I’m throwing my funeral, you coming?

“So, I was thinking, I want you to be desperately unhappy when I die,” I say altogether too excitedly to Husband who doesn’t glance up from behind his menu. “Hmmm, do you think I should eat the fish? I probably should eat the fish,” I see Husband tapping his chin, clearly only concerned about the merits of the menu in his hand, knowing better than to take my bait.  I continue, unperturbed by Husband’s preoccupation with filling his belly, “I mean it though. I don’t believe in all of this nonsense about people moving on after their spouse dies. And I don’t want you looking for a hot, new wife going around telling people ‘Its what Denira would have wanted, she would have wanted me to move on’. Uh-uh, now you know what I really want. I want you to spend the rest of your days being absolutely miserable.” I nudge my glass into his menu unsuccessfully trying to get his attention, “Oh my goodness, I love it. You’d be heartbroken and even if you gave one single thought to being happy, I’d swoop down on you to torment you for the rest of your life!” I finish with a flourish, giving up the nudging and choosing instead to finish the remainder of my drink. “So, what do you think?” I ask, my chin resting on my hands. I wait all of two seconds before I play the only card I know will work, “Heeey, are you even listening to me?” I pout, “This is important.” I finally have Husband’s attention when he lays down his menu and says, “Of course, I have. You said that you’d want me to be happy when you die. That I should move on and find a lovely new wife”. Husband smiles at himself before noticing my empty glass and calling the waiter over so that he can order us drinks in what he thinks is broken Portuguese but probably resembles no language known to mankind. “I wonder what this new wife of mine will look like” Husband says, his brow furrowed in concentration. At this point, I’ve had enough caipirinhas to find that impossibly cute instead of annoying and before I can respond a dreadlocked, barefoot hippy arrives to sing a surprisingly beautiful rendition of “Redemption Song”. Husband leans over to give me a kiss and says “Of course, I’d be miserable, I wouldn’t know what to do without you.” I roll my eyes, pretending I don’t believe what he says before I can’t help but smile. I squish Husband’s face between my hands and tell him that I knew I should have married rich to which he nods enthusiastically before ending the topic with a kiss and sip of his caipirinha.

If only all conversations that have the “when I die” precursor could be tied up with kisses and caipirinhas. But, most often I’m told that I’m morbid when I discuss my death. As if my desire to be pragmatic about things is morbid. I don’t know no one recognises my questions of “Do you want this teapot?” or “Who will love my books when I’m gone?” for what it is; a futile attempt at making me feel like I can control things posthumously. Seriously, you’d think there would be some gratitude here. I have a lot of things. Stupid things, sentimental things, things I should throw away. I have mountains of things and I worry that no one will never know the meaning of those things. Take the beautiful teapot that my grandfather gave me, it was my grandparent’s wedding gift and somehow when I look at it, it kills me to think of it ending up in a second-hand store where no one knows of the love that was shared between my grandparents. Don’t even get me started on my books, thinking of that keeps me up at night. Sometimes in a mad frenzy I run to my favourite books fervently whispering promises to write inside every one of them about how they have touched my life so that where ever they end up, people will know that they meant something, people will know that they held more than just the pages between their covers. But I digress, I know that I often do talk of death and that no one really wants to hear any of it but I was thinking about how we should all have funerals before we die. There can be nothing morbid about celebrating life, can there? We can call them Alive-als and we can have a catchy tagline like Alive-als: Putting the FUN in Funeral. No, I’m not a nutjob (well not a serious enough one to be institutionalised anyway), so hear me out on this one.

Maybe it’s the funeral playlist I’m creating, maybe it has something to do with me reading Tuesday’s with Morrie last year or maybe I’m being just a little self-serving but I would love to actually be at my funeral (yes the playlist is that epic). Truth be told, we always so much kinder when people die. You’d forget that I killed Lucy (Kerissa), or that I made fun of your handbag addiction (Natty), or that I couldn’t remember your name for the first couple of months I knew you (Husband). When I’m gone you’d miraculously remember all of the things you liked about me, of course you’d probably have to search deep, deep within yourself to actually remember that you liked me at all, but I think you’d get there, eventually. You’d also drop whatever you were doing to attend my funeral, the excuses you made during my life would mean nothing, you’d show up. Apart from all of the crying and sadness that usually accompanies a funeral, I can’t really think of a reason not to be alive at my own funeral. And no, not spiritually, I want to be alive to hear the kindness, to know that I meant something to you and that you’ll look after my books. I also want to be there to pour the tequila (what’s a funeral without tequila?) and to remind everyone to drink responsibly (in odd numbers). I almost want to invite people to my funeral so I can be corny enough to reply to questions about whether I’m dying by saying sagely “No, I’m not dying. I’m living.” I want to laugh and hug everyone I love and tell them how awesome they are just for showing up. I don’t know why, but I know we’ll be on a beach, laughing into the sunset and then waiting for the sun to rise with just the sound of the waves crashing for company. What I also love about this is that having a funeral while you’re still alive is a great way for those opportunist few to get one last crack at making into the will, so it’s really a win-win come to think of it. And I’m not trying to be extra here, I don’t want two funerals, just one, the one where I’m not dead yet. Doesn’t it make sense though, to actually celebrate someone’s life when they are alive? To know that when someone dies they die knowing how much you loved them, how big of an impact they had in your life and that more than anything, in this big, chaotic world, that they mattered to you.

