Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some thoughts on sex

I loved you, just not enough to find out what sex you were. How many of us find ourselves saying that, after enjoying a relationship? You are not alone.

I said “sex” and not “gender”. I’m talking about moments like these:
Standing in front of the ante-natal ward that used to be your hamster cage, astounded that Spike turned out to be concealing feminine curves beneath his crusty exterior.
Taking your beloved cat Clooney or Rooney to the vet for deworming after a few years, and discovering she is more Brangelina than Brad.
Finding out that those are not tumours on your ladydog’s underside, but testes.
Staring hopefully at the nether regions of a goldfish or snake or rat or Madagascan Hissing Cockroach, and not being able to discern anything even vaguely resembling your concept of a penis, and thinking, what the heck, I’ll decide what it is based on its’ character traits.

Sometimes you only find out after your pet has passed away, maybe as you took him to the vet to aid his departure, and the vet says “She was old, and terribly ill”. That doesn’t help the grieving process.

Perhaps that’s why teenagers like to make sure that they really, really are what they’ve been told they are, often several times a day. In a world of uncertainty, it’s good to have a sense of what gender you are, so then you can fret about how you are supposed to deal with the other gender, and feel insecure when comparing yourself to others of the same gender.

But don’t feel bad about the end of a relationship- A single-celled organism begins every relationship by splitting up. The glorious amoeba- for whom life is a cycle of singlehood and splitting. Bet an Amoeba Agony Aunt is kept busy. No comment here about till death I do part…

Do hermaphroditic creatures struggle with sexual identity? If they upset each other in bars, does it still have the same impact when they snarl “Go fork yourself”?

These are important questions to wrestle with from day to day. You need to be prepared to answer things like this at any time: If you closed the cloaca of a newt, would it be neutered? And, Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (The answer to which, as we all know, is too much champagne and the romance of the full moon).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

As I was going up the stair

As I was walking on the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away!

She’d been to parties, in her youth, her infectious laugh causing heads to turn and smiles to appear involuntarily on people’s lips. Her laughter was the force that overrode her innate propriety and revealed her true spirit. She’d make friends by being appalled at the things that others accepted, by living to extremes, driven frequently to tears before adequate pills existed to manage the demolition derby of emotions that made up life. She’d not hold back her affection, tears of emotion welling up during hugs of hello or support, so strong was her empathy for those around her.

She was an activist, a feminist, a mind engaged in challenging the social mores at a time when those who stood against things or for things were potentially sidelined, and yet she made friends, dozens of them, clutches of hysterically laughing people gathering together to work out some of the absurdity of suburban life over drinks, food and terrible music. They’d dance in the manner of middle-aged people after too much whiskey and wine, too many beers and esoteric liqueurs. Ashtrays would overflow with lipstick twisted butts and saucers full of stale pretzels would mark the cemetery that was a Sunday morning lounge, grim testimony to the lives led at full tilt.

She didn’t just encourage her children; she’d go to the schools and harangue the various principals, insisting that her children be correctly acknowledged in their propensity for academic genius. She herself could recognize such things, her intellect being intimidating, and yet not used for intimidation. She had books of poetry memorized and hundreds of details about the lives of those around her filed away. She wrote letters until it was no longer fashionable to do so, itemizing her moments of pride- not to boast, but to display her affection for her family. She knew languages and music, a renaissance woman.

She loved to dress up, and in her modest way projected class and wealth. She wore Chanel No. 5. That speaks volumes. She liked pure wool and the texture and pattern of good fabrics, rather than the bloated and vacuous puffery of brands.

At 62 she started to act strangely. Her husband continued to drink, only this time without the benefit of spousal reproach. They developed habits to manage the slow inevitable erosion of her personality, when she could no longer do the crosswords in record time, or crochet or cook, they’d spend the afternoon drinking, and then come home and drink, although, she no longer drank much at all. Yet she never wept about her loss- for that ability was one of the first physical and emotional indicators to go. She instead became a childlike embodiment of affection, needing direction and reminding. She’d hug with intensity, forget, and then hug again. She’d kiss people with real affection in church, and smile contentedly, unaware that she was not the person she’d been.

