Sunday, December 27, 2009

Barrels of Fun

I’ve never been sealed in a barrel and sent over a waterfall. I went to the Niagara Falls once, when I was two years old. I was so overwhelmed by the mass of water surging over the cliff, that I threw my favourite toy train over the lookout point. It was maybe a na├»ve sacrificial acknowledgement that the power of nature was far more able to impress me than a manmade object. Somewhere in the roiling mass below the falls, my toy train sinks and rises in the world’s biggest toilet flush, and will keep me at that tender age of innocence. One of my first memories.

I’ve never actually shot fish in a barrel. I have overfed several goldfish, though, which amounts to the same thing. At county fairs in the UK when I was small, it was perfectly normal to come home with a plastic bag of fish at the end of the evening, having snagged a hook with a ring, or some such challenge. They flitted around the bowl for long enough to get a name and some anthropomorphic attachment (That one seems gloomy, let’s call him Saddy) before the last meal, as final as that of the condemned criminal before his execution. One pinch of the fishy smelling flakes too much, and Saddy would be spiraling down the toilet bowl in a somber farewell ceremony the following morning.

I’ve never had a barrel full of laughs. But I have laughed until I cried. My brother and father used to tickle me until I wept. I no longer enjoy that at all, but the kind of laughs I am talking about are the ones when something just snaps into place, and you can’t look the person you are with in the eye without having to fall to the table and beat it with your hands, begging for mercy as your chest implodes with laughter. If I could figure out how to gather those moments up and stick them in a barrel, I would.

Barrels can be full of challenges, persecution or unbridled joy. The best part about them is that they are not meant to remain sealed, but that whatever is in them will come bursting out at the right time, and that because they are limited in size, the persecution and challenges will be overcome, but the laughter never runs out. Challenges and persecution come as predictably as clockwork, but laughter comes suddenly and fills you up when you most need it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Singing in Pink


I need women in my life. Women who sing. Women who sing about love and loss, failure and disappointment. Women who can take a microphone and use it as a scalpel to open me up and operate on me. Women who can also howl and growl about hope and joy. Women do things differently to men

I have quite a few CDs on rotation at the moment. All dealing with the above emotions and life experiences, but done by men. Brilliant music, and equally capable of intricate surgical maneuvers, but still, fundamentally different to women.

I work with Non-governmental Organizations. NGOs. In South Africa. That means every action performed by the organization must be examined according to fair employment practices. In particular, representation must be made at every level by women and black people. We associate closely with governments, and it is imperative that as an organization we are building a team which reflects the multi-faceted nature of our society. I like that. The only way we will effect change is by reviewing our task teams and asking if everyone has been given a fair opportunity. For those of you who insist that this practice is unfair, and leads to promotion of people beyond their skills level or maturity, I am not saying that. All I am saying is, it is good to avoid homogeneity in a group. And thankfully, we do not battle to find skilled women, blacks, coloureds or pretty much any ‘group’ you could choose. Often, the inclusion of diverse people with different social backgrounds adds some eye-opening flavour to a brain-storming session. Some of us may think differently, but when those differences are steered towards achieving a common goal, the results are so much better than the lukewarm broth that comes from one group all hatched from the same nest. (Yeah, so I suck at metaphors- I have dealt with that).

Anyway, as I was saying, before I naively reeled into the pathway of the runaway race truck, I need some new music. I need to have the tenderness and insight women can put into lyrics and performance. I need to dip deeper than the clever posturing of men, to the sheer chest-split-open heart surgery of listening to women. From Nina Simone to Amy Winehouse, from Celine to my own favourite, Mary Gauthier, I need them to fill the spaces on my CD rack, to balance out the men. I use music to feed into certain moods, and I keep looking for the right CD, only to realize it is a woman, and I don’t own her music. It’s like craving McDonalds, and getting served lettuce.

Some people only read books written by women, or only listen to music performed by them. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that for all of our differences, we need each other in order to have a clear idea of what life is like for someone not like me. I am crossing fingers that I get a voucher this Christmas- I’ll be browsing the CD racks, looking for the right feminine voices for my headspace. Siouxsie, KD Lang, Patti Smith, the Slits, Patsy Cline, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, heck, even Alanis and others like her.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

He'd sealed up the monster within the tomb!


A Treat: A Powerful Poetic Beginning:
The weapons were selected; they stood there back to back,
Marched ten tiny paces, in their suits of formal black.
They stopped and drew, the bullets flew, and both fell bleeding, dead.
The brains they hadn’t thought with splashed pinkly from their heads.
Turned out that there was only one, reflected in a glass,
And he had merely shot himself, the poor deluded arse.

Its standard police procedure (I’m assuming it is- I’m an expert on it having watched police programs from Kojak to Dexter), to ask the surviving relatives if the stiff, or the vic, had any enemies, so that they can ID the perp.

This is a useful debriefing procedure when you are interrogating yourself in the wee hours. One of you sits hunched in a chair, hollow-eyed and jonesin’ for a coffee or a smoke, while the other circles you. No good cop, bad cop, but rather just a mean lying rat-assed bastard of an inquisitor, second guessing everything you thought was true, but now have lost your bearings with. The lack of sleep and the constant revisiting of scenes of crimes, real and imagined warp the timelines and coordinates of reality. Soon you are adding to your mild wrongdoings a list of heinous activities that is almost genocidal in its documented form. The endless questioning has you longing for the stark comfort of your cell, where the fears and memories are contained and almost disarmed.