When I actually do die, I want zero fanfare, just ship me off to the nearest crematorium, shed a tear from sadness or relief (your choice) and perhaps have a cup of a tea or a large drink. The main event should have been my life. So I’m planning my funeral, are you coming?

Oh great, you’re getting married…

I remember getting engaged. Now I look back and wonder why I needed a man to commit to understand my place in our relationship, and the idea of one person asking to be bound to another by promising a shiny piece of metal and an overachieving piece of coal seems impossibly frivolous. But back then I was a squealing, stealing-moments-to-look-at-my-pretty-ring sort of human and I thought it was nothing short of incredible that Husband had proposed and that we would start planning our wedding and our lives together as a married couple. I wish I could have held on to the heady night that Husband proposed, to the intimacy of that moment and the sheer pleasure of knowing that he had ultimately chosen me but if I’m being honest, once the sparkle (and wine) had worn off, I was filled with an unparalleled anxiety. A day after getting engaged, I wondered if there wasn’t some way to keep the ring and Husband (well then Fiancé) and call the whole thing off. Truth be told, I didn’t want Husband to propose so that we could honour some time old tradition that commemorated our commitment, I wanted Husband to propose because that’s what I believed men did when they loved their partners. Let’s blame my embarrassingly warped sense of commitment on my youth for now, I wasn’t raised to believe that marriage was a progression point in life and I’ve never been the girl who dreamt of one day becoming a “wife”. But a wife I would be, and a wedding would be had. And although I’ve written and deleted these words more times than I care to admit, I guess I did want a wedding after all, it just wouldn’t be the one I got.

Are you serious?

When I said yes, or as Husband reminds me, “Are you serious?”, it would have appeared that I had momentarily lost sense of who I was, or rather of who our families were. Perhaps I was giddy from the mountain air or just plain down delusional, but somehow, I thought that I would soon be planning a low-key, intimate wedding that would be a celebration of our love. Once the light of day had broken, I regained my senses and remembered that for an Indian family concepts such as low key and intimate are laughable at best. Stupidly enough, even once that realisation had dawned on me, I still held fast to some of the delusions I had conceived, somehow choosing to beguile myself into thinking that I was an important part of my own wedding (rookie mistake). Needless to say, I would soon become largely unpopular with my new extended family and Husband and I would pepper the weeks leading up to the wedding with the sort of fights that were completely resistant to logic. I’d like to believe that in our finest fight, I could have been worthy of a spot on the Jerry Springer Show.

Can I be honest with you? You won’t really judge me and if you do, you’ll have to forgive me because, well, you’re kind of the only friend I have. I doubt that anyone is happy at an Indian wedding. Well, I was, but Husband thinks that I had simply lost mind to save from losing my cool on the day. But, since we’re honest, I made a choice early that morning as a relatively bored lady attached flowers to my hair; I chose to enjoy what I could of the day. So, I laughed (a lot), I ate (a little bit less than I laughed) and I lost myself in our first kiss under the shade of a giant tree. The day was far from perfect and there were many things that went so horribly wrong you would think it was orchestrated. Looking back, I regret bending to the will of others. At the time I thought I was being unselfish, I thought I could make everyone happy, but I couldn’t. Goodness, worse than that, it seemed that no one even cared about what I would give up to try and make them happy! Turns out that old adage about compromise is true, no one really wins in the end. I don’t know why it typifies Indian weddings that the bride and groom are so often the least important part of the wedding, but I do know that even though it’s often stated, it’s also something each of us needs to learn, often too late and painfully.

300 (like the movie, only my version is far more violent)

It was probably five seconds after we announced our engagement that the great debate regarding the number of guests started. Husband and I decided on no more than 60 guests in total, it was our wedding and we were footing the bill, so we should have a say in this, or so I thought. Five fights and numerous tears later, we settled on what my mother-in-law would painfully whisper to be a “small wedding”- 300 guests. News quickly spread that I was an evil bride hellbent on crushing Husband’s family’s dreams, “Only 300 hundred guests” one aunt said to me in greeting, wrinkling her nose as if she smelt something sour just in case I missed the disapproving tone in her voice. Soon I would be hearing bitter complains as I struggled to keep guest list to 300 or less, there would be a mass of previously unknown aunties with their 17 children who simply could not be left off the list. I could not possibly mention the fact that neither Husband nor I had never before heard of these aunties or their rapidly increasing brood. To do that would invoke a two-hour long explanation where I would repeatedly be presented with the same information in various degrees of inflection before I finally gave up mumbling something that was meant to convey my understanding. Chinese torture has nothing on Indian aunties, armed with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two and those women can get you agree to almost anything. My mother would offer some comedic relief when she said with a trace of sincerity “300 people? We don’t know that many people, I’ll have to pull people off the streets.” As least someone could see the madness in this “small wedding” of mine.