In the house where they lived, the caregiver would go home on weekends, at which point her husband would drink until barely able to walk, his coping skills destroyed by watching the unraveling of his wife. One night, she ran a bath, and climbed in, her husband watching TV in the other room. The water was scolding, and burned her severely on her feet and backside, her vagina. She was rushed to hospital. The doctors puzzled what to do, while her husband went home and drank an entire bottle of whiskey. Perhaps feeling guilty that he’d allow this to happen, maybe compounded guilt on top of the way he’d slept with his wife’s caregiver while his wife slept in the same house...

So the doctors followed his instructions, writing DNR on her chart, and not to try anything invasive, such as surgery to prolong her life. She lay in the bed, unable to move, and although her skin was horribly burned, the doctors claimed that because of her mental condition she could feel no pain. Still, she grimaced, and shook, as if frightened by the abandonment and loneliness, murmuring in repetition the lines of the soap operas and advertisements. This shock for her body was too much, and slowly, over a period of a month, she died, in a hospital bed at home, with the cool Garden Route breeze acting as counterpoint to the late winter sun. Her hair was not the way she would have worn it, and her makeup was abandoned. She died as far removed from that energetic girl with the naughty laugh as she could get, in this bizarre and meaningless circle we call life.

She was my Mum.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Follower of the Pack

Survival of the fittest is a ridiculous concept. For humans. We no longer live by the proportions of our bodies, or our ability to hunt and gather. We live by intellect and the ability to apply that to the cauldrons of chaos we are forced to stir each day. We could sit back and wait for a wounded gazelle to totter past, but, in the city, that seldom happens. I went out to gather some nuts and berries in my garden, which is a 4x4 patch of paving, and the only thing with nutritious value that I could find was a rather emaciated-looking garden snail.

We don’t have to build a beautiful nest, or a towering set of antlers to find a mate. All we have to have is a webcam and a line in flattery. Given the virtual nature of our lives, if we could have sex and give birth online, our lives would be so tidy and contained, we would no longer need bothersome things like legs at all. Fitness should be gauged by our ability to sit upright on a typist’s chair. We can all be the Alpha males of our packs, running in formation towards our prey. We can claim leadership status without having to earn it- all it is is a title, really.

Too cynical? Maybe, a little. It’s good to get out, to stretch your legs, meet people and put the old instincts into action. Ultimately, being online creates a world that exists largely in your mind, and one that is dependent on your self-confidence, self-delusion or ability to code in html. It is intimidating to go into a world where people know you as a series of witticisms or for your ability to LOL, or say OMG when something bad happens. But when you do, and you stretch yourself, you often find that even though you may not be the Alpha male of your imagination, you are not the helpless runt of your deepest-seated fears.

There is something to be said for the tactile experience of a real hug, which no amount of brackets can express. There is something seen in the glint of an eye which a semi-colon doesn’t contain. There is nothing quite as intimate as feeling your heart beat faster, instead of typing a heart tag, As passionate as we can be in words, passion without the reality of the brush of fingertips and the caress of an exposed neck is never as satisfying.

So. Real world, real fears, real survival. It’s good to face it. It’s not easy, sure, but we can adapt. That is where our real skills lie. Adaptation of the most average. Seems to be much more appropriate than survival of the fittest.

Hoping to ((HUG)) you soon, and LOL! And maybe PMSL, or ROFL. May all your avatars be a poor reflection of the incredibly deep people you really are.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't catch me, I want to fall

Existing is acknowledging the risks and submitting to them. Living is looking at the risks, and taking two steps back so you can get enough speed to hurdle over them and sprint off into the distance. Common sense says don’t do things you know could upset the impossible balance of life, but uncommon sense says if life was meant to be balanced, we would have no range of emotions, just one. Fine. I think it’s worth the risks to experience ecstatic, or overjoyed, or thrilled, or excited. I’m not insane- nobody wants to feel shattered, miserable or depressed, but life isn’t about aiming for those things.

