human pain and suffering. Horror is watching a child no longer have the option to ride the subway of innocence under city streets of dissipation and criminality. For those who insist that Halloween is about glorifying witchcraft and other arcane lifestyles, perhaps you should redefine horror. It’s in your face, and it isn’t getting celebrated at parties or forming the backbone of the fancy dress industry.

Perhaps that what Joseph Conrad saw (The horror! The horror!). The real evil of this age is not in camp costuming and fake blood, it’s in the sinkhole of humanity that has formed beneath the eroded self-respect of society. The fear that we carry as humankind of the temporal nature of life should not stop us from trying to enjoy the time we have, that enjoyment being in sharing the lives we lead with others, and carrying their pain and suffering.

So pass me the white theatrical facepaint, and a vial of fake blood, I’m heading out into the real world, where the full moon is just an astronomical phenomenon, and a skeleton is what keeps me from being a bendy toy.