What would people say?

It does seem to me that Indian weddings are an excuse to unearth imaginative traditions that only serve to inconvenience the bridal couple and very often when trying to get to the reason behind those traditions, the point at which logic stops is usually the point at which the question “What will people say?” will be thrown into the mix. It’s like fat to a fire, Indian people are ridiculously proud and even more ridiculously concerned about what other people think about them. There are of course, exceptions to this rule, I was raised to consider the opinions of others at my own peril, my family simply had better things to do. I struggled, on so many levels, with that question, first off who were these people and how on earth did we know what they were thinking if we didn’t even know who they are? Did they communicate with us telepathically? I couldn’t fathom why this unseen, unknown, insidious grouping had nothing better to do than talk about my wedding and more so I had no idea why I had to care. I secretly wondered how these “people” also got together to form a united idea of what was wrong and right and how they managed to instil that conviction in others, with that level of organisational abilities surely these “people” were better off running countries instead of being overly concerned about what food I would serve at my wedding. But I was wrong (there is a recurring theme here), those “people” were created so that naïve young brides such as myself, could see the error of their ways.

Don’t get me wrong, to a degree I get it. I get that for Indian families a wedding is a chance to bring everyone together and to basically show off your success through your children. It’s the way it’s always been done- large numbers, gaudy outfits, old men sneaking drinks out of the boot of their cars while their wives complain about the softness of the potatoes in the breyani. And of course, I’ll happily jump and down with you when you announce your engagement, but you’ll forgive me when post the happy jumping I’ll ask you if this is something you really want to do. You’ll also need to forgive me when I propose that you should run away and get married (preferably somewhere linked to the destination I’m planning for my next holiday). Most importantly, you’ll also need to forgive me when I say that no matter what you do, no matter how perfect you think the day will be, someone is going to be unhappy, so you should do your level best to make sure that someone isn’t you. But of course, you’ll forgive me, you’re the only friend I have.

Why I am (still) writing about race

We’re almost a month into a new year, we’re a quarter of a century into our democracy and it’s been two weeks since my last chocolate. I remember when I started this blog, my very first post dealt with race and even though I’ve covered a vast and maddening array of topics since, it seems like the race one is slightly stickier and more persistent. I have written people off for being racist, I have argued and shouted when I shouldn’t have, I have wept with despair and I have forgiven under the embrace of understanding. In so many ways, we have made wonderful, profound steps forward and I have tried to use my voice, sometimes in anger, sometimes with compassion, sometimes in disbelief to try to quell the fires of prejudice and ignorance. I have not always succeeded. But through success or failure, one thing has become alarming evident, we must continue to try. If we do not first acknowledge the problem, we can never attempt to resolve it. We are not a racially blind nation, we are not without bias, overt or otherwise, and as much as it is exhausting, we need to keep talking about this. I am unapologetic for my persistence in this regard and if you are one of the many who are tired of talking about race, then know, so too am I, but I am far more tired of how racial dynamics play out and of our refusal to see certain uncomfortable truths. So, I am still writing about race, and this is why.

Was it that bad?

It is one of those wonderful South African afternoons, where the setting sun brings with it a light of possibility and serenity. I have always loved the part of the afternoon that creeps into evening, it’s light forgiving and gentle. The beer in my hand is perfectly cold and I find myself sitting under an old tree that embraces the picture-perfect sky. I don’t quite remember what strange turns the conversation has taken around me but at one point the person sitting next to me says “Was it really that bad? I mean look at you, you obviously made it out okay.” I’m not so much angry as I am surprised by his comments. I have never heard anyone utter those words about the apartheid. “Was it really that bad?” I heard what he said, but I also heard what he didn’t, Do we have to always talk about this? When will people realise that the apartheid also brought infrastructure and development? And finally, I don’t think you’re black enough to be complaining. I could not answer, so I shut my mouth and frowned at him. The question kept playing over and over in my head while he looked at me as if to confirm his initial suspicion that I was no match for his intellect. What could I have said in that moment when faced with someone who could think of the gross human rights violations, the indignity of apartheid and feel apathetic? Was it really that bad- beyond the subjugation, beyond the senseless deaths, beyond the fact that to be black was not be human? Was it really that bad? It was in that moment that I left as though I had no language with which to communicate with him. It was in that moment that I felt deeply sad. Maddeningly, I know that he is not the only one who feels this way.