You look at a year’s worth of weather reports, and you will have a few days where the weather is notable, extreme conditions- hottest day in decades, heaviest rainfall for that month ever- those kinds of things. And those are the times you remember. Nobody remembers the endless mild and partly cloudy days that make up the tasteless tofu of normalcy.

People talk about old age as the sunset of your life. Maybe in terms of the cycle of life- sure, you only get one sunrise. But. For all the blue skies and cotton wool clouds of the afternoons that you experience, how glorious is the unpredictable spread of purples and pinks that comes in the end? Something to look forward to.

Risks are just that. An actuary or statistician can analyse and predict based on probability, but can they predict the variables that seem to drop in on situations that make things seem worthwhile. OK- they probably can and do, but you get the point. Being paralysed by fear of maybes and what ifs is no way to live life. Unless they are the kind of maybes and what ifs that goad you into experiencing more, stepping out of yourself, being stretched. It can be a little painful, disorientating, but when you look back and see the winding path you have taken, you can start to understand that for all your lack of control over consequences, life can be amazing.

It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I feel like taking an Acapulco plunge off a cliff face and feeling the rush of the cool sea air as I hurtle towards an ocean of new experience.

See you at the bottom.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I know Where the Bodies are Buried

What do you expect to find when you walk around a corner, or in a strange place? To be honest, my attitude up until now has been fairly fatalistic. I have considered myself one of those people you read about in newspapers. You know, the front page articles about horrific murders? What bugs me most about those is that the bodies are quite frequently discovered by ‘a local man out walking his dog’, or ‘a friend who happened to visit and found the door open.’ I’ve pretty much resigned myself to being either that man or that friend. The guy who is drifting along thinking about having spaghetti for supper, or maybe inviting a mate out for a beer, when suddenly he is confronted with all the relevant gore and revulsion that goes with finding someone who is unwillingly an ex-human.

I’ve had that fear since I was maybe thirteen. When I did normal teenager stuff like exploring woodlands, rivers or mountains, and my friends would be running ahead, I would be scouting the shadows for signs of a garbage bag bloated with the reeking gases of decay. You can draw your own conclusions.

Oddly enough, I never found one. I’ve searched forests and remote places, and combed deserted beaches, but not once have I found so much as an ear. Ok, once I found a chunk of finger, but that was because I knew the kid at school had just had an accident, and went looking for it.

So where to from here? Do I continue waiting for this to happen, or do I force myself to look for happy things?

What cheered me up today was just the thought of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Unfolding its angled limbs and wobbling on a twig to let the warm spring air heat up the vessels in its wings, and knowing the sense of completion it must feel as it discovers the glorious symmetry of whorls and patterns on its wings. How it must feel to be something new, and yet not without memories of before. How it would be to allow a breeze to lift you into the air for the first time and send you bobbing and dancing over the new leaves. How wonderful it must be to have a brain devoid of suspicion and paranoia, but focused solely on taste and colour. To have your purpose scribbled in your genes, and for that purpose to be no more complicated than to eat, mate and die.

And to those of us around, we see a snapshot of beauty. If I can still appreciate a butterfly shuddering through the drafts, then I know I am alive, too. I think I’ll look for more of those, in the shaded forests and the dank mossy riverbanks.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Amazing World of Pink Drinks

I’m on Twitter. You might say to yourself, frikkin geeksville. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am a bit of a geek. My name there is @Squidsquirt. I regret using that- but to start off with, it was a purely virtual existence, so you don’t think what it will be like to introduce yourself in real life (IRL) as your handle.

I went on Twitter originally at the prompting of my ex. Well- still my wife, but we have been separated for five months. A lot of you didn’t know that. I have avoided speaking about it, out of respect to her, and the desire to keep all that personal stuff about a separation and divorce private. Short story- we are getting on ok, and are doing everything humanly possible to make sure the children are ok, too. She remains my friend.

So after I left home, I needed friends, and went back on Twitter. What you do is follow a few people, whose tweets you enjoy. Soon, you see them mentioning other people, so you follow them, and people follow you back as you converse.

