Mike Golby – Blog on the Tracks
The Interview, Part One of Five
This is an “interview” in the loosest sense of the word. I asked Mike Golby to share his insights in five areas. He did and the album cover art below provided links to the separate pieces of this interview as they were originally posted. I’ve pulled them all together and migrated them to to my current blog… fp.
War bloggers, peace bloggers, tech bloggers, from personal journals to highly polished op-ed pieces, writers from all around the world are engaged in personal publishing on the web and calling it blogging. What kind of blogger are you, Mike?
To begin, a song…
I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you,
Beat or cheat or mistreat you,
Simplify you, classify you,
Deny, defy or crucify you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you,
Frighten you or uptighten you,
Drag you down or drain you down,
Chain you down or bring you down.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up,
Analyze you, categorize you,
Finalize you or advertise you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to straight-face you,
Race or chase you, track or trace you,
Or disgrace you or displace you,
Or define you or confine you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to meet your kin,
Make you spin or do you in,
Or select you or dissect you,
Or inspect you or reject you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to fake you out,
Take or shake or forsake you out,
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me,
See like me or be like me.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
– Bob Dylan, “All I Really Want to Do”
Bear with me… I had to do that.
A direct answer? I’m the first PorridgeBoy-accredited broadband blogger, Frank, as the logo heading my blog attests. I must admit to having inserted the ‘Your broadband blogger of discernment and fine taste’ into the alt text myself, but I know that’s what Gary felt when bestowing the honor on me. It had nothing to do with the extraordinary length of my posts [I'm much more succinct these days] and everything to do with mutual respect [the chimp is another story]. PorridgeBoy (PB) and I have fought many battles and we accord each other the greatest respect. He has a South African melon farmer’s head mounted on the wall above his mantelpiece. He is a true warrior, a worthy adversary, an indomitable Scot, and a great friend. He’s what Chris Kovacs (aka “StavrostheWonderChicken”) would be if he were in England and sober. They’re much of a muchness, those two. They make me laugh. In the best sense, of course.
What does it mean to be a Scot I wonder?
Some of us have noticed a certain, shall we say “prolixity” in your bloquaciousness…
Seriously, Frank, should I be the one answering this question? Eh, I’ve often wondered how people perceive the mountain of verbiage that downloads with the insertion of my URL into the address bar and haven’t yet come up with a satisfactory answer. Well, okay, what is blogging? Yeah, we’ve all been down that road and know it leads us back to Notepad and an empty screen. I use my blog to communicate, to express myself, to vent, rant, ask, decry, opine, reflect, contemplate, regurgitate, play head games, annoy others, please others, empathize, criticize…
In fact, you know what this is beginning to sound like? In June, when we began trying to extract an interview from my twisted head, we looked at a couple of options. One was to run ideas along my pal Bob’s album, ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’. You asked me to give it a bash on June 9. I remember the date because Elaine and Andrea were working up some muti [magic] to work on me in the dark light of an absent moon the following day, June 10. (I was hanging on to the end of my tether by the skin of my teeth at that stage of my wife’s illness.)
Well it seemed fitting as it was the anniversary…
Yes, Dylan recorded the album June 9 and 10, 1964 in New York. The first song on the album is ‘All I Really Want to Do’ [see above]. Under its playful tone, the song is biting, satirical social commentary. The youngest-ever recipient of the Tom Paine Award, Dylan had taken a lot of crap at the awards ceremony from what he saw as fake liberals unable to comprehend his identification with the Lee Harvey Oswald lurking in all of us. Another thing. At the time Dylan recorded it, 1964, psycho-analysis was the “in” thing and anybody who aspired to be anyone was “in therapy”. Being the flavor of the month for a wealthy elite, psychoanalysis was a brittle status symbol for those seeking status.
In the song, Dylan addresses the shallow, follow-my-leader sheep of the sixties who’d yet to deal meaningfully with civil rights, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and a foreign policy leading from the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam.
Have things changed all that much?
A few days ago, I looked at the whole ‘War on Terrorism’ / Iraq debacle and came to the conclusion we’re in much the same position today as we were then. Here, on the blogs, we’re dealing tentatively with all these things. We’re dealing with relationships and communities and networks and our sense of what these things mean to us. We’re dealing with the world and politics and power and issues affecting the planet. Yet blogging is still a brittle, flavor-of-the-month technology with which we’ve yet to establish a meaningful relationship. Just how many serious bloggers are there? On the blogs, we quickly become aware that we don’t know what we or this blogging phenomenon are all about.
To find out, we begin to open ourselves to ourselves as people capable of anything (peeling the onion). We become more aware of who we are. I’m not as aggressive offline as I am on. I slag people off on the Web without malice whereas offline I’d do it to wound. What do these things mean to me and how do they affect my life and other people online and off? Blogging is endless, mind-blasting discovery. I uncover so much and it all goes to making up the online and offline Mike. Where’s blogging going? Where am I going?
