MONDAY, 27 DECEMBER 2004
More than a year ago a thought started brewing in my head. It was mainly about the kind of life I can lead in South Africa while I continue to be treated as an adult in a community of other people over 25 who meet the conventional criteria to be considered as adults. Eventually, the two parts in which the thought had hatched touched on the theme of criteria that must be fulfilled to be worthy of being considered an adult. What I came up with was definitely not original: get a job, get married, acquire property, get pregnant, and be responsible for your own offspring.
More than a year has passed since the original idea had hatched. I am still sitting in the same apartment in the same chair, still typing essays on the same computer and for the most part still using only two fingers (I have moved from the spare room to a corner in the living room, though). My only medium of transport is still my yellow bicycle. My antique cabinet, my exercise bike, and all my boxes still occupy nearly the same space as a year ago.
Although I do not currently seriously consider the suspension of what I had previously called my “exile”, the thought of two possible lives again started tapping on the inside of my skull: Alone, or With Someone.
If I continue to spend my days and nights on my own, it would be my choice. To be with someone will mean a more enjoyable experience of reality; it will also bring with it things like the possibility of a future together, which will again bring forth the question of place – South Africa or Taiwan or other possibilities, residence – house or apartment, seeing that attic or mobile home won’t do – as well as the matters of money and regular income.
Let me repeat: if I continue to not share my life with someone, it will be with a very specific goal in mind. An image of a medieval ascetic comes into vision, and my belief that I am in the service of an idea and must therefore sacrifice more conventional comforts confirm earlier views about calling – that the purpose of my existence, even the purpose of my so-called own agenda have to do with an “obligation” which goes beyond the specific time and place in which I currently find myself, or may possibly find myself in the future.
To be alone means I do not have to leave a place that is beneficial to the work I do – a place where I can earn a living in ways that do not hinder my real work too much. To be alone, so this case can be argued, may therefore be conducive to achieving certain positive results. To continue to spend my time on earth alone, if I want to rub it in even more, will inspire even more critical views on, for example, the real value of money, the individual and the community, how a person functions with his or her particular consciousness and identity in the modern world, and the role of the Church in a world that is still recovering from the shock of the industrial revolution.
I am aware of the possibility that I can stop writing. The box with all my notebooks fills a space not too far from where I usually sit. I also know where all my printed copies of essays and other writings are, and the recently revised three volumes of “The Personal Agenda” is lying behind me on the wooden table with the 200-page excerpts version and a neatly printed and bound copy of my poetry collection.
I am aware of the possibility that I can shove all this material in a crate, hammer the crate shut with some six-inch nails, wipe all the related documents from my hard drive, and starting tomorrow devote my daily existence to making enough money to spend the rest of my days and nights on this planet in comfort. I am aware of this possibility.
* * *
It is necessary to mention at this point that I am not too perturbed anymore by the community’s criteria of what qualifies one as a full-fledged adult. The “community” do what they do, for reasons I can probably explain to them better than many of them can explain to me, and I do what I do for reasons I would be able to explain to them if I am bored enough or in a good enough mood for such an endeavour. “Their” criteria had more to do with my fears of a year ago about what would define my adult presence in a South African environment had I taken the radical step to re-establish myself in the country of my birth a year or so ago.
The thought that is currently brewing in my gray nest is therefore related to last year’s idea, but the days are gone that the “community” would bully me with their so-called standards.
* * *
Let’s say for argument’s sake there is a certain woman who attends the same Christmas parties as I and (hopefully) will also bless the New Year’s Party with her attractive person … let’s go beyond that and claim that this character even has a left-leaning attitude towards politics and – will the reader think I exaggerate? – that she has had her own personal encounter with the world of corporatism and materialism and ten hours a day at the office. Would it be inappropriate if I calculate for a moment the potential impact such a female presence would have on my present life?
Seeing that this is nothing more than an academic discussion, and the female character in question is … well, fanciful, I think it is perfectly okay to weave more interesting scenarios than Christmas dinners and barbeques into this cold, purely rational essay … May one, just in passing, also mention that a certain imaginary character has a figure that forces a man to stare motionless into the night, and that she has eyes that inspire a thousand poems in his mind as he makes his way home from the coffee shop?
