We live so that we might die

There are rules for this life, I know. There are ways of being. I have chosen my way. I am 28 now, but I won’t resort to clichés about how old that makes me. I am as old as today, as the time I woke those few minutes before my alarm beeped its unpleasantries, until this moment when I drew these thoughts towards me. I am not afraid of this life.

I am not afraid of getting old, because I know that my mind will adjust with these changes. It is only when I go back to the place where I grew up that I see how far I have come, or rather how far away I have gone. I walk streets and know memories; know who I was and what I did once. I am not that person and perhaps I never was. How can we really know ourselves when we change so quickly – our skin cells shedding en masse, as much as our memories do?

It does not matter what you did to me. The beauty of age is the art of forgetting that one learns, or perhaps the art of beauty is forgetting how to learn, because we love most that which we know. You only matter to me if you are present, if I can remember the colour of your eyes and know the smell of your breath. You only matter to me if what I feel now is dependent on you. I have only fond, fleeting glimpses of time’s past and I am happy to live by remembering to forget.

There are rules for life. They are scattered around the internet as a means to feel better about oneself. They contradict and confuse more than they help. Don’t pay too much attention. Truthfully, no one can show me how to be happy, not even me. I am what I am. I just have to trust that with sadness comes happiness and that I won’t feel that same way for the rest of my life.

I am no longer afraid to be alone. I have to trust that statement. I have to believe that my purpose will become clear in time. My life is endless, boundless, an eternity, because tonight I will close my eyes and today will no longer matter. It makes me invincible. Let go. Trust in growth, trust in time.

We live so that we might die. Our certainty comes from death, our uncertainty from living.

There was never enough oxygen to breathe

The phrase “the suicide victim” has always baffled me. Who is the “victim” of suicide; the one who kills him/herself or the people that are left behind? Am I selfish to suggest that it is us, those left with no answers, when all along we had not the empathy to know you well enough?

However, the truth is, there is something indescribable about being the one left behind. I know I barely knew you, but your death makes too much sense to go unnoticed. We are fools to experience this world as more that what it is: a world filled with senseless-ness, feelings frayed and forgotten, sympathy and empathy all but murdered by commercialism and consumerism. We are shells walking the seashore below the million dollar houses. I once described the life of the adult as that of playing monsters. We stalk each other constantly, wary of showing our weakness, wary of showing kindness; it has always seemed like just a game. You hardly remember me, but I think you would have liked that analogy.

Your death fills me with sadness, not because you escaped our world, but because you left me behind. You took all you could from life and it was never enough. You travelled the world in search of something, and you never did find it. You were the beautiful one, and yet we let the world eclipse you. But what does that say for us? Fools in an unforgiving world.

So, yes, I hardly ever crossed your thoughts, but you were still a small light in my life, one of many. I think back to our few moments of interaction and I realise that it is only now, that you are gone, that I can see the scope of your humanity. You were learned and wise; the most beautiful man that I have ever laid eyes upon. I doted on you in my innocence and you were kind and humble in return. Sometimes it requires but brief moments to see something in someone, and you made more of an impact in brief moments than many others have and will. Such was the brightness of your star.

And so I quote again your friend when she states “Isitya esihle asidleli”. You were beautiful and you were looked up to and now you took yourself away.

So now those left behind are faced with the struggle to forgive you, to fight the anger they feel and answer the questions they are confronted with. Was there a lesson in this, did you attempt to try to tell us something of this world? Could it be that you are telling us that this isn’t enough, that we are lost in our worldly playground, unfulfilled in our meaningless actions…? I know that more now than I knew it a moment ago.

You continue to speak in death (saying more to me than you did in life), and I am grateful that you have reminded me: “Give up the game”, you say, “Where is the kindness?”

Now I cannot yet leave this alone; your Lecturer was right: “For, to know and to trust that we are loved, is the most difficult thing.”