With the notable exception of the war blogger versus peace blogger conflict, bloggers have generally been criticized for being “too nice to each other.” What do you think about that?
What do we as bloggers most often say to each other? By blogging, a social activity, we’re saying, most obviously, through our linking and the limited sharing we’re able to do: “I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you, | Beat or cheat or mistreat you, | Simplify you, classify you, | Deny, defy or crucify you. | All I really want to do | Is, baby, be friends with you.”
Hah! Sure. But we do mean it. I’ve made an incredible circle of friends on the Web and those friendships are underpinned by a reality as strong as any I’ve known offline. I do not take my blogroll for granted. Those people are there for a reason and even if I haven’t exchanged mails with some people, it’s not because I don’t identify something of me in them and their work (hell, I don’t write to family). Young Bob, at the outset and during his song, even gives us the good-natured, smiling laugh we convey in our comment boxes and e-mail emoticons. We’re decent people exploring new relationships and a sense of community underpinned by shared values, shared views, and shared lives. Or are we?
In the lazy, smiling litany of mentally or emotionally manipulative activities delivered with a metronomic regularity by Dylan’s song, is a Columbine-like sub-text as strong as a machine-gun. It sings endearingly yet mockingly, with a hint of the ubiquitous Dylan sneer, “I know what you’re up to, where you stand, and even if I don’t want to do these things to you, believe me, I can.” That’s where my interest in blogging really kicks in. I attach a lot of importance to Jung’s notion of ‘the shadow’, our dark selves, and to the duality of our being, i.e. light-dark, hard-soft, kind-cruel, yin and yang. I find a lot of me and that which makes me blog in Dylan’s song and in my own writing.
How do you manage to so consistently express yourself with truth and personal integrity, how do you stay true to your real self in the face of knowledge that your work has a global audience?
In my blogging, I unconsciously subject myself to my own scrutiny, i.e. I turn the song on myself. A lot of hidden stuff breaks free. It may not be immediately apparent to you, but it is to me. Writing publicly is writing naked. As a South African, my version of events I’ve experienced can, at any time, be challenged by South Africans like Nithia, Alka, or Farrago. They’ll know whether or not I’m bullshitting.
Similarly, alcoholism, depression, politics, relationships, whatever. It is here that I have to get honest with what I feel or good friends are going to fill my Inbox with Dylan-esque sneers.
Let’s put it bluntly. A simple example. This song rips apart my good war-blogging friends on the Israel-Palestine issue better than any blog entry I’ve ever come across. Listen to this: “I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me, | See like me or be like me. | All I really want to do | Is, baby, be friends with you.” These words echo the friendly facades of people wanting others dead. Vicious, eh? But true. How do I know? Because I have a war blogger lurking in me. None of us are as simple as we make out but, having to view ourselves from within, we’re seldom able to realize just how multi-faceted we really are or where or how deeply our flaws mar our images of ourselves.
We deal in words on the blogs and, one way or another, we’re all professionals. It’s not what we say; it’s how we say it that matters. In this song, Dylan sneers at the political, double-speak trickle down reflected in the angst-laden lip service paid by well-heeled liberals to socio-political and economic issues beyond their ken. I like that. Unlike most, though, I prefer using an iron pipe to beat my message into others’ heads.
By blogging, I get to see the intense conservatism of my own left-wing make-up. I also get to see the straitjacketed souls of the far right struggling to break free. We’re all people here and, yes, I do believe in the democratic nature of the Web. Network dynamics, social backgrounds and income aside, we are all equal here. We all want the same thing and nobody is God. Not even Dave Winer. Would that I could put it as well for the war bloggers. Mike Sanders might even reinstate his link to my site. After all, all I really want to do, Mike, is be friends with you.
Whew. Sorry, Frank. I guess that avalanche epitomizes the Golby approach. Let’s keep it simple. Although I seek for myself all that Dylan promises he won’t visit on his imaginary babe, I don’t seek links. I don’t rip others’ ideas. I don’t do Daypop. I don’t seek accolades [though I cherish fishrush's award beyond any other going]. I don’t want a wide audience. I don’t hate it that you rite better ‘n me. All I really want to do, Frankie, is be friends with you. Or do I?
Yep, this is a great song to mark a departure from Dylan’s preceding group-think songs to those that deal, not only with personal relationships, but with the dynamics of personal interaction and of our world. We bloggers are capable of all things and we deny ourselves if we deny that. Writers using the tools of blogdom and the conventional media should read, digest, shut up, and write themselves into the full power of their beings. It is as David Weinberger said: “We’re writing ourselves into existence.”
Do you feel your blogging changing with experience?