I can swear there was more I wanted to say … but I feel a few lines of poetry beating in my chest, and isn’t it time to make that telephone call?
TUESDAY, 28 DECEMBER 2004
A year ago I wondered what kind of impact it would have had on my view of myself as a writer if I had returned to South Africa. In the first two parts of this Brewing Thought I also considered what kind of life in South Africa would be conducive to me continuing to broach the topics I have touched upon so far, and to hopefully continue filling packs and packs of paper with “theories” and arguments that are sometimes more reminiscent of propaganda for a cause than academic discussion. Finally, I could only speculate how I-the-author would appear to the community in a town like Bronkhorstspruit, or Middelburg, Mpumalanga.
The issue of repatriation will never completely die down, but I do not milk it anymore for literary material. The matter I do want to shed some light on this Tuesday afternoon has to do with inspiration of a different kind. Considering that isolation, solitude, and even loneliness are conducive to the unique material I produce, and not only for specific texts but also for the zeal and pace of putting words to paper, what effect would it have if I were not alone?
I ask this because it may possibly be of relevance in the coming months, and also because it will bring clarity similar to what a Catholic priest experiences knowing that he will sometimes be confronted with women who will stir things in him that were part of his life long before he had made a promise to his church to remain celibate. The priest has a prescribed response ready to recite were the possibility of romantic love ever to present herself to him. (I do not imply that it will be easy for him just because the answer is prescribed to him and required of him. I am only saying that the answer has already been formulated. It is thus rather a question of whether he wants to continue to recite the already formulated answer, or to say, “No more …”)
No church or bishop, or any other institution or person dictates to me what I should and should not do with my heart or other vital organs. I myself have to decide whether an intimate relationship would be beneficial to my self-defined life and the particular work I do – regardless of whether I believe I have to do this work or if I just need to do it so that I can be convinced I am not wasting my life.
One may also wonder how much of this problem will be solved using pure reason and what role the primordial desire to have an intimate connection with another person will play – that is, if a certain “other person” does decide to attend the New Year’s party …
As I am sitting here staring over my monitor at the dark green cloth flapping in front of my living room window, I try to think of a specific word or phrase – like poking around in a toolbox for the right spanner to fasten a nut. And as the wind chimes at the open window tinkle against the cold winter wind, a word comes to me that might pin this issue down: sustainability. Is it sustainable for me to continue ad nauseam trying to address the themes with which I have kept myself occupied until now, and to continue at the pace at which I work not only because I want to complete projects but because it is necessary for me to maintain a sense of well-being?
I believe it is not sustainable.
I further believe that to spend most of your time alone in a space that is customized to your needs and to your tastes and preferences is conducive to specific themes. It follows that not spending most of your time in your own company will be beneficial to exploring other topics which are not necessarily less important than “The individual and the community” or “I am not a creature from outer space”.
Eventually this matter can be related back to questions about who you want to be, and the specific role that you have defined for yourself in the community you are part of, both geographically and culturally. It also has to do with how you reconcile the result, as you currently see it, of the process of defining yourself and your role in society not only with the world and time in which you exist, but also with the satisfaction of your emotional and physical needs.
By way of illustration I can mention that I could have added a PART FIVE tonight to this Brewing Thought, but that it is not going to happen because I have to leave my apartment to go to teach some English classes so I can pay my phone bill at the end of this month. I could also have conjured up from my gray matter PARTS SIX and SEVEN tomorrow night, but it just so happens that a certain character has since the start of this piece organized a dinner date with a certain other character who, only in theory of course, inspires ideas in the Writer of Pieces that has very little to with many of the themes he has been trying to address up to now – ad nauseam, it can be added.
 A few weeks ago, I thought of three possibilities for an adult existence: that of the “wanderer”, the “settler”, and the “traveller”. For the purpose of this essay, however, I will focus on two possibilities of another kind.