The writer’s will and testament, April 1994

I don’t have a specific plan for this piece. I’ll just start with a few ideas running through my mind. […]

What I write here is supposed to be my will, but not the kind that’s aimed at an audience that gets together after your death (at least not in the conventional sense of the word). What I’m going to leave behind in this document are not earthly possessions but words: my words, my thoughts.

You may immediately want to ask what gives me the idea that people will be interested in what I think. The answer doesn’t really matter. If no-one else read this, it also wouldn’t make much of a difference. Maybe it’s a way to prove to myself that I am alive. This piece will be proof that I am real, not just an illusion – a bit similar to what Descartes said: “I know I am, because I think.”

I know I exist when I write. What I write is a symbol of me. It also serves as external proof of my existence. I can return to my writing at a later stage and know that I had really lived those particular moments.

What I write is part of me, but it also has a life of its own. Words are alive. Blank paper is like clay: It waits for someone to shape it and transform it into a work of art. What the artist creates will serve as proof of his erstwhile existence years after his death. So it is with any piece of work someone creates. So it is with this piece I am writing. As long as these pieces of paper are preserved, a part of me will continue to live because what is written here, is part of me. I am in the words I use, in the way I construct my sentences, in my thoughts that manifest in the text. It almost reminds one of the idea that God allowed life to flow down from him, like a fountain, and where the rays fell, there was life. In this manner, all of life is part of God because God is the origin. In a similar way, it can be said that everything I write is part of me, because I am its source.

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First an important note. You need to understand yourself if you want to be a writer. You should at least have a vague idea of how you operate and what you really want with anything you do. […]

[This] is not a short story or a novel, or anything in between. Yet it should be in a form that will make it readable to my descendants and other interested parties. Earlier I mentioned that this is a will and testament. I think I’ll stick to this genre. A will is after all an official document that is supposed to be preserved, and when the author of the will is dead, it should be read to all who matter. I definitely like this idea.

It is now official. This is my will, and it will be read when my physical remains have been disposed of. I will live close to this piece for an indefinite length of time. It is something with which I can be in a relationship; something that depends on me for its development and growth.

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What does it mean when people talk about the “rat race”? What do traffic rules and governments and organised sports and media mean, and going to school and getting an education? What are the benefits of fitting into the conventional state of affairs? What are the disadvantages? Does it provide satisfaction to fit in? Does it provide one with a sense that there is meaning to life? […]

What do people look for in life? Isn’t it just to feel okay about everything around them? To say to yourself, “All things considered, all the good and bad in the world and in my own life, I feel okay, and I think the world is actually an okay place.” Is that not what everything is about? To try to fit in with the order that society places on your doorstep like a newspaper every morning, and that you should pick up and make your own – and in your own way, you have to ensure that what you learn also reaches other people.

Are religious and political institutions not just honoured and maintained to enable a person to sink into his chair at the end of the day and say, “I’m okay”? Even if this is not really the case, but as long as you believe you are okay, it more or less works out! Then the suburban everyman existence is, in fact, a worthy option for all who are creators and maintainers of it, right?

But what about the masses that do not think life is okay? What about “emotional breakdown caused by fear, loneliness and spiritual impoverishment” [originally written about the theme of the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side Of The Moon]?

Are people in suburbia really happy? And how big is the difference between those who happily sink into their comfortable chairs at the end of the day and honestly believe life is okay, and those who try their asses off to believe themselves when they too say they are okay, but who never manage to convince themselves?

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We are constantly looking for something we can be sure of. Sometimes you find it in an intimate relationship with another person. Sometimes you find it in the religious system you choose to adhere to, in your faith in the god you worship. I find my security in three things: Birth, Life, and Death. A person is born. A person lives. A person dies. These are unwavering beacons of human existence.

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What value should we attach to the idea that there is no such thing as a perfect life? That what you currently have is perhaps the best you will ever get; that there is no perfect life to be pursued; that, in other words, there is no target that can be missed. Is it a false assumption that your life will improve the closer you get to a target of supposed perfection? Does life move in circles instead of in a more or less straight line? Does God have a plan according to which life on earth is developing?

What would a perfect life look like? Enough to eat, a house that cannot be taken away from you, love and acceptance, recognition from other people, a sense that you are in the process of realizing your potential, an active aesthetic interest in your environment, and to crown it all, peace with all who share your living space and whatever exists beyond the senses? Are all of us taught to pursue such a life, and that perfect happiness will be the result if we can achieve it?

Can the lives that most people live be placed between two poles, namely perfect happiness on the one hand and total despair and wretchedness on the other? And we should try to get as far away as possible from the one extreme in blind pursuit of the opposite?

Are we too much goal-oriented? Is “efficiency” emphasised at the expense of equipping people to survive emotionally in a sometimes bitterly unfair world? Is it ethically justifiable to push people all the time to make the “right” choices, especially to make the “right choice” when it comes to religion – in order to avoid a situation where you might be consumed in a pool of fire for the rest of your immortal soul’s existence? Is it justifiable?