Recently, I’ve moved from a tight social circle where every blog entry I’ve read is reflected in my daily offering, across to clusters of newfound bloggers, and back again to individuals and groupings. Things change; people change. We float away, we come back. In recent weeks, I’ve been solitary, moving from writing intensely personal entries to giving ill-informed commentaries on current affairs. I’m exploring the boundaries of myself in this unknown space, not knowing what the hell is going on or what it or I am all about. I find it enormously exciting, invigorating, tough, rewarding, and addictive.
What type of blogger am I? Beyond being committed and passionate about writing and my friends, I really don’t know. I blog and you and two or three other sympathetic friends pop in to see what I’m up to. What comes next? I don’t know. “Don’t follow leaders | Watch the parking meters”? You tell me…:).
Mike Golby – New Morning
… the Tuesday Two-fer, here’s Mike Golby on Leisure
Mike Golby – Sweetheart of the Rodeo
The Interview, Part Three of Five
[This just in from Sud Afrique... Golby has gone round the bend. The boys in the white suits with the passive restraints have been called -fp-]
Leisure. Does it rhyme with pleasure? Many Brits and colonials would say so. How do you kick back, Mike? A lot of our activities are work, whether we enjoy them or pursue them avocationally. But there are time slices for each of us that qualify as leisure. How do you sort these out and squeeze enjoyment from them?
a) Leisure? Whazzat?
b) I am kicking back, Frank.
c) Nah, I don’t do that shit anymore.
d) I fall over.
d) After what I’ve been through? You must be joking.
e) Can’t slack off. PorridgeBoy’s out there.
Heh… that about says it. I haven’t had too much time for relaxing or leisure pursuits over the past three, four, or five years, but I’m getting there. Writing <b>is</b> a form of leisurely contemplation. It does me good and I do a lot of it. After doing a lot of co-dependency work on myself a couple of years back, I realized I was a certifiable ‘panic mechanic’, didn’t want to pursue it as a career option, and so broke the shackles. Writing is something I do for some ungodly reason and I’m intent on sticking to it. I’ll see where it takes me.
Still, running a family on my salary, being the only driver, etc. doesn’t leave too much time for doing what I really enjoy doing, i.e. getting the hell out of the city into the great wide open. I appreciate solitude and the big spaces. Andrea’s recent spelunking expedition, Shelley’s nature posts, and Jeff’s recent venture to the interior made for great reading. But I believe there’s something qualitatively different about African spaces where you can hear and feel the presence of God beating six feet deep in the heart of the country, where everything is tens of millions of years ago, and time and space don’t matter. It’s, well, cool. Ask Gary, he’s been out to East Africa within the past couple of years. I did the whole colonial, expat-Brit thing about twenty years ago when getting to know my in-laws. [Those old colonials are beyond pink gins and the club. They're a bunch of wild animals on heat.] Put me on a mountainside, on or beside the sea and I’ll switch from angst to ecstasy without breaking stride. The world, left to its devices, is music to me.
Otherwise, I don’t have much time to indulge my in-the-world, everyday pleasures, reading and listening to music. I’m catching up on Leonard Cohen at the moment. Music’s as expensive as books are here. You know the lyrics to an album before someone makes you a tape of it – only single people, working couples, or my kids have large CD collections. I took a two-week break from Bob and soaked in Cohen. Eventually I couldn’t bear any more of it [yesterday], slammed in Stevie Ray Vaughn and raised high the roofbeams. I’m an old rock addict and will never grow out of it. Classical music, played well, makes me weep. It’s too much. I don’t listen to it. For, I reckon, the right reasons. It’s too intense.
I enjoy jazz as much but prefer it live. I covered jazz for a national paper for around two years. Interacting with musicians who trusted me to reflect their music accurately was incredible. Especially as I play no instrument, cannot hold a tune, and cannot tell what-bar blues it is I’m listening to. Being present during those unexpected moments of magic when the music would, for a time, transcend itself and everybody feel it, was something else.
I don’t read novels as such. No time. People I enjoy, I regard more as painters of the word and will read whatever they have to say. Moving from ‘novelists’, I started into the likes of Kerouac at about seventeen and have read the usual library familiar to the middle-class bookworm. I do feel a void when it comes to classical literature. My tastes are as eclectic as they are catholic. What’s happened to Kundera? He dead? I still keep a copy of Hunter Thompson’s ‘Generation of Swine’ lying around for late-night [early morning] reading. No matter how often I read those columns, I still crack up each time I read them. The man is a thug, albeit an elderly one, and deserves to be dragged out into the streets and flogged like a rented mule. He has given the U.S. a disgusting name. He is depraved and all his books should be burnt. Especially the vicious collection of calumnies he heaped on poor Mr. Nixon. It was he, after all, who extricated America from Vietnam.