People have said “Hamba Kahle” but I say “stick around and burn and burn and burn.” We must live for you, through you, in memory of you, all around you but without you. Do not tolerate our clichés and do not let us expect more from life than we are willing to fight for. Break us down, challenge us, do not let us get away too easily. This life is not simple, yet only the weak survive. They do not demand more, like you did. You cared too much and there was never enough oxygen for you to breathe. But now we can build a house out of your ideas and passion, and keep warm by the fire of your memories.

A life half-lived

The Dangling Conversation

There are these lyrics which, I feel at times, mock me, words which I cannot turn from, because the story is potent and believable. By Simon and Garfunkle, the song speaks of a life half-lived, of compromise and missed opportunities. It is a song about mourning.

I speak of this, because I fear it. I fear living a life of loss, because I cannot find what I am looking for. You and I, we can have it all, and have very little. We can have what-is-the-meaning-of-life conversations and entirely miss the point of our existence. We can have dependability and loyalty and have no passion. We can share similar interests and never understand what makes us happy. Or we can have happiness and yet find no fulfillment.

I can sum up this life in one word: superficial.

And you can say in reply that there is not much more to life than that described in the song. I should be grateful for small mercies and small comforts. Yes, you have your religion, you have your beliefs. Hell, he doesn’t hit you, even if you haven’t had sex in twenty years. But that’s okay, because he never cheats, or at least hides it well, and he only watches porn on weekends.

You can’t remember a time when it was different. But that’s because it never was. Whatever you have missed was cloaked in the smell of mass-produced roses and mothers’ day breakfasts, of church incense and Christmas pudding, the softener in your washing and the smell of his newly washed hair.

I know what you’re thinking, about my cynicism. I can and will defend myself. You see, I can understand the joy in your effortless conformity. I see the dependability of your 9 to 5 and the comfort of your afternoons together by the fire. There is something to a man who does not drink too much, who remembers anniversaries and opens the door for you. There is something about a smile, even if it is based on a lifetime of goodwill and not on the immediate moment.

There is no shame is settling down (or in settling). There is nothing wrong with decades of the same conversations, the same reflections in one another’s faces, of finding meaning in the Cosmopolitan, My Baby and Fairlady. Don’t be ashamed of forgetting those dreams of youth; they were from a different time and would have been altered 50 times since then. I admire your doggedness and your resolute, empty smile. I admire that you were able to walk on egg shells for all of your life. I guess it was convenient that you could lean on your white-picket-fence-and-2.4-kids.

The truth is, I mock you because I fear you, because I am not so different to you and can become you. I do not fear marriage or a lifetime with someone else. I fear that all that I have resolved to be, and all that I have resolved to avoid, will be a weakened resolve as each year passes. That I will grow tired and weak and finally compromise in the name of a half-hearted attempt at life.

I don’t want the grey meat-and-3-veg meal that was my grandparent’s marriage, or the let’s-make-the-most-of-our-accident relationship of so many people I know. I don’t want a relationship based on the no-turning-back mentality, on the level of comfort reached or the number of years passed. I don’t want to wake up 50 years from now and realise that there is a stranger in my bed and that he’s been there since the day we married.

Whoever you are, I want to be your hot chocolate at 3am, the hand you hold as we bungy jump through life, the depth and breadth of your experience, the only one that truly knows you. I want to feel your pain as you feel mine, I want to laugh with you at life’s atrocities and disappointments and know that I will always be safe with you. I want more than just the shallow, superficial and breakable. I want you to understand me, know me, change with me, love me more as I get older and give this all you have. I want to know that there is no one better, more suited or more perfect than the one who I wake up with every morning.

Thank you to S&G and the song, “The Dangling Conversation”

A Father Wanted

In September 2011, my father passed on from this life. Through his eyes he may have passed onto something infinitely better; a blessing, an omnipotent love without judgment. My eyes saw nothing but the closure of doors. Months before this, I spoke of his death because I knew that it was coming, even if no one had said a word. But it was still unexpected. Mourning was confused, my mind empty and dark, and every day I have to remind myself that he is gone.

