A farewell to my father

There has never been a closer bond as the one between me and my father. A real daddy’s girl, he was the older, male version of me, born on the same day, and slave to the same cursed disease.

But it meant that he knew me better than anyone else – he always knew what I was thinking, and how I was feeling, without me having to say it. Because he had thought, and felt the same way. He knew me better than I know myself. And I hated admitting it, but he was always right.

Dad, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you enough. You were CONSTANTLY trying to give me advice. Always with me, at my side, and as engaged in my life as I was, even if only over the phone.

My father had an amazing way of getting right to the crux – be it the humanity or the humour – of situations most of us wouldn’t even notice. Virginia Woolf’s approach to fiction won her a firm place on his bookshelf:

“Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as the fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old.”

I think one of the things that made my father so interesting was that fact that he was interested – in life, and those he loved. My father’s video tape collection – a collection that extends well beyond a few thousand video tapes, ranging from the latest teen flicks he’d recording for me growing up to the classics, obscure foreign films, bits and pieces of the news for James, our journalist friend, dog stuff for my mother, and hours and hours of me just, growing up. Footage shot as if for national geographic, documenting a new and unfamiliar species – the teenage female.

In the late 90’s I was just starting to discover raves, and one night my father decided to join us. As the sun came up the next morning, he was still shuffling around on the dance floor. Of course I later found out that he’d taken an ecstasy tablet – he wanted the whole experience.

My father taught me almost everything I know about advertising. I remember many a frantic phone call during my first few months on the job: “Dad! Quick! How do you write a radio ad?”. And not once did he let me down.

Daddy, I can’t tell you how much I regret not spending enough time with you over the last few months. I thought we’d still have years to spend together. But I’m so grateful for all the time we did have…

When I think back over the last 30 years, I’m overwhelmed – there are so many memories! Hours spent sitting on my bedroom floor playing with Barbies and My Little Pony (he was always Apple Jack). Messing around in the darkroom. Watching ridiculously inappropriate movies. Making green custard, just to irritate my grandmother. And the way he so coolly escorted a blushing 11 year old me to my first ever beach party, and made us fit right in. Not many fathers could have pulled that off. But coolness was never something mine was lacking in…

Having grown up without a father, the young Steve modeled himself on his hero – James Dean, with whom he bore a striking resemblance – very serious; curious, yet aloof. And always with a book.

His curiosity didn’t wane over the years. My father read his way through an intimidating range of authors, on an equally wide range of subjects, from textbooks and medical journals to film scripts and Vanity Fair. His intellect, together with his unique brand of cynicism, bordering on distrust, and his dry, even dark sense of humour made for valuable contributions to any conversation. But it also had its down side.

John Updike, another of his favourite authors, best describes what I imagine it might sometimes have felt like to be my father:

“To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death- foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. ”

Over the last few years, dad got weaker. His emphysema progressed until he was put onto 24 hour Oxygen, which left him unable to do the things he’d always done – the things we all take for granted. And though he was not in pain, he was bored, and boredom, to a mind as active and willful as his, was probably worse.

As Updike puts it: “It seems to me that once you begin a certain gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.”

My father lived fast. And he left the world as swiftly as he made his way through it. But the impression he made on so many people will not easily be forgotten. And I can’t help but feel that a personality as great as my father’s, a heart as big as his, couldn’t possibly just disappear, and that he must be somewhere, watching us.

Dad, I know you didn’t believe in spirits, and life after death. But I really I hope it’s the one thing you were wrong about.

A final thought, again best expressed by Updike:

“The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.”

Daddeo, I hope your next adventure is just beginning. You were, and always will be, my hero. To borrow your words: Thank you for being. And for being you. And for all the joy you’ve given me.

 

half a short story.

I think I prefer the chocolate, he said, putting the little fork down next to the little plate in front of the two cakes. She’d been asking him similar questions for weeks now. Should we serve chicken or fish? Set menu or buffet? What’s more inviting – daffodils or orchids? Red wine or white? What should we say about the dress code?

He hadn’t known her long. Barely a year. …. He didn’t know where she went to school. Or where she kept the love letters from old boyfriends that he was sure she still had. But he did know that she was not the sort of woman that would let something like that slip her mind. No. She would have drawn up the guest list months ago. Refined it. Worked out the seating arrangements. She would know, for example, that Mrs Rogers from the PTA could not be seated next to Mrs Bakewell from the school’s Old Girls’ Association given the dubious nature of the relationship between Mr Rogers and Mrs Bakewell’s young cousin. No. If he had not been invited, it was not by chance. There was a reason. She was sending him a message. She did not see him as family. He had not earned the title… He supposed she might have thought he would have declined. And, until… when? A few weeks ago? A few hours ago? …she was probably right.