I’ve a few close friends of long standing, intelligent survivors of the good old days and people I’ve known since early high school. We watch Grand Prixs, drink tea, kick a ball around, and listen to their amazing jazz collections like little old men recalling an insane past. One of them might smoke some hash occasionally but the rest of us will just laugh at him. Come to think of it, while I’m the one who consciously doesn’t drink, they’re bloody abstemious for a bunch of former hopheads and, yes, enjoy live jazz as much as I do. We don’t share much personal stuff because, well, we’re men and we’ve known each other all our lives and you just don’t do that kind of thing. Besides, that’s what wives are for.
Yep, it’s an interesting phenomenon and I can’t say I’m completely immune to it. Old habits die hard [calm down, Elaine]. And, in some ways, it’s a good thing too. Wendy and I are bloody good friends and I have no secrets from her. We can sit and watch a day’s cricket in silence together, I can talk politics to her till the cow’s come home, or she can bat my ear for ages about anything she wants to. We enjoy the same movies [we don't watch much TV at all]. I did the whole art nouveau thing when I was a kid, soaking up every foreign film ever made, and so have missed out on a lot recently. But hell, I was the one who thought ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘The Boondock Saints’, ‘Natural Born Killers’, and ‘Reservoir Dogs’ were comedies. Mind you, I’ve a far darker sense of humor than Wendy. My kids have inherited it as well.
Come to think of it, there’s a lot of laughter around our home and I do a lot of it around my friends. I guess that says quite a bit for such a dysfunctional bunch of people. Eh, movies. Burt Lancaster? I remember him well. My grandmother used to take me to the movies when I was a kid. She was ancient, in her seventies at least, and she’d slip me a large silver coin and whisper, “Remember, my boy, the Boer War’s not yet over.” She was Anglo-Irish. Great old woman although I believe she was a lousy mother. If I had to be a movie, I’d be ‘Withnail and I’. Now that was funny, beautiful, and sad. I suppose we all have to make choices, grow up, and learn to chill. When I’m in serious, personal blogging mode, I’m more the guy who drifts off into deep space in Kubrick’s ’2021: A Space Odyssey’. Mind you, I’m pretty much like him anyway. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself a joiner – I’m pretty anti-social – and enjoy my own company. I never was a ‘team player’. Karate, skateboarding, surfing. They appealed to me.
Yeah, I’m relaxing right now, Frank, writing to you. To me, relaxing or leisure is just a case of ‘doing something else’, speaking to a friend, or meeting someone new.
Mike Golby – Tells It Like It Is
The Interview, Part Four of Five
Addiction. Here in the United States there are so many self help programs based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that the currency seems debased. Besides AA and Narcotics Anonymous, we have Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, and Codependents Anonymous (as distinct I think from Al-Anon). I have my own story about addiction and codependence and serious substance abuse and spoiled relationships, so I know this is not a pretty area. But you have been through some difficult times recently and you and your family have emerged to a brighter time, and I wonder if you would like to touch wood and share some of your experience, strength and hope about the matter of alcoholism and addiction.
The Worm is the Apple and the Serpent is the Worm
Let me into your worm world
The place of dark imaginings
Where we touch ourselves
And hold the finger of God.
… the insanity of alcoholism is a particularly horrific affliction, usually leading to death [much like life]. I can’t begin to do the disease or the never ending but amazingly rewarding process of recovery any justice here. But, what the hell, let me reminisce some, tossing in some drink-driven drivel I wrote as a practising substance abuser.
Alcohol as an agent for exacerbating an already bad situation, and alcoholism as a disease leading to an insular, self-centered view of the world, fascinates me. Fifteen years ago, I would not have considered blogging. Now, safe in the anonymity of the face I use to meet the faces I meet, i.e. my humanity, I can write freely, knowing that, while the fact that nobody understood me as a kid caused me much pain, today I thank God none of us will never understand ourselves or each other.
Secondly, I think you’re right; the currency is debased, globally and in AA itself. However, I think that has more to do with the people practising the program than the 12 Steps themselves. It’s not just the spread of the 12-Step program to other areas of life – it’s the spread of a diluted program*. Within AA locally, we see the development of smoking and non-smoking groups, women’s groups, gay groups ["Cock Tails"], old-timer’s groups, etc. In my day, the only requirement for membership and access to any group was “a desire to stop drinking”.
I’m speaking from the experience of a couple of meetings in the past few years and an aborted attempt to ‘fit in’ with a local Alanon group. Also, I’m basing my criticism on my wife’s experience of several meetings with my experience of the countless meetings I attended from about 1984 to 1988. My jaundiced view is also enhanced by my recollections of a bunch of people who saved my life. That period of my life certainly colors my views of today.