Yesterday I told a stranger about my life. Perhaps I could have said nothing and I tried, I swear, to skirt around the issue; merely hint at certain possibilities. But when I spoke the truth, as dispassionately as I have always done, so far removed from those funeral songs, he turned his eyes towards me in a way no one has ever done. He looked at me with recognition, as if he understood what I was trying to say. Until that moment, I did not realise that there was something I wanted to tell him.

His own father had died before he was even born, just like a dramatic romance: a piece of the hero left for the woman who loved him, as pregnant and alone as any storybook heroine. His son, now a grown man, still thrashes around with breath and life and desires. He will not accept death as easily as I have done: he burns with its fire, he longs for its secrets to be revealed.

His burden is bigger than mine. We both lost something we never had, fathers we knew, understood, loved, wanted, and now we miss that which we lost. It leaves us empty, grasping at holes, breathing in dioxides, more alone than we ever felt before. Except, I lost something of possibility: memories seeped in alcoholic oblivion, a memorial, a song. He doesn’t possess even one memory and I want to throw mine away. I lost something I never wanted; he lost something he has continued to want for all the days of his life.

The Proverbial Drain of Real Life

I met my friend S on the other side of his microphone. He was hosting a show on a “college” radio station and was interviewing me about the local music scene. In between breaks, we got to talking about ourselves and I was completely blown away by his experience of bands and his overwhelming encyclopaedic knowledge of music. He had watched a number of massive rock acts of the 80s and 90s while he lived in England. The music he put on that day was eclectic, underground, different. S belonged behind that mic; even if his talent was only know to a handful of listeners.

He recently found himself in Cape Town working as a producer for a show on a local talk radio station. He had the second most popular show. Until the media brought him down – in particular, his own media. He apparently wrote something in a tweet which his company took offence to and then proceeded to dig a deeper grave through a blog post entitled “Radio killed the, well…radio”. He should know; he works for radio. And I cannot say for sure, but I am almost certain that the boy behind the mic at the college radio station had changed considerably. He was no longer using his encyclopaedic knowledge of music or suggesting songs from the forefront of the underground scene.

He lost his job.

At University we are given so much critical and intellectual power, forced to question and probe every aspect of this world. The Bachelor degree we get at the end is not so much about that fact that we covered Foucault, or were introduced to the Constitution, or could recite the scientific names of a hundred species of insect; the degree was more about how we questioned what we were taught, how we argued against the messages we were told.

And then comes the real world and suddenly we are told to obey, to not think, to not question or express opinions. We are transformed from masters of our own minds, to cogs in the machine, dog’s bodies. We become masters of the alt c, alt v world. It makes me think, why bother? Scrape through that bachelors degree, you won’t really be expected to apply your mind in the real world. At University they should merely make you arrive at nine, do some copy pasting, and then leave at five. You’ll be better equipped for the crushing drudgery of working life.

After three months at my first job I thought that I would go mad. I was completely disillusioned by the repetition and boredom of my work, which involved sending hundreds of e-mails. I had toiled through a Master’s, suffered the stress of two years, learned the entire Land Reform system inside out, battled with game theory and wrote close to fifty thousand words in the most critical and all-absorbing way, just to send e-mails. More than anything, it made me angry. Not because I felt like I deserved more, but I resented the fact that there is no space for my own creativity, that all that hard won knowledge was slowly going down the proverbial drain. And I couldn’t question it, I couldn’t speak up.

After two years I went back to the classroom. When people ask me why, I say something like, “I wanted to change my career path,” or, “I got some inheritance so thought that I would study further.” The real truth is that I was disillusioned by working, I had come to despise the money-hungry environmental sector and I really wanted to do something where I could apply my brain. It took me a few weeks to be able to really think again but it has been therapeutic to have had this year of time-out.