What he found even more upsetting was that he cared. A few months ago, weeks even, it would not have concerned him in the least. In fact, he would have been grateful for the chance to avoid one of her parties. He had always found such gatherings to be rather dreary affairs. He had never thought much of her friends either. And yet he found himself longing to be in their company. To be with them in her company. Could it be that he, the man who would never marry, the eternal drifter, was falling in love? And not just in love. In love with a woman who did not love him back. Oh what a cruel twist of fate. What terrible irony.

To be continued cos I can’t concentrate:(

Exiled

We are offered life without rest. Sleep without dreams. Hunger but no satisfaction. We are offered shelter, but not a home. There is no language left for us. Only sight without focus and pain with no release.

Run, rabbit run. But don’t dig that hole beneath the sun. For the sun will never set on this day. And your desperate clawing will be in vain. And soon the Dead Clouds will settle. God’s foul rags, discarded, will ooze and squelch up against the sky. And They will block out the light. And you will have to start again. Run, rabbit, run.

We dig our holes. Beneath the sun. The moon. The fog. The smog. We walk along, our eyes fixed, lashes brushing the dead leaves from the pavement. And if we lean forward, could we walk into the pavement? Disappear into the broken, smutty stones. Lie still between the cracks. And pray no-one will notice. Better yet, if we could find a chisel, we could hammer hard and lift one up. And crouch down. And cover ourselves. Set in stone and no-one would know.

But what’s this? A change of pace to prompt a change. A different point of view. I can’t see the Clouds – did they die? Were the rags reborn? Recycled? Revealing the same in a different shade? But do not worry. Everyone is all right here. And no-one notices.

There is nothing here to notice. Just me. My thoughts loosely connected, trailing behind related trains. There’s a word. Another. A sentence perhaps? A little girl’s fairy princess dress, green frills flouncing. Flashes from days long gone. Parts of pictures, almost inklings and a sense of something near. Almost here. Almost.

I can look, but I cannot feel. I can think, but I cannot remember the thought. But if this is the best they are offering, I’ll take it now. And live it now. And watch it now. Just don’t let me sink back down. Don’t let this be real. I am offered imagination, just not my own. I am offered bliss, but I must race to finish before it runs out. I am offered life without rest.

What’s wrong with us?

Two things have put a dampener on my new year so far. One happened just yesterday in Cape Town. A man was climbing Lions Head and fell. One person went to help him, while everyone else apparently stood by, taking photographs and tweeting. The man died, and only one person went down to help him. The other was the horrific gang-rape of a 23 year old  student on a bus in New Delhi. The assault was one of the most brutal I have  heard of in years, but what’s equally disturbing is the fact that when the girl and her companion were tossed off the moving bus (which also tried to run them over), hardly anyone stopped to help them or cover their naked, bleeding bodies, and the police argued over jurisdiction for 30 minutes before attending to them. The girl died in hospital a few days later, and while sure, there were  protests and calls for the death penalty for the men who murdered her, the incident left me wondering what sort of a society stands back and lets its members die while it updates its status or hurries on by, anxious not to acknowledge other peoples’ problems or recognise their shared humanity lest they feel compelled to help. Society needs a reset button. On our values. Our politics. Our financial systems and living standards. Everything.

So here it is

Boom. 2013. The year so many thought might never come has graced us with its presence. The doomsayers were wrong, and so it would seem were the Mayans. Although the Mayans never actually thought the world would end. Come on, they lived a long time ago but they weren’t complete idiots. Rather, they saw 21/12/2012 as the end of one calendar, and the start of a new one. A new chapter. And possibly – hopefully – the start of a shift in consciousness. So that’s quite an inspiring way to look at it. Almost as inspiring as the thousands of white butterflies that filled the Joburg skies on New Year’s Day. And everyone knows that butterflies are a symbol of growth and change. Having spent most of last year procrastinating, I think this new theme is most befitting. So that’s it. This is the year I’m going to make things happen. No more to-do lists for me. No more “wouldn’t it be cool if’s” or  New Year’s resolutions that I know won’t last past the first or second day. This year I’m going to strive for two things: action, and moderation. I’m going to do the things I’ve always wanted to do but always been afraid to try in case my attempt wasn’t perfect. Which is where the moderation comes in. Which is why my resolutions for 2013 consist only of things to do less and more of. Less red bull. Less cigarettes. Less depressing news. Less impulsive spending. More exercise. More food that’s good for my body. More activities that are good for my brain. Like starting a blog. So that’s what I did. Let’s see how it turns out…