A computer piece: Monday, 12 April 2004

I feel like a stranger to myself. In order to write this piece, I had to change the font to one that I haven’t used in weeks, a title had to be conjured up, the change from English to Afrikaans … and the nagging suspicion that I’ve been dragging a certain storyline for way too long behind me, like one would drag along dozens of boxes filled with personal junk for reasons only you could possibly understand, and at a daily growing price.

But let me start. As always it’s going well. (Does paper blush when a writer lies?) A million hours ago, I came up with an idea for an experiment. (Why, incidentally, can’t a sheet of typing paper be round? If I just stare at the screen, will symbols appear on “Microsoft Word Document1” that will correspond with my thoughts? If I spit on the screen, will it form curse words?) This experiment was to be called, the Commercial Dictatorship – a time when I, the Writer, was supposed to be Teacher/Businessman/Entrepreneur for the most significant portions of every day and night for a three-month period. The idea was that I should chase after insane children at least eight hours a day shouting “ABC! ABC!” (whilst whispering “fuck off” behind my mask at every motorist and pedestrian that stares at me on the road, or who dares to turn in front of me on my creaking, yellow bicycle). Deals also had to be made, partnerships had to be worked out, and sweaty fingers had to count moist banknotes over crumpled ketchup-stained junk food wrappings on a daily basis, with the smoke of a fast-burning white paper cigarette stinging my already bloodshot eyes to such a degree that I can no longer decipher my own handwriting when I desperately try to scribble a note reminding myself about my faith in an “extraordinary life”.

Prosperous is the Writer-Entrepreneur who once again found reason enough to not leave his apartment more often to make more money! For the last 44 days of the so-called Commercial Dictatorship I, in all my identities, have been filling the chair behind my Toshiba 2180CDT, working on what I have finally started to call “[…]”, the first book and forerunner in the “[…]” series.


The plan is also to start a book business (on paper, so to speak), and then to publish different versions of the book in partnership with local publishers so I will not as I solemnly promised return to South Africa on Friday, June 4th. Tea anyone? Coffee?

It’s not like I haven’t been writing during these past seven weeks. The Temporary Commercial Constitution forbade me to spend time behind the computer with anything other than a commercial project, although pen and paper could still be used for free expression.

And freely I expressed myself, pages and pages and pages full of words between work on the language book, the translation of about 2000 words, sentence patterns, expressions, cheap video CDs …

I mention this to explain why this computer-typed piece feels slightly strange under the fingers, and to the eye, because it feels as if I am telling myself things I have known for some time whilst ignoring other things that have dominated my handwritten notes.

Also important to mention: another twelve-month cycle has almost been completed since my last trip to South Africa, and “holiday” plans are increasingly taking the lead in the contemplation of my immediate future.

I have also managed to explain to my parents and my older sister the inevitable consequences of my business ideas, and they believe respectively that I still want to eventually return to South Africa and that I am still planning to visit England soon.

Since my last official piece of creative writing I have also devised a new phrase, and have already recited it several times:

“When are you coming back?”

“As soon as possible.”

“When are you coming to visit us?”

“As soon as possible.”

“When are you going to stuff your junk in boxes and start acting on your promises, like a decent person?”

“As soon as possible …”

There’s one problem, though. My younger sister refuses to be so quickly persuaded by my clever explanations. She laid out, last weekend, not just that she misses me and our older sister or how much, but exactly why. It was a container ship full of reasons, properly contemplated beforehand and thoroughly explained, as if it were me speaking; as if she was quoting my own sentiments word-for-word.

I felt guilty.

I am currently working on a few projects – and that is at least supposed to read like an original statement, not like a piece of regurgitated earlier text. There’s the Big Money Project which I’ve already mentioned, and the Great Literary Project of which this update is but a small fragment. Then yesterday – while I was busy in the bathroom – I thought of an inexpensive way to get a few copies of my first volume of poetry in the hands of friends and immediate family (who know I won’t be able to stop them from using the paper to light barbeque fires after a superficial attempt at trying to make sense of my melancholy rhymes). This resulted in me last night once again drawing red lines across poetry that only last year I considered being reasonably okay, and I am hoping that apart from my other jobs I will also be able to spend time on this one and self-publish the collection in pseudo book form hopefully by the end of June.

My mastery of the Chinese language, now already in its fifth year, is the remaining current project. Here, I can report that I can now read Chinese better than I speak it, and even when I make an attempt at verbal communication, people don’t frantically rush themselves to the nearest Tao priest for an exorcism anymore.

My range of personal relationships still does not extend much further than the occasional chat with some female coffee shop friends. My romantic connection to the Tea Lady of Zhongshan Road is also still stuck in the conceptual phase. (I have devised an evil plan to get her to marry me, though – think Marilyn Monroe and Willy Loman, never mind Arthur Miller.)

I also still mix four kinds of cereals for breakfast every morning; still drink my coffee black and bitter; still buy and watch lots of cheap VCDs, and I continue to pen more and more notes on faith in a better tomorrow as a deliberate and sincere attempt to make life worth living today, despite the fact that one knows it often does not work out the way you thought it would.

So everything is still in working condition, even if the machine isn’t always in the best of shapes. Until another piece of text brings us together again …