I wonder if apathy is a form of violence, to see someone, to know the horror of a combined past, yours and theirs and simply think, That did not really happen, It wasn’t really that bad. You see me, but you cannot hear the truth in my words, they are an exaggeration. You are blinded by your privilege, so you do hear my truth, it was never your world and maybe even then if you are forced to consider that part of what I am saying is the truth, you probably think that I deserved it. That my skin made me less than you. So, you dismiss me and with it you dispense of accountability. It is my problem and clearly it is time that I got over it. In a way, that dismissal is so much more than trying to prevent a discussion on racism, it is a dismal of a person, of their experiences and of things that shaped their identity. There is sorrow and a deep, deep hurt in that refusal to acknowledge another, in that refusal to see another’s humanity.

And so, I write for the man who asked if the apartheid “was that bad”, I write for the people that you know who are like him, for the people who ask, “What do you expect from me?” for those who refuse to acknowledge the part they play, the unearned privilege bestowed upon them. I write for those who will never read this, those who continue to struggle with ill-begotten superiority that has proven to be fragile in our new democracy. I write, because it wasn’t that bad, it was far, far worse than anything I could shape with words. I write because I must.

Happy 90th Birthday Tha Tha

There is some magic in the air today. Some brightness in the sky, some imagination hidden within the light plumes of cloud that invoke the idea that you have uncapped potential waiting to be released. I’ve always thought that today was a special day, the 19th of January. It is a day that means something, it is a day that holds promise and a day that holds happiness. It makes sense that this day holds meaning, for it is this day, 90 years ago in small farming town that my grandfather, the man I would only ever call Tha Tha, was born. I do not have the language to write of his love, of his gentleness, his sense of humour or of his unfailing ability to make you believe in something, most often yourself, but I shall try today. Because today is a day of magic and promise, a day to fill my heart with love and remembrance.

Sometimes when I have a moment to myself, either reading or immersed in my thoughts with a dog snoring at my feet, I think of a childhood memory. Some strange, often random thought floats by before deciding to settle and nudge me gently. When my sister and I were children my mother had forbidden a sickly looking, artificially coloured orange drink housed in thick plastic that came in an assortment of different shapes, with the car shaped version being the most popular. Now, my mother had a good mind to forbid that ghastly disaster of a drink, it was probably loaded with a series of things that no growing child should be consuming, but naturally my sister and I had decided that we loved it, naming it “Gummy Berry Juice” and hatching elaborate plans to get our hands on some of this potion. It was probably my sister (she tended to use her mind to solve the complexities of childhood while I preferred my fists and teeth) who decided to ask Tha Tha if he would buy us some of the contraband. It was, of course, a plan that would work shockingly well, mostly due to Tha Tha’s sense of mischief and his love for his grandchildren than to any craftiness on our part. We would volunteer to walk with my grandfather to the nearby shop, as we commonly did whenever we spent the weekend with my grandparents, Tha Tha would procure the goods and we’d sip on it on the way back so that once we had returned all that would be left was for Tha Tha to sneakily get rid of the evidence and no one would be any wiser for it. It was a plan that worked beautifully, not only was Tha Tha willing to purchase the illicit goods, but we knew that he would never tell on us, not only because Tha Tha was one of the most trustworthy people we knew but also because he dared not face the wrath of my mother. The memory of walking to the shop with him, agonising over whether I wanted the teddy bear or the car shaped juice and the walk back, finally sipping the acrid orange nothingness and understanding that although I hated the taste of the juice I would most certainly finish all of it and ask for more next weekend, is one that is fresh in my mind. Not only was it a happy memory but it was one that Tha Tha reminded me of when I was a teenager, immediately adding colour to the thoughts that time tried to fade. In thinking of it now, I realise that both of my grandparents did so much more than spend weekends with my sister and I, they also reminded us of who we were as children when we were older. They reminded me of how open and filled with wonder my world was and they reminded me of silliness and of fun and through their recollections I have pieces of my childhood that I would have otherwise forgotten. I have tiny pieces of myself as child gifted to me in my adulthood. They were, and are still in so many ways, a portal to memories of a simpler time and often, they held memories that remind me that I was loved unconditionally and that no matter what I had someone in my corner. Even someone willing to buy me a juice that I would hate but pretend to love, a juice to inspire anger in my mother and mischief in my sister. Tha Tha did something so simple that day, he bought us something we treasured and in doing so an adult crossed over to the world of children, he saw fun in a child’s imagination and he made those children believe that nothing was out of their reach.

I imagine what we must have looked like walking back from the shop, a man in his fifties walks in the cool afternoon shade, greeting neighbours as he passes them by, his two granddaughters on either side of him, holding his hands, happy to be unhappily drinking their “Gummy Berry Juice”. If you had looked at us then, you would have seen us happy, you would have seen that we lived in a world where just the three of us existed. That then, there was no better man we knew than our grandfather, no better person to talk to, to share your dreams and thoughts with, be it about Gummy Berry Juice or about how you could get and extra helping of ice cream. He was the man who made you feel like impossible was a word invented for others, he was the man who always saw the best in you even when you were being a ridiculously terrible teenage brat. He could lift your spirits with his unfailing belief in you, you always wanted to be the person he saw you to be. I imagine that if you had seen us with Tha Tha any day since that you would have still seen that we shared our dreams and thoughts with him, sometimes big thoughts about marriage, love and politics and sometimes small thoughts about starting a vegetable garden. You would have seen that Tha Tha was still the best man we knew,and that we were the best versions of ourselves with him. Because somehow that was what he did, he filled every day with magic and promise and to see it would have filled your heart with love.