Mind you, in my day, all alcoholics were male, heterosexual, over 40, and smoked like chimneys. I was a kid, a fast-tracker. Also, at open meetings, when the Lord’s Prayer was said [about the only overtly religious aspect of an AA meeting], very few people would continue after “â€¦and deliver us from evil.” There seemed to be an inordinately disproportionate number of Catholics at those meetings.
From your phrasing, Frank, I’m assuming you mean the program’s been trivialized, commercialized, or disingenuously repackaged to suit our fast-food lifestyles – detracting from its intrinsic value. AA’s 12-step program is one of recovery, more specifically, spiritual recovery and the book, ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, makes no bones about it nor brooks any ‘watering down’ [heh]. The physical, mental and emotional recovery kinda come with the package which, it usually turns out, is the person working the program. It’s a lifelong trip and, although I no longer attend AA meetings, I’m quite comfortable popping into one and calling myself a member.
I’m not shy of saying I think alcoholism tends to generate more misery for more people than does obesity [especially in an obese society] or ‘love’ or sex or spending too many hours at the office. I guess the life-threatening nature of the rock bottom informs my view. That said, I’m also not shy of saying I believe there are countless ways, other than by attending AA, to come to terms with one’s alcoholism. I can only speak of what worked for me.
My experience was that, once I’d taken to the program, only a conscious and determined counter to it would displace what I regard as a simple yet incredibly effective way of keeping my head in the virtual vicinity of my shoulders. My old man was an alcoholic who sobered up in AA when I was about three. He died close on two years ago, not having had a drink for close n 40 years. But we are picking nits and hair-splitting here – perhaps I should cut to the chase and share some thoughts of yesteryear from hazy recollection and ancient scribblings [mostly in pencil, for some strange reason].
We sometimes share and that’s about as close as we can get to being together – otherwise we are all alone, set apart from each other as surely as fence posts set in concrete. Our touching, sharing, communicating, provide the strands of wire that go towards completing the fences of our lives – fences separating what from what I don’t know. Even the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall don’t have to be faced. As soon as we’re born we set out on our separate paths and the road that brought me here can only be different to yours and the future will take me to go banging off in a totally different direction.
I still hold to that, but positively so. We’re networked, wired, connected, all of us. But some of us are like wandering axons, essential pieces of the global nervous system seeking to get a picture of the whole, dissatisfied with a role as a link in a chain of universal command and control. There are huge benefits to having people like us. We form random bridges connecting different worlds at different times. It makes a lot of sense to me that I identify with that drifting astronaut in Kubrick’s ’2021′. I want the big picture and I want to know and experience it all.
Why, especially when I’m a conservative person of sedentary habits? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s because I believe we all have it within us be anything we choose to be.
I was an incredibly sensitive kid. Dark too. I’ve worked hard at dulling the sensitivity and, to a degree and with the help of socially acceptable drug, have managed to become something of a selfish boor. As a kid, though, I had no way of knowing that anybody was any different. School, a Catholic upbringing that stressed children being seen and not heard, and my parents’ reticence at showing physical emotion taught me they were. In my second year of school [I was seven], I contracted a virus manifesting a sore throat and fever. It lasted six months. As the old man was a doctor, I had the best of pediatricians and was confined to bed. I was put on penicillin [why, I don't know, but ruling out rheumatic fever had something to do with it].
My confinement was great because I discovered books. I soon ploughed through the stuff the library stocked for kids and the local librarian used to stop by on a regular basis to pick up or offload books she selected from the adult library. I read novels feverishly until my early twenties. In high school, we were supposed to read a certain number of books each year; five or something. One year, I tossed onto my teacher’s desk a list of 365 titles ‘culled to impress’ from the batch I’d read that year. I did no schoolwork, but I read like a demon – two or three a day.
I remember having read one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories in primary school. My father had given it to me. I gave it back to him in the evening. So, he questioned me on it. I answered his questions. He seemed quite chuffed and somewhat amused by what I later came to realize was a penchant for something most people didn’t do, i.e. read.
Interestingly, it was during my high-school years that I read every book I could on Israel, identifying strongly with the one-sided view put across by the likes of Uris, Wouk, Malamud, and Singer. A nose for the news and South Africa’s situation taught me shortly afterwards that there was a flipside. Nonetheless, I’ve always harbored a fondness for that crazy little state and that’s why, today, it pains me to see it destroying itself and the Palestinian people.
Back to the books. I don’t know when he wrote it, but my parents locked up Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’ in their sideboard for fear I’d get my hands on it. Being good Catholics, they could read it but I could not. They went out one evening. I picked the lock and was busy finishing the book by the time they came home. “Have you read the wedding scene?” my mother asked, trying to get the book from me. “Mom, I’m just about finished. It’s a good book.” That seemed to satisfy them. I’ve yet to see what they saw in Henry Miller though. His books and several others shared the cabinet with Mario Puzo but I enjoyed ‘The Godfather’ more than I did ‘Tropic of Capricorn’. Chrissakes, I was in my teens. I was no longer a kid and I was open to anything and everything.
