Thursday, February 21, 2019

Panoptican





























Had dinner with a friend on the weekend. Caught myself staring into the fire a few times, and supper was a subdued affair, compared to our normal.

His father died unexpectedly last year. One of his coping mechanisms has been to throw all caution to the wind and to travel at short notice and with his now depleted savings.

After some wine, he told me that his hair was falling out and that he was extremely anxious about it. He had been looking particularly dishevelled of late, I hadn't realised exactly why. Stress?

After supper, he played at his piano and sang. That's when he came alive again as I know him.

My mug of tea is cooling, I'm not sure why I made it. It's a distraction. To fill the long spaces between me doing, accomplishing anything. Just as logging into the app every time, in case some stranger has messaged me. It's a distraction, from what I should be doing.

Not so much at the back of my mind, I dread that call that will alert me to my mother's or father's death. Of course, I may die before them but I don't wish that on them either. Statistically speaking, they will die before I do.

We are, all, essentially, alone. No matter what we try to fill our lives with, or choose as our distraction/s.

The south-easter is pummeling the city and thrusting a thick tablecloth of cloud over Table Mountain. With it, suddenly, is a smell of fire. It's tinderbox season now that it's late in the summer. The dryness combined with the ferocious wind fire on the mountain slopes is a real threat.

In the space that I find myself here at my desk at home, I also mourn the connection between me and once dear friends that have been unexplainably severed. As strong as the wind is, those memories and thoughts, their ghosts, are impervious to it and glue to me and my clammy skin on this insipid day.

What does, however, give me joy is the countless rusted, colourful tin roofs of Woodstock down below. It has become my hood, blissfully unpretentious. For now.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A helpless world of idiots






















Last night the south-easter continued raging, torrenting thick and turbulent cloud over The Mountain and into the City Bowl.

So much so that it prevented the 16-deck 93‚000-ton cruise ship MSC Musica from docking from Thursday until early this Saturday morning - when the Cape Doctor halted as suddenly as it had started.

Cape Town Magazine explains to the uninitiated that the up to 160 km/h speeding Cape Doctor is the local name for the strong [read ferocious!] south-eastern wind – also known as South-Easter - that blows from False Bay and funnels through to Cape Town and Blouberg.
Then the sun finally set behind the basin between the edge of Table Mountain, on the corner where the cable car trundled 4 million visitors up and down its predominantly quartzitic sandstone 'wall' - laid down between 510 and 400 million years ago, it is the hardest, and the most erosion-resistant layer of the Cape Supergroup - and Lion's Head.

It was a glorious sunset, unreservedly impossible to capture by camera as usual, despite that, I never stop trying.

I'm reading, or rather I'm being swept along by, or, perhaps, devouring better describes it(?) Henry Miller's 1941 Greek travelogue 'The Colossus of Maroussi', which I found in the chilly, mostly neglected basement of the University of Cape Town's Main Library a week ago.

His description of a Greek a sunset is much better than both my attempt or, a thousand photographs:

"We sat on deck watching the sinking sun. It was one of those Biblical sunsets in which man is completely absent. Nature simply opens her bloody, insatiable maw and swallows everything in sight. Law, order, morality, justice, wisdom, any abstraction seems like a cruel joke perpetrated on a helpless world of idiots."

This morning the scene from my 'deck' is a starkly different one, so much so that I draw what flimsy excuses I have for curtains: calico drops.

Woodstock's subdued in ugly, bleak sunshine. The traffic on Lower Main is also subdued, sporadic. A dog barks half-heartedly. Bleak, barren, dishevelled. It's ingloriously rundown. The rusted corrugated iron roofs are like the deep red-soil gashes of some of my favourite places in the north of the country. There, on the other side of Pretoria, and in the deep bushveld of the Northern Province.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday morning books & blues


I begin this year, putting down on a virtual page of an electronic notebook, with three pointers - actually far more than mere pointers for me - that have serendipitously crossed my path and shortcircuited a lay line in my mind:

* Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.
- Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis

Why the above triggers me is because, in all honesty, I have hardly ever dared to write about what really interests me, presses me; perhaps it's because, firstly, I don't have balls... and, secondly, because of my mom and dad still being alive. I certainly hope, and fear, that freedom will only come when they die.


* Every time you do something that comes from your needs for acceptance, affirmation, or affection, and every time you do something that makes these needs grow, you know that you are not with God. These needs will never be satisfied; they will only increase when you yield to them.
Henri Nouwen 

With reading Nouwen's words above (I'm ploughing through his works, as well as a biography about him) I'm struck by the realisation that my lifespan consists of layers upon layers of automatic behaviour that I no longer even interrogate-analyse; it's empty - and energy- and emotion-sucking - actions in perpetual scan/search mode, but never ever finding satisfaction, except momentarily, and mostly sexual. But, nevertheless, empty. And meaningless. Surely, by now, surely, I can intellectually acknowledge that I'm quite simply wasting my time, that it's going nowhere. And never will.