 

 

Standing in the shadow of death

“Press harder ma’am. That’s it, keep going” The paramedic’s voice is calm yet forceful, his presence is large yet not suffocating.

“Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen…” There is a strange rhythm to the numbers that I seem to exhale with every exertion. I shut my eyes and push down harder. I cannot look at my hands clasped one on top on another. I cannot look at the shrunken chest, a body ravaged by disease. I cannot look at the body of child that seems to have replaced the once formidable body of an adult man who lies lifeless beneath my hands. I cannot will his body into life; no persuasion through force of my body or strength of my will is enough now. Yet still, I try. The cold feeling that presses down on my chest has grown so big that it fills the room. It fills the room so completely that it leaves no space for reality. Death struggles to find a place next me, I ignore it. I ignore the whisper in my ear, the gentle nudging at the edge of reason. He will live, the paramedics will save him. When the paramedic asks me to step aside so that he can take over, the pull of his words are not enough to overcome the sinking force pulling me towards the cold tiles biting into my knees. For a moment I cannot move. There is a tremor beneath my amour and a moment of startling clarity before I rise and start to walk away. I walk away as strangers in my home shut the door, I walk away from the fiction of having some control over the situation. I walk away from death in one room to towards the mess it leaves behind in the shape of a crying woman who must now say goodbye to her husband in another. I walk towards the sound of fear, the sound of loss, the sound of pleading. And it is that pleading- for me to make this better, for me to say it isn’t true-  that plays a warped, broken tune in my mind and wounds far deeper than when the paramedic announces with finality and sadness that there was nothing they could do.

It is a day later and my forearm hurts. My body feels like I’ve been through a physical trauma and every time I close my eyes, I see his face. The glassy eyes, the slack jaw haunt me in a way I want to be rid of, but I do not mind the physical pain. I need it somehow. I need it to remind me of my futility, of my impotence against death. I need it to remind me of my smallness in a vast and confusing world. I need it because the world has not changed to match my grief. The birds have not stopped singing to match the guilt clutching at my throat. The sun still rose in an affront to cold, clawing emptiness in my chest, to words I could not say and to the tears I could not stop.

I was not prepared for his death, but who amongst us is ever prepared for death? I think of the frailty of his body, how his skin hung loosely off his bones, I think of how he always smelt sick, an uncomfortable mixture of medication and something else and I wonder if death had been following him for a while now. I wonder how it was that I did not see it’s shadow in my home. I wonder how I didn’t feel it’s presence in the last happy memory I have of us all together. Perhaps that is death’s trick, to be your constant companion so that the obviousness of it’s very presence evades you. You forget death, and in its place, you create a certainty beyond your control. You forget the frailty of your existence, you forget your mortality. And maybe that is what it means to live, to forget our smallness, our inability to control our ultimate ends and to exist as impotent gods.

He called him “Mama”

There are many stories to be written, to be heard and to be read but there is only one story for me today. There is only one story that tugs at the bottom of my shirt, an eager child wanting my attention, but it is story that has no words. It is a story that tells its tale by clawing at the hollow in my chest. It is a story that confounds and hurts, a hurt so deep and profound even though it is not my story. It is a story of loss. It is a story of love. And it is in the telling of this story that I hope for healing, even though it is too bold a hope, even though there is too great a loss.

In a time before teenage dreams and hopes had started to shape Husband’s imagination, he held far simpler dreams. One such dream held the promise of a long-awaited cricket match that himself and some boys in his school had planned. I can only warrant an ill formed guess as to why the cricket match held such appeal to the ten-year-old version of Husband, but I can assume that it was probably all he spoke about in the weeks leading up to the event. It would be over twenty years later that Husband would tell me this story as the sun set one evening, after we had returned from a trip to Durban. It was a story I would hear for the first time, but it was not a story I would soon forget. In the telling of his story, Husband offers me a rare glimpse into the vulnerability of his hope and I am touched by the thought of who he was as young boy eagerly awaiting his childish dream. In classic story teller fashion, Husband weaves his eagerness to play at the cricket match into the story by describing his special cricket gear and a new peak cap he donned for the day. My heart is with this young boy, I feel the sun on my face as he shows up to his cricket match. When he isn’t selected to play, I am sure I see a shadow in the otherwise bright sky and when he sits on the grass, his thin body heavy with disappointment, I feel the grass tickling my legs. I imagine he does not see the car pull up. I imagine he does not hear the man approaching. I imagine that if it were not for fear of embarrassment, that the little boy would have embraced the man who, in more ways than one, stood by his side. There are few people in the world who can offer comfort and solace by their presence alone and by showing up, that man who stood beside a sad little boy, gave legitimacy to both what the child valued and to the man’s belief in the boy’s potential. Husband would grow to call this man “Mama” as a sign of respect for his uncle but in truth, he was so much more to Husband than that. Standing on the cricket field with Husband that day was testament to who Husband’s “Mama” was. He was a man who gave of himself, he was a man who showed up, he was a man who took care of those he loved, and he was a man who loved deeply irrespective of biological ties. He was a man made of far greater qualities than my words are capable of describing. And he was more than that even. I can think of no greater gift than the gift of his presence in Husband’s life, both that day on the cricket field and every day until his death.