A lot of the people I followed originally are bloggers. Then I met a group of people who have made the leap into meeting up IRL. They organize Tweetups. The Cape Town people usually meet over something they call #pinkdrinks. Pink drinks are not just cosmopolitans, martinis or strawberry mojitos. When you meet for pink drinks, you are saying, ‘I am alive, I exist, and I am your friend’. I have met the most incredible people through some of these evenings, people I am proud to call my friends without reserve. Closer friendships than I, as a middle-aged man on his own, could hope to make by hanging out in bars or sports clubs.

We’ve shared so much, my friends and I. We rely on each other- sometimes overtly, sometimes just in secret, to make it through the day. Many of us are experiencing using Twitter as a tool for survival. And have been amazed to find it has taken us beyond that.

So. To the people I have met IRL : @al_ice @Ann_Wilson @kambabe @cc_monkey @anib @pinkhairgirl @MajorProblem @andrevr @Wenchy @Tertia @Riven16 @Rhettroberts @MikeTaberner @evregirl @cow_grrrl @cathjenkin @biggestmullet @ChristopherM @blindcripple @sezleigh @za5 @acidicice @rudicowboy @SamanthaPerry @fionaby @cazpi

What amazing people. And there are dozens more whom I have yet to meet, but all of you have helped me through what is one of the most difficult times in my life. I’m beyond being polite, so I want to offer my love and friendship to you, in the same way you have given it to me, whether through silly jokes or actual hugs in person. Forgive me if I missed you from the list…

Awesome friends. No hyperbole.
You can find us at

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lions in the Streets

I see a man. He’s maybe thirty five, dressed in smart new clothes- smart but fashionable. Ties don’t cut it at the agency, so he’s just chosen a shirt that picks up his conservative tan, a tan won by making eye contact with clients on golf days and on Sundays as he goes for a cycle on his feather-weight machine down by the dam just on the outskirts of the hill-suburb where he has set down his roots. It’s not a place he’s particularly fussed about in terms of personal history; just a good spot to ease in three storeys of concrete, steel and glass. He’s in his car today- not that the substantial investment he made in the imported German brand is getting him to work any faster in the impatient lines of traffic clogging the arteries into the city. He’s on his phone. Not speaking, well, not right now, but just stabbing away at the screen as he selects which emails to answer and which he can get away with ignoring. He’s also chatting to friends, intermittently, a distracted series of relationships he maintains to feel part of something more glamorous than the tedium of work, work and home. He went out on the weekend, and met up with some of them, but didn’t stay for dinner- the sushi in the place wasn’t the best he’d experienced, so he opted instead to pick up a steak at a bistro near his house, where the staff know him. Well. They know him as the haunted-looking but handsome man with the jeans that never seemed to fade, who ordered the best foods off the menu without complaining about the prices or the presentation. He tips well. So at work he answers more emails and chats to other people in the office, each giving away enough details about their social lives to hint that they are leading colourful and exciting ones, but not enough that they pick up a reputation. It’s important to this crowd that they can stand out when they need to stand out, and blend when blending is required.

I see a boy. He’s maybe eleven. He is running down a hill to the small house where his mother spends all of her days. His gait is wide and natural, fit for a long-distance racetrack. He’s running to tell his mother about the goat whose ankle shattered on the loose shale at the foot of the mountain, as he knows that she will make arrangements to have the animal brought back and slaughtered. Unfortunate timing- they can ill afford to lose an animal, but the boy is hungry all the same, in the manner of all boys, and he plays absent mindedly with the fraying threads of his sleeves as he runs. In the distance he can see his friends doing somersaults into the small dam, and chasing each other through explosions of panicked hens. He can’t stop, though, and he doesn’t mind. He and his friends are as close as siblings. They will be there tomorrow in this seemingly timeless ritual of inventing games that keep them close to the elements, the rocks, sand and water on which their families have lived for countless generations.

This is South Africa in poles. There is an increasing blending of the two, but still they remain. Poles are like that. They are by nature opposite and yet related, and connected by the vast majority who fill the space between them. You have to love it all. And respect that not all of us look at life with the same values, values maybe superficially different, but made up of histories, cultures, finances, relationships, families and dreams. We do not have lions in the streets, but we do have lions.