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What’s the point of order? Why do you organise your life? Why should your desk be neat, your clothes on the right shelves in the closet and your bed made up? Why do we want to know what to expect? Why do we want to be prepared? Why do we want to respond in the “correct” way to people and events? Why do we classify? Why do we organise things, neatly pack things away, talk things out, arrange activities in order of importance? Why do we maintain principles? Why does someone write disjointed pieces to sort out his life? Has it to do with security? To know – or to believe – you somehow belong to the bigger order of things? Does it form part of your quest for identity and its maintenance in relation to everything and everyone around you?

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Something else for the record: I don’t think I’m a writer. I don’t think I will ever achieve any degree of fame outside my circle of friends and close family members. I don’t think “my” ideas are original, or at all worthwhile reading. I just think it would be very lonely to die without having left a few words that can later be read by loved ones. My motivation is the same as someone who writes a note before he hangs himself with a sheet from the rafters – to explain myself.

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My mother gets upset when I talk about death. She thinks I’m making a mockery of a serious matter. This is obviously not true. As I have already mentioned, death to me is simply the natural end of something that has also had a beginning. I don’t currently have a clear opinion about “life after death” but I am fairly sure that at the most elementary level death means that a person’s physical existence has ended. This means you no longer hear the person laugh or talk. You no longer drink coffee that was made by that person, and you no longer eat food prepared by him or her. The person does not respond to anything anymore, and no longer participates in conversations. The person doesn’t become excited with you anymore about something. The person doesn’t choose your side in an argument anymore. The person is no longer there to complain to or to ask for advice. And that is sad. It’s very sad. There is probably nothing as sad as when someone whom you loved dies. But even the sadness, like death itself, is part of the circle of life.

You start as a feeling between two people, and you end up as a memory in people’s minds. Your life starts long before you physically come into existence, and you never truly die when you physically cease to exist – you just fade in people’s memories. Your physical birth and your physical death are both dominant moments in your life. Just as joy and happiness accompany the first one, so sadness and melancholy accompany the other. The fact that these are natural moments of life takes nothing away from the emotion associated with these events. Regardless of how sad it is when someone dies, it remains a natural event in the life of a person to die. And even if it is a natural event in the life of a person to die, it will always be associated with sadness and grief. That’s all there is to say. Death remains a fixed point in life. (But why should your life begin with joy and end with sadness?)

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On the 6th of April I decided I was going to become a writer. At that particular moment, I thought: I’m tired of all this insecurity. I don’t have a cent to my name. I haven’t paid my rent for this month, and it’s already the fifteenth. I pretty much live on maize porridge: with brown sugar and old powdered milk in the morning; for lunch leftovers from the breakfast; dinner at my parents’ apartment is usually maize porridge with sausage and bread. Or meatballs and potatoes. We usually swallow it down with the worst chicory mix on the market.

I wish I were a millionaire. I would buy a house for my parents and a jacuzzi for myself. I would live on caramel milkshakes and cream doughnuts, and I would spend my days watching TV.

That is what led to my decision on the 6th of April to become a writer. I had just devoured another collection of short stories by Andre Letoit when the thought occurred to me that I was taking life way too seriously and that I should apply my insecurities productively and become a writer. Writers, so I thought, lived insecure lives. It is precisely this insecurity that qualifies a writer to be one! Of course you get professional writers who have received training and who take a completely different approach. But the type of writer I want to be is the insecure type.

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An ascetic. A monk. A monk without faith.

Will I live in a stone fortress – a remnant of a glory-less war from the distant past? Should grass be growing in places through cracks in the stone floor? Should the fortress have a wooden door that closes with a crossbar? And should it have a single room, with a fireplace? Should the loopholes be closed with shutters? And should I have candles everywhere to break the darkness? Should I have a hard, wooden bed standing near the fireplace, or just a mat with some bedding?

There will definitely be a heavy wooden table in the middle of the room. There will be an old threadbare carpet in front of the fireplace, and shelves filled with books on the walls. I would have a dog who’ll lay at my feet while I work. We’ll go for walks in the cool of the evening. I will let my hair and my beard grow, and I’ll wear a brown robe and leather sandals. I would read a lot and write every day. I will paint and create mosaics. And I will carve statues from wood.

I will be happy and not miss people.

My boundaries are so vague that I cross them without really being aware of it. And then, when I want to return from my venture on the outside, I realise there is nothing to go back to – just a vaguely defined world with little or no fixed landmarks.

It is said human beings are animals. The difference is that people have learned how to use tools and make fire, and then they built roads and buildings and cars and factories and banks and schools and universities and ports and parliaments and sports stadia and prisons and hospitals. As part of a generation that was born at a time when all these things have become established beacons of civilization, and where it is expected to only fall in and conform to the standards of this society, it doesn’t help you much to wish you could live in simplicity like your brothers and sisters in nature.

Our society is too big and too impersonal. We and those before us have created a monster which has long gotten out of control. And if you don’t bow before the monster, you are devoured and your remains spat out.

I will die if I do not write. There are only two things that make life bearable for me – to express how I experience life, and to love.

We live on a planet of which there are millions. We stand no chance against the cosmic powers. We have long abandoned our original habitat where we just had to search for food and shelter like other animals and where we could find comfort in community with others like us. And we are all at the end destined to die, to pass away like vegetation. So, exactly what is this complex modern society in which we were born, and which we are doomed to maintain?

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