I may have only known him as “Uncle Roy”. I have never shared a home with him or have had to endure the Maths lessons that he was famous for, but I see him, all the greatness in him, in those he loved. I see it in Husband’s drive, in his selflessness, in his sense of duty. In the grief on his grandchildren’s faces I see a grandfather who was not unlike my own; gentle, kind and rare. In his wife’s last words to him I hear the love that he was capable of, an all-encompassing love that never grew tired or weary, that grew stronger with each person he drew into his fold. I have wondered since his passing; how does anyone honour a man like that? How does anyone come close? In this mix of grief and gratitude I am drawn to the words said at Uncle Roy’s funeral, I am drawn to the idea that to honour him is to be twice the person he was. I am drawn to it because to makes me feel like he is infinite, as infinite as was his ability to love.

The Curious Case of the Detachable Penis

Do you know what’s weird about me? I like thinking deeply about things, things I don’t understand, things I want to explore, things that interest me. I swear, inside my brain there is a senile old man pushing a wheelbarrow, traversing through my experiences and collecting stray ideas and thoughts before arriving at my front door and upending his discoveries at my feet. Of course, faced with “gifts” from W-Man (he’s also kind of a plaid wearing hipster), I have no choice but to devote an unending supply of energy into figuring out my strays so that they can be rehomed elsewhere. One such gem that W-Man presented to me in my teenage years was the idea of “penis envy”. I had never heard of a more ludicrous thought, I mean “pen envy” I definitely get, in fact, as someone who loves the old school guide of pen over paper, I often am guilty of pen envy. Big time. But to envy a penis of all things? Nope, teenage brain and W-Man laughed that one straight out. It’s only years later that I start to wonder about Freud and if I haven’t misunderstood his theory.

I’m not saying that I have penis envy or that I believe the theory holds true, but I have been thinking lately that maybe having a penis would be useful. I mean imagine this, instead of me getting angry the other day, not the screaming-throwing-chairs-around angry, but the cross-your-arms-and-lean-back-in-your-chair kind of angry, I could have just whipped out my penis and broken the tension with the resounding slap of it on the table. Instead of me having to yet again defend my right to exist as Patron of Patriarchy’s peer, we could have just laughed of our “misunderstanding”. Oh, how we would have laughed- Patron of Patriarchy and I. How we would have laughed and laughed. Because instead of Patron of Patriarchy feeling insecure, threatened and a deep desire to see me fail, he would have seen me as one of his own. He would have wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and slapped me on the back and joked of how just moments ago he had asked me to prove myself to him. It would not have been my education, years of experience, capability or that I was good at my job that would have changed his mind about me, it would have been the penis that I literally brought to the table. I’m no psychologist, but if that’s how Freud had described “penis envy”, then I would have been the first one to raise my hand and say “I’m broken” because the inconvenient truth from an inconvenient woman is that life is easier as a man. Patriarchy is absolutely amazing, if you have a penis that is, for the rest of us, let’s just say it’s not that grand. So yes, I am envious of those who have had an easier time than I have, I envious of those who don’t feel like they need to run twice as hard just to stay in the same spot. I’m envious of those who get a chance to fail and who are applauded for it, I’m envious of those who are naturally heard and who don’t have to fight for it. You bet I’m envious.

I am not, however, so envious that I want a penis permanently attached to me, that’s so old school I almost fell asleep thinking about it. No, I want a detachable penis to use as and when I see fit. In fact, since I’m on this path, how about having a wide variety of these penises? A handbag sized one or an emergency one that you could attach to your car keys. A business penis for those important meetings where your tiny female voice doesn’t exist. A home penis for the days when you want to claim that you’re “just not as good at washing the dishes”. A family penis when someone wants to ask why you haven’t had children yet and prescribes some home remedy for a quick pregnancy. A disco penis (I am picturing glitter) for the guy who thinks buying you a drink means you’ve consented to having sex with him. Sign me up, I’ll take one of each in every colour you have.

An Evening with Arundhati Roy: The Politics of Post-Its and Green Lipstick

Last Thursday, as I entered my home after the Johannesburg event, “An Evening with Arundhati Roy”, there was a fair amount of sulking and foot dragging as I placed my unhappily unsigned copies of “The God of Small Things” and “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” on my kitchen counter. The thicker of the two books, the older sibling to me, sighed before tipping over and as I reached beneath it to set it straight my fingers found something far more insidious and shattering than my unsigned books. I found something designed to supress the voice of the Brown people, I found something overflowing with supremacist, white colonial power. I found Post-Its.