So what you need to do is ask what or who your enemies are. For some it maybe the guy at work who shamelessly takes credit for your labours but belittles you in meetings. It could be a family member with whom you refuse to share space at family events. Could be an actual enemy, who has genuinely threatened you. But don’t forget to add yourself to the list of suspects. Yup. Who knows better about how to mess with your head than you? Who can flick your buttons and twist your screws? Who knows that the worst kind of enemy is one from whom you cannot hide?

It’s not a death sentence. You can separate the fictions from the realities, and parse the evil from the good. The best defense against an inner enemy is an inner ally. It helps to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, and provide reinforcements of encouragement and love. Thank you for doing that.

Note: Poe did it first, in William Wilson. This occurred to me afterwards, but he does it to far better effect…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uhming and Ahing.


When I listen to your bad news, words fail me. I sit and feel like I have a mouth full of dough. My head gets empty and all I can do is blurt the most inadequate nonsense, like “Shame!” or, ”No!” When what I want to do is cover you in a secure blanket of reassurances and promises. When you talk about troubles and difficulties, I loathe the Dr Phil aphorisms that drip from my mouth like deceiving syrup on a pancake- sweet for a few minutes, but just causing the brief fizz in the bloodstream before the sweetness is absorbed by the ruthlessly continuing mechanics of life.

When I hear your good news, I want to use the most humungous, ginormous, awesome hyperbole to shower you with the acknowledgement you deserve to feel. I want you to feel better than sex or drugs or rock n roll could ever make you feel, and yet, the best I can come up with in the power of your moment of shared joy is “That’s nice”.

When I’ve screwed up, yep, I do that, what I want to do is fall to my knees begging for forgiveness; make you physically aware of the humiliation and the shame, the recriminations and the guilt. Instead I say “I’m sorry”.

When I feel love, disappointment, joy, anger, hope, rage, optimism, faith, disgust, delight, grief, fear, regret, enthusiasm, sadness, elation- I want to have a mouth that speaks the words I have elbowing each other around in the waiting room of my head. Please know that. Please know that my verbal inadequacy is not a reflection of the complexity within. I don’t express it well enough, so if you hear something that sounds good, it really is well-meant. If I disappoint you with my stumbling phrases when you need encouragement and love, I promise you, those words are there, and I mean you to hear them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Floating feeling


You want to know what I crave? Probably not, but if you want funny stories about kittens or helpful links to techie trouble shooting stuff, you’ve come to the wrong place. Without regurgitating all the stuff that has happened, I have come to a place where I need to float.

I look at my lava lamp, and I’m almost envious of the way the golden blobs of wax get to drift in glowing suspension, rolling over and over with unhurried tranquility, on a stress-free surge and drop cycle in a thick protected glass skin.

I see jellyfish. Well, not actually see them, although more architects should embrace giant seawater tanks as walls- pulsing with calm and gentle thrusts through the lukewarm azure seas. I don’t think of their propensity for violence, only the womb-beat rhythm of their journeys.

A bubble blown by a child who is still able to extract joy from such a simple act, sending shimmering rainbows as it catches a summer breeze and lifts into the very air which constitutes it.

A swimming pool in a deserted garden, the breathy hiss of summer winds in the nearby trees- the lapping of the water as it lifts you out of circumstance and connection to this world.

The reassuring words of the masked anesthetist as he counts back from ten and you are gloriously dulled to the removal of dangers, hurts and pain.

Floating, a leaf in a cool stream, a herb for garnish on a bowl of homemade soup, an insect with meniscus-swollen feet walking an impossible track.

Floating would be perfect right now.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Be kind to an Anarchist Today


Ask almost anybody. It’s the way we think. Go up to them and tell them you like to stick to the rules. They’ll put on a mock-sly grin and say without irony, ‘Rules were made to be broken…’ So this is the moral anarchy in which we live. The old tanks of certainty and protection lie burned out in the parade ground outside the palace, Molotov cocktails of free will and denial having scorched their rigid interiors.

But that’s the world we live in. Sure, there are some immutable rules, such as personal hygiene and looking twice before you cross the road, but for the rest, it’s not a rule so much as a general indication to be loosely interpreted as: Do whatever the hell you like. Incidentally, why is it that Cape Town is the only city I know of where you have to look both ways when crossing a one-way street?

Perhaps it’s a South African thing. As a cricket loving country, we’re conditioned to celebrate when boundaries are crossed. The boundary is not a limitation, it’s a challenge. We’re not entirely satisfied unless we hit the ball right out of the park. A boundary is just a random point marking our ascension to bigger and better things, more points on the scoreboard.

So there needs to be a new personal management system in place- if we consider ourselves to be governed by freedom to choose what we want to do with our skills and resources, we need to have a clear idea of where the buck stops. Most of us would agree that whereas rules were made to be broken, laws, on the other hand, should be obeyed. Which creates a tension, and the criminalization of society- Never been caught copying that movie? It’s still against the law. Just because your boss never found out that you’ve been squirreling away funds into the Cayman Islands doesn’t mean that he’d be entirely happy with you.

I won’t get all Ten Commandments on you. You do have your own conscience. You should listen to the small, still voice saying it is NOT ok to murder your irritating colleague. Possession is NOT nine tenths of the law. But we need to increase our listening skills. Figure out how to be better, no, wait, the best possible individuals we can be. Rather than looking for angles to get away with things, we can look for ways to improve the quality of life for those around us, be criminally kind and loving. So off you go- break some rules… Be anarchically good.