My mother was a commercial artist and I’d spend time in her studio, drawing. I was a natural at about seven or eight and, to this day, my mother bemoans my having gone to school at all. There was something in me that sought conformity and this was most apparent in my art. Years later, in my twenties and when drunk, I’d wake up to stunning murals that appeared on walls only Wendy and I had had access to during the previous evening’s drinking. Wendy wasn’t into biblical imagery, ravens, crucifixions, winged beasts and daemonic creatures drawn surely and with a clarity that knocked my socks off. I’d think, “Shit, I still haven’t lost it” and scrub the walls down before the landlord, a neighbor, or the bottle store called. I should’ve taken some photographs of those murals. They were good.
Six years into school, I was writing books rather than essays. Some things never change. It made my teachers most happy and I excelled academically. When I got it wrong, though, either through me fucking up or a lack of insight on their part, their criticism hurt.
I had in me a deep-seated idea that I was somehow different to others and it didn’t sit too easily. Although shy, I was gregarious. Although introspective, I was always loudly in the thick of things. Although painfully self-aware, I didn’t give a shit. This sense of heightened inner tension came to a head in my first year of high school. I wrote the tests and got the answers right. I should have been happy with this state of affairs but one incident rocked me. We had written a science exam and I’d top-scored. The teacher made something of it and I was asked to stand while the class applauded me. It was non-threatening, popular applause. It scared me shitless.
During the second half of the year, I awoke one morning to a horrible knowledge. The world was out there. Whereas the night before I had been in the world, a part of whatever was going on, on waking, everything was on its head. I think it was an abrupt introduction to reality. My reaction was to drop social convention to the greatest degree possible without disrupting others’ lives too much. Call it alienation, depression, whatever. I was 12.
The lifestyle deemed acceptable by the society in which I lived was anathema to me. It was a world of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’, a series of tests, an unending string of possible failures. It was a behemoth over which I had no control. It was a giant microscope under which every action performed by me under its terms, conditions and rules was subject to the closest scrutiny. Right down to the way I looked, spoke, dressed, drank tea or wrote my name. It terrified me. So I avoided it.
I avoided examinations by not studying for them. I avoided study by keeping no notebooks. I avoided school altogether by adopting “Fuck you” as a silent, credo. The importance of the piece of paper I’d spent twelve years of my life at school for was not at issue. I knew as well as my parents, my school teachers and the university authorities just what that piece of paper meant. But its acquisition required obeisance to a system of living capable of destroying me. I could not, or would not, accept adhering to a code of conduct designed, as far as I could see, to reduce me to a nebulous reflection of a world devoid of meaning, one in which I saw only shadows instead of substance, specters instead of things.
I took to Camus and Sartre like a duck to water shortly after I left school five years later and Kafka was my standard fare. Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from Underground’ became my personal creed [I don't recall the piece's content now but it meant a lot to me then]. Not understanding what these guys were getting at [I reread them later], I got sucked into an existential mess of individual angst.
None of us can ever understand each other. We are all fucked, doomed to die. Firing squads and bodies on the beach. It’s all so fucking senseless it just can’t be true. I’m fucking tired – fucking scared – and I feel like crying my heart out.
I was ostensibly a normal kid with an attitude. But since that day when I awoke to a different reality, i.e. the world being ‘out there’, I was painfully uncomfortable. I was aware of everything and that included a sense of being out of synch with the world and other people. Inwardly I knew I was a fuck up and potentially dangerous. My dual nature led me easily to socializing but, in social situations, I became decidedly uncomfortable. I found other people to be superficial and fake, playing a game for which I hadn’t been given a set of rules. Because of this, I discovered the benefits of booze early on. I’d always been fond of the stuff at the dinner table but one evening, after wandering off with the boys to Sea Point on the Atlantic coast to watch a surfing movie, ‘Pacific Vibrations’ or something like that, we came out into a hall that had just seen the end of a political party’s convention.
There was booze all over the place. Alcohol was no problem to me. It was to become my solution to most things; it loosened me up. A couple of hours later, I caught a lift home with parents of a friend. Traveling in a miniscule Mini Cooper is not a good thing for a teenager who’s poured enough ‘hooligan soup’ down his throat to start a riot. I felt queasy. Somewhere around central Cape Town, I projectile vomited onto the head of my friend’s mother. Bad move. I found myself crawling on the highway, spewing sweet red wine all over the place. I’ll say this for the Browns. They put me back into the car and bravely continued the journey. I vomited again, really making a mess of Mrs. Brown’s head. She swapped places with my friend. The third time, I figured the floor was the best place to offload the alcoholic excess.