I used those excuses because I feel really terrible about my cynicism, which is strengthened by stories like S’s. What happened to him is indicative of the conformity and meekness that is expected of you in the working world. His experience of music mirrors that of life; radio playlists are not experimental, critical or inspiring. Popular radio stations have “the same shit, just a different day” kind of mentality which I despise.

Which is ironic really, when one looks back on where music came from. The really good music acts came from a place where they too felt despondent, where they wanted something different from life. Ozzy Osbourne, Nirvana, Metallica, even fucking U2, wanted to say something about this world. What they were fighting against, mass conformity and mendacity, is killing the very thing that they created in the first place – great music. If you want to do something, say something or play something different (real, progressive, liberated), you have to do it at university, or at an underground station.

What do you earn when you try to do something different – nothing or barely anything. No one pays for creativity. And this is the proverbial drain of the real world.

The real self…

…is difficult to distinguish from all the rest.

So many of the people I know are trying to be something better; a god-like creature which morphs from human to miracle. They believe it of themselves and talk as if they have already become that. It’s as if we have entered into a struggle between being known to some and being known to many; you want to be different and you want to be seen to be different. 

What comes from the mouths of these half-gods are half-truths. Because half-truths are prophesised by people who are half-way to being perfect, but want so desperately to be so much more. And if they can’t be perfect, then they’ll try their maddest to be better than you. There is no harm in being the best, as long as you recognise that there will always be better.

So, I am constantly found inferior, based on whatever conclusions they draw upon meeting me. Me, I find them tedious, because I see right through their definitions. Whatever words they use are never fully representative of what it means to be an imperfect creature. You can never be something all the way and all the time.

I prefer the man who tells me that he would never buy his own artwork. It’s not that he believes that his work is not worth something, but it will never hold the same worth to every person. He knows of its flaws and its indelicate undertones. He had hidden them beneath the indecent colours on the surface. He knows that if you shout your way through life, people will be forced to listen to you.

You can tell people what you want them to know, but they will only assign value to what they already value. People will only recognise those things in you that they have already experienced in themselves. It is only if you met a person who had been to all places, seen all things and knew all the secrets of the world, then you would find someone who might identify you as the person whom you really are. Your real self is confined to the jail cell of human thought. Yours is the only mind you will recognise.

I have known many liars and I see lies in each of you. People are not that much different to one another. There are only a handful of people who will be deemed truly great and who will distinguish themselves from the rest. So what makes you believe that you are one of them?

The truth will set you free. You will never be the master of everything, you will never be everything to one person and you will never be seen in the way you see yourself. So best stop pretending.

City Lights

Sometimes I feel like my life-world is in intangible mass of city lights; none of which belong to me. I look down on the industrial-scape of blinking stillness and I feel like nothing I will ever say will calm it. These words I write every day are not mine, but learned from endless books which I could never write. I have no original thoughts, no original needs. I have only atoms which shaped into something human-like, with a unique appearance; a porcelain factory replica of thoughts, dreams, desires.

The moon leered through the clouds while I gazed upon this foreign place which I will never really love. Loneliness danced at my feet on the cold, heartless stones upon which I stumbled. I am following a life-path that trips me up more than it cradles me. It has made me unlovely, small and mean and I have not said a nice thing to you in weeks. I apologise.

I think I loved once, but it may have been in another life. I held your hand by the raging fire and felt no spiritual awakening, like they had promised, but just an emptiness that no one can explain. I feel like dead leaves are strewn in my wake, many autumns in which I grew colder, fading from your smile. It may have been the grotesque insignia on the side of buildings which remind me of the stupidity of us.

These are not our thoughts, we have no original thoughts; we take these from the minds of others. A city-scape of others; millions of mindless minds, indescribable monster-angels, these fearful souls. All of us know, there is no one who would give their lives so that we can have a chance to live. I only have this life, I only know of this world; but it seems so lonely in this intangible mass of city lights; even while I am holding your hand.