Personally, I’m fond of the Post-It (I know, it’s abhorrent). They punctuate many of my books, their bright, prickly colours reaching out like eager hands ready to embrace me. But of course, that was before I had experienced the shock and horror of the Post-It. And I had Green Lipstick to thank for my introduction into the unsavoury world of Post-Its. You see, I arrived at the Arundhati Roy event, two of her books in hand, nervous, excited and impatient. To say that I found Arundhati’s writing fluid, lyrical and moving would be a cold comparison to the truth of my feelings but I think you get the point (you’re clever like that). The first, not unwelcome, surprise came from Arundhati Roy herself, the smallness of this powerful author was as captivating as was the spring tenacity of her curly hair. The second, far less captivating, surprise was that the moderator seemed genuinely out of her depth. If I didn’t have a strict policy on wasting alcohol, I would have probably choked on my wine when I heard this strange woman emit words that seemed to shape the idea that India was nothing but a land of colours, the home of curry, Bollywood movies and The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel Movie. I swear there was a collective sigh of relief when Arundhati Roy had to do another reading, at least that gave the moderator some shot at being exposed to Roy’s writing. If, by now, you’re thinking that the surprises are getting more and more unpleasant, good job, you earn a Scooby badge. The last surprise came in the form of Green Lipstick who introduced herself to me and everyone waiting in the line to get our books signed by being rude, obnoxious and loud. I suspect that Green Lipstick needed to raise her voice because her lipstick was too loud, and she was concerned that the rest of us wouldn’t hear her above it and let’s face it, there could be no worse punishment than not being heard for Green Lipstick.

Now before you get ahead of yourself (not you, but that other guy who is impatient and judgemental), I was not surprised Green Lipstick’s choice in lipstick. Okay, I was a little (it was so green) but what really surprised me was how she chose to use her voice. She chose to use her voice to agitate and when she realised that she wasn’t getting the desired attention she sought out ways to make herself louder. When her initial shouts of outrage about the crowd control temporary fencing “Don’t you know what fences mean to Brown people?” did not get the appropriate response she turned to a blond woman handing out Post-Its. Okay, so I am a Brown person and if you ask me, I quite like the fence around my property as I am sure Green Lipstick likes hers and it was not as if the event organisers were separating us by something as stupid as race, class, gender, caste or sexual preference. They were simply trying to maintain order at an event where there was an overwhelming number of people and were no doubt trying to make the book signing as stress free for the author as possible. Did Green Lipstick see that? You bet not, because that is the far less dramatic and anger inspiring version. So Green Lipstick turned her fury towards Blond Post-It Lady and for some reason she thought to punctuate her sentences when a swerve of her head and the words “Exactly”. The conversation would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared of Green Lipstick. It went something like this:

Blonde Post-It Lady: “Please take a Post-It and write your name on it and pass it on”

Green Lipstick: “Can you explain why there are fences here? Don’t you know what fences mean to Brown people?”

Blonde Post-It Lady: “I really don’t know, I’m just here to hand out Post-Its”

Green Lipstick (with a swerve of her head): “Exactly. Well I won’t take one, why should I take this oppression?”

The conversation deteriorated rapidly thereafter, and I decided to stop paying attention especially after Green Lipstick started to insult a woman, also standing in line who tried to keep the peace. She seemed to favour sticking out her hand with her books in them and using her free hand to smack the top of the pile and say “Have you read this? Read this Boo Boo, then we’ll talk”. To be frank, I felt like I had not read the books as I barely understood her commentary or their relationship to either of Arundhati’s books that I had read. The one thing I did understand was that Green Lipstick had done something worse than be rude or ruin my night. Green Lipstick had cheapened the very real discourse that needs to take place in our country. Brown people, Brown women, in our country should not just be heard because they shout or because they cause a scene, they should be heard because they, we, have very relevant and valuable contributions to make. I do not shy away from difficult conversations and I am unafraid of step in when I feel that someone is being wronged.

But in truth, Green Lipstick had wronged us all that day and I chose to leave her be. I chose to leave her be because that would be a greater insult than me asking her to get over herself and her delusions of inferiority. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many chains, there are still conversations to be had, fights to be fought and tempers to rise but while we’re busy fighting for freedom from Post-Its and crowd control, the anniversary of the day that the ground bled with the blood of 34 miners goes about unspoken.