I was also a polite kid. I slept about four hours before waking up, getting dressed, and telephoning the Browns to apologize and volunteer to clean out their car. They were grateful for the apology but declined my offer of a visit. The thing is, I wasn’t phased by this incident. I was sure I’d screwed up and would manage better next time around. Whenever possible, I’d practice and usually ended up puking out of the windows of moving vehicles. Shortly after turning 17, my old man had a word with me. “If you ever need help, get along to AA.”
Once again words, empty words. My self is concentrated, squashed within, and perhaps it’s better for those everyday walking-in-the-street cigarette and ashtray people. For an anarchist lurks, a brooding monster is caged, my faces swim uncontrollably in front of me. I am to others what I want them to see. And yet, still I long to be free. I like the edge, but fear it. God made me and I made him. No me, no God; for me. I watch people and I don’t know what I see. I’m disgusted with life; the last Roman on his purple couch. But, still I love, along with the coldness. There are two me’s and the one’s going to come out on top. God and His Child, and I will attain a lasting happiness and everything will just be. “The river is at its source and at its mouth.” At the moment I’m at my mouth and there’s a cigarette stuck in it.
He and I had already entered the phase in our relationship where the unconditional love of a child becomes the unconditional hatred of an adolescent. Yet, I admired my parents. My father was a great teacher, had interesting friends, despised his dead-end career as a pathologist, was studying philosophy, and wrote prolifically. He and my mother had chucked the Church when I was about fifteen. They were into yoga, meditation, and every other kind of eastern crap washing up on our shores, having been tossed into the Atlantic by Americans unable to ‘commodify’ such things for mass consumption. I was proud of them but hated them because, naturally, they did not “understand” me.
But, years later, my father’s advice to look to AA stood me in good stead. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my friends and I discovered dope and alcohol took a back seat for three years while we smoked dagga through every conceivable device known to man. I found the brandy bong the most effective way to induce a form of psychosis whereby I’d lose all spatial orientation and sense of reality. I recall, while walking down a street with my friends, being unable to bear the weight of my greatcoat [forerunner of the trench coat] and, as the thing became heavier, I slowed. Eventually, my buddies had to return to collect me. When they understood that my overcoat was crushing me to death, they took the thing off me and we continued on our way.
At the time, I was fast losing interest in a life most people considered normal.
We are alone, pushed around by fate and other people. We live in flats, houses, shacks or blocks of cities, see the vagrants in the long grass outside sunk into oblivion with discarded bottles of empty time scattered around them, or they stand their lives away on Main Road, sleeping nowhere, in doorways, unlit subways that give them a roof over which the intermittent train rumbles telling them that somebody is going somewhere for a while. And when they die, these vagrants, the state burns their bodies and somebody else takes up their post in the long grass or on Main Road and so, whether physically here or there, the soul of the vagrant lives on and the people that occupy those positions are the skin and bone and methylated brains wrapped around the soul of God’s Only Vagrant who is forever there.
The short story is that I copped out of life altogether. I remember reading, as a kid sometime in the late sixties, of people who were “allergic” to life. Life’s vagrants, unplugged. I understood them. If only those unfortunates knew what I did. Drugs made it bearable. I lived many lives between 18 and 21. Doing my stint in the navy, I was working on plans to make a wife of the love of my life. I was usually straight when I went to her place but loused up a couple of times and, now that I’ve seen some of the young crack heads coming to visit my daughter, I can imagine what her parents must have thought. Yet, they liked me. Perhaps that was a part of the problem. I got away with it time after time.
By the time I was 21, I had left the military, had made a feeble attempt at studying for a degree by correspondence [I'd set up quarters below the University of Cape Town so that friends attending that august institution could pop down anytime they liked to drink and smoke dope and I had developed a taste for reading around subjects rather than studying the subjects themselves] and was busy sabotaging a promising three-year course in speech and drama.
I’d met and fallen in love with Wendy and, within a couple of months, we were living in a rent-controlled commune with friends overlooking the sea. Pressured for a technical writing assignment about four years ago, I sent the following e-mail to my writing manager:
When you’re young and run out of money for drugs and drink, you’ll resort to anything. I did. The motley crew littering the floor of our Three Anchor Bay flat (rent-controlled, R46,00 a month) were in no condition to face the ugly reality of the outside world. They were fit only to greet the day with the greedy sucking of a smoking bottleneck, the gurgling of a bottle of sparks and the resumption of a game of cards.
I went to Old Mutual to become a computer programmer. My friends were counting on me. One silly woman, the only other person in the place capable of work (Wendy was studying, sort of …) had left a month’s pay on top of a Main Road public payphone. She later married a Norwegian who couldn’t speak English, became a Christian fundamentalist and now watches the fiords freezing over from her home in Trondheim. Serves her right.