* I believe that writers, unless they consider themselves terribly exquisite, are at heart people who live by night, a little bit outside society, moving between delinquency and conformity. 
Guillermo Cabrera Infante

While 'in public' I will almost definitely argue that I don't need an excuse for being who I am, I do know that - naturally, like for most of us mortals - that my upbringing, my school education and growing up in the apartheid state fucked me up six-nil. Nevertheless, while I take full responsibility for who I am and where I find myself, it's good to know that despite an implanted chip that tries it's damndest to programme me into conformity, I am anything but a conformist. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Psychogeography of paths less taken





























This is the secret path that I take back from UCT's Upper Campus at the end of every Friday, as day bleeds into the evening. The walk down the mountain slope from campus each week is a treasured time for me.

The path is verdant in its spring beauty. Cloying scents hanging in the heat-heavy air from blooms I don't yet know, the wonderful heady reek from the wild jasmine, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers and in stark contrast their perky and pretty pond-round green leaves.

Orange butterflies, some white-winged ones too.

I love to peer into the gardens and sometimes open windows of these big old houses that belong to another era. They back quietly onto this pathway.

Hardly anyone uses the path. I'm grateful for the peace, the quiet, the solitude after the busy, rowdy campus. And it's good to be wearing shorts.

What's also good is my sense of accomplishment at the end of this particularly productive day; it's a sense that's never guaranteed even if a full day's work lies behind me. The sense of productivity is an erratic one. It's also one I never take for granted.

The path ends in the exclamation mark of the bustle and honking minibus taxis on Main Road, Rondebosch:
Students buying groceries in Pick 'n Pay for the weekend. Also cardboard boxes full of booze for the night.
Strategically placed beggars - at the shopping centre entrance and hovering-like-flies outside McDonalds, Nandos and KFC - are jovial and overflowing with the weekend vibes.
Working folk stamping their feet, wanting to get home to their families.
Countless delivery scooters and bikes parked on the pavements, but revving and ready to drop off takeouts bought via mobile phone apps.
End of day traffic exacerbated by the heat.
Exhaust fumes from aggressively blunt and blundering Golden Arrow buses, exacerbating the heat.

***

Today, Sunday, as I type these words I'm naked (from the last few days' heat) at my desk. I've not worn any clothes since Friday night. It's a summer sun outside, not a spring one. It has bleached what should have been bright morning sunshine from both the day and from Woodstock.

Summer is here early and is pushing at Spring's envelope, which I resent.

Too hot. Too much sun. Too dry. Too uncomfortable to negotiate if one's mostly on foot as I am. This is not my favourite time of year.

However, on Tuesday night I leave for Hannover, Germany on a lecturer exchange where I look longingly forward to the autumnal dankness of northern Europe.

The complete change in scenery, also the thrill of the psychogeography - the intersection of psychology and geography - excites me. 

I thrive, always, on my psychological experiences of cities, especially ones I don't yet know. It not only illuminates and reveals to me the forgotten, discarded, or marginalised aspects of the urban environment I'm losing myself in, but simultaneously - like a mirror - allows me the not always satisfying opportunity to reflect, to look backwards over my shoulder at the urban environment I've left behind me at home. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The lines between: notes from a knife's edge


























Seven weeks ago, this morning, I was walking on a long sandy and wet beach. Nature's Valley.

The sand dune 'cliffs' in the distance was on a magnificent lagoon fed by the Groot River. It is the border between the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Borders - transient, blurred - always draw me.

The Otter Hiking Trail more or less ends here. It's where, 43 km later, bedraggled but mostly enlightened hikers emerge after four-and-a-half days: Know thyself.

"The Ancient Greek aphorism 'know thyself" is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later expounded upon by the philosopher Socrates who taught that:'The unexamined life is not worth living.'"

*

Seven weeks have passed, in a blur. Except for the first two weeks back on campus, it's not been a pleasant blur. Bewilderingly unpleasant.

A swathe of much-needed rain moves, now, across the city bowl. The first drops smatter my window. The gloom deepens.

Against the window, splattered, the still-fresh and bloodied corpses of two flies that had been the size of juicy-plump currants. I killed them earlier. I've still to wipe their bodies and gore off the glass.

*

Snapshot: Last year today, this week and weekend, I was in Kampala, at the Writivism festival.

*

I'm not sure if I'm depressed, or if I'm just totally empty from being poured out. In other words, the void and emptiness that (I think, as this is new territory) between having one's worldliness drained from you, before, He fills the void. 

I have less and less ambition, which is intricately linked to ego, but which terrifies me because it has been entwined with my very fibre for my lifetime. A gardening term comes to mind: Potbound? It's the process of being strangled in and by your own life. The void is all that appears to remain.

Naked. Empty. Unsure. But, knowing I cannot go back/wards, 'cos I've seen through all of that (the bling of it all).

However, when one peers more closely, that void is in fact filled with nutritious potting soil, compost. Spring is around the corner and new, exuberant growth is what's promised.

I'm reading HJM Nouwen and Andrew Murray and they are screwing me up big time.