Love is a choice

I have an idea that’s been chasing its tail around my head for the last little while. It is a simple idea that I can hardly claim to be original but still there is something so inviting and interesting about this idea that I want to invite it over for a cappuccino and share a quiet moment with it in the garden. Love is a choice. The sheer simplicity of it written there, makes me want to pause for a second to appreciate the startling beauty of the idea. And because I believe that love is a verb, that love is in the doing, then how and who you love are choices you make. On the concepts of all things dark and foreboding, my fingers cannot keep pace with my mind, words fly at the screen to the sound of the keyboard bearing the pressure of my fingertips. Yet, the thought of love and the beauty in the simplicity of the thought love is a choice slows me down and my fingers find a gentler rhythm to describe the knots in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong here, just because I can appreciate the validity of the concept that love is a choice, it doesn’t mean that every time Husband and I have a fight, I run up to him grab his face and kiss him because I choose him. That mature, self-aware version of me is replaced with a foul mouthed, angry creature who wouldn’t dare believe she chose to fall in love with a man who routinely drove her insane. How could I have chosen to love a man mad enough to constantly leave the toothpaste out? How could I be responsible for the fact that Husband sometimes hurt me, upset me and did things that I believed to be unfathomable? If I had a hand in shaping my happiness with Husband, surely, I had a hand in shaping the opposite of that as well. The truth is that I did choose Husband, the truth is that I still choose Husband. I chose his annoyances as well as the happiness he brings to my life. I chose Husband as well as everyone else in my life that I love and even if I don’t always see it that way, it is the truth. Romantic love aside, we also choose how to love our friends and family. We may be born into a family, but we choose to love each other or not.

Who I love and how I chose to share that love is a choice. I am not willed by some invisible force, some whirlwind of rapture that blinds me. I choose every day how to love and the acknowledgement of that choice makes me feel like the world is one of light and possibility. There is such liberty in being able to choose but beyond that, there is startling responsibility in the thought. Sure, there are things we cannot choose, like who we have chemistry with or whether someone you love will share your passion for cheese and while a life without chemistry or cheese is dire, it is a choice we make to see if something bigger grows from the chemistry or whether we can live with someone ridiculous enough to not love cheese. Beyond the who, I can also choose the how. I can choose how I want to define love and what actions and behaviours this constitutes. If I choose to define love or a loving relationship as one where Husband buys me flowers every week, makes me a cup of tea at night and supplies me with an endless amount of puppies then I will be incredibly happy with Husband if he ticks all those boxes (I may also be slightly superficial and have a puppy problem, but hey, those are choices as well). Husband would have fulfilled my chosen definition of love. To an onlooker, it may be totally insane because in his or her relationship, love may be defined differently. To some love may mean dominance, jealousy, emotional and or physical abuse because they may choose a love they feel they deserve. Whatever it is, it is a choice. And whatever we do, we should never forget the power and responsibility of that choice. In a world where we agonise over what selfies make us look the most thin/pretty/vain/stupid, where we are constantly choosing what image of ourselves we want portrayed in social media, we should also be responsible for the choice of love, more so than ever before. Love is a choice.

 

 

I am a writer.

We are in the middle of a fight. Harsh words are heavy between us, they fill up the space that we’ve created around each other, they creep into cracks and settle. I am angry at Husband, I am angry at myself for allowing hurt in again. Husband hands me a rectangular box, the weight of it tightens my throat and forces tears that I will not shed into my eyes. The weight of it feels like a promise somehow. “I made this for you a few weeks ago,” Husband’s voice is small but hopeful. Refusing to make eye contact, I open the box and slide out the single, thick padded book it contains. “What is this?” I ask, my throat constricting with emotion and my hands delicately caressing the front cover bearing my name and a picture of me. “I thought you should know what it would feel like to have your first book published” Husband replies while I open the book attempting to still the emotions screaming beneath my skin. “It’s my blog” I say when I mean thank you, when I mean I love you, when I mean I sort of still hate you but I don’t know how to anymore. Husband sits next to me as I flip through the pages that remind me that he believes in me, that remind me that I am capable, I am funny, I am talented. I am a writer.

I write for myself mainly. I write to find release, release from the conversations I have with myself, release from the frustrations of life and to release my favourite part of myself, the part that creates. I am a contradiction, I love to use words to shape, to form, to give meaning but I could never give shape to myself by calling myself a writer. I tried it once with Boss Man, maybe it was the warmth or laughter in his voice, maybe it was the fact that he always saw the best in everyone, including me. Whatever it was, saying to him “I am a writer” was like unfolding a love letter, a love letter that I had written to myself. The child in me had written it, she had had drawn inspiration from the wildness of her hair and from the stubbornness she would never outgrow. She wrote that letter with fire in her heart but with each passing year, with each perceived failure, she added another fold and soon the letter was forgotten. I wonder what she would do with me now, knowing that I forgot her, that I forgot to believe in her. I wonder what she would think about the fact that I let my fear control my voice, that even to myself I could not admit what it was that I really wanted. I wonder what she would think when she learned of what an unsupportive, destructive friend I had been to myself.

Sometimes I can no longer read that love letter, sometimes it feels as though whoever wrote it played a cruel trick with me, asking me to believe only so my fall would be that much harder. But sometimes, I realise that the trick does not lie in belief but rather in the absence of it, sometimes I read the letter by writing, sometimes I rewrite the letter by writing. Sometimes, I truly do believe that I am a writer.

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