We were left with only fond memories of chip rolls, occasionally supplemented with a slab of hake from the Fish ‘n Chips shop on the main drag. Things were desperate. We had many blotters of Chinese dragons in the fridge but, for food, were reduced to picking shellfish off the rocks and boiling them in a huge pot on top of which floated a scum that would’ve inspired Shakespeare to write Macbeth II.
At Old Mutual they gave me an aptitude test. It’s the only one I’ve ever failed. Apparently my motivation and latent ability to operate machines that depended on holes being punched into cards was not that high.
It was a dark day for the little community on the side of Signal Hill. We lay on top of the garage roof, made a couple of pipes, and watched the hang gliders circle like vultures above us. But things always work out for the best and I decided that my future lay in becoming a clerk [grade 3] with the South African Airways. But that’s another story. A sad and tragic one, too. SAA have not yet recovered.
But time heals most things and within ten years they were pushing out APIs that even I could handle with ease and, dare I say it, dexterity. DB2 is no different. It’s just taken a while to get the hang of it but I have no reason to believe that the rest of the week will be anything but productive.
The nub of the matter is that it’ll probably take me most of this week to get this unit out. Forewarned is forearmed.
Also, I no longer feel a yen for Chinese dragons. Strange how things work out …
That place was chaos. And remember, we were kids with social consciences. We made a mockery of the university-centered left and carried the battle to the Nats. After bruising political meetings [literally in one instance] we’d retire to a hotel on the beachfront, rock to live music, smash and grind glass bottles into the floor, and have a good time until somebody, usually Wendy, went psychotic. She was a runner. Literally. She had some terrible memories from her past and they’d come back to haunt her after enough booze. So she’d run. One night, after she’d disappeared into a fog-laden night, my urging the police to get of their fucking asses and do something landed me in the slammer. Boy, was I hacked off the next day when I returned to our flat to find her waking from a deep sleep to ask, “Where’ve you been?”
Alcohol was not an issue for me in those days. I could handle it. But the dope was getting to me. I was becoming paranoid. And forgetful.
Wendy’s parents would pop into Cape Town from Malawi for an occasional visit. On one such occasion, her father wandered into the lounge. We didn’t have much but we did have a plastic laundry bag full of dope on the main table. My friend Max had a habit of stealing his mother’s car, driving seven hundred miles up to the Transkei, buying sacks full of dope and bringing them down in the trunk. He’d sell most to the local merchants and keep a substantial amount for us.
On one trip, he collided with another motorist and rolled the car with two sacks of dope in the back. The other guy was all for calling it quits but Max had the police travel miles into the hills to record the accident. “It wasn’t my fault,” he explained. “I had to have the details for my mother.” “Yeah, Max, but what about the sacks in the back?” “Well, they didn’t look there.”
Max’s elder brother studied medicine and diagnosed Max a psychopath. Given Max’s later behavior, I concur. Anyway, Wendy’s father didn’t expect to find a laundry bag full of dope in the middle of the sitting room so he didn’t see it. We were drinking and drugging to such excess that, after about six months, Wendy and I decided to call it quits. She was admitted to Groote Schuur’s psychiatric unit for a three-month in-patient program and I attended a three-month out-patient program. We cut the drugs. They were doing us no good and I resolved not to return to the house on the hill.
However, when Tony died of an overdose of Welcanol [a pain reliever for terminal cancer patients], the little community collapsed and it was found that the lease was in my name. I returned to clean things up. This was the post-punk, new wave era and the place looked like it. I cried going through Tony’s stuff. He worked at pharmacies to get his drugs and among the syringes and needles and packets of God-knows-what, I found a letter to him from his younger sister. It was a letter written by a sister who had no clue as to what her older brother was up to, but she loved him dearly and was inordinately proud of him. Mark had told me of how he’d seen Tony through his last hours and it was too much for me. No more drugs.
I cleaned up my act in those three months, and found a tough job as a production manager at a cool drink manufacturing plant. The next year, the day after my twenty-third birthday, Wendy and I married.
It was then that I really started drinking.
Okay, you see where this is going. I haven’t given a talk at an AA meeting in fifteen years. You get twenty minutes to share your experience, strength, and hope with others that have been through exactly the same shit. I used to be able to do that, but speaking is somehow different. Writing takes too long to even begin to address the insanity of alcoholism. So let’s skip the details. Anyway, I’ve blogged many of them.
By 25, I was a prisoner to fear. We moved often but, at one stage, rented the ground floor of a house in Fish Hoek, a coastal town and the only suburb in Cape Town that did not allow the sale of alcohol. I had a glass of wine in one hand at all times. Our only regular visitor was the delivery guy who delivered wine to the door from neighboring Kalk Bay. His van would criss-cross the ‘dry’ suburb, dropping off consignments of liquid solace. Although I was isolated, trapped in a hell from which I saw no escape, struggling to keep a job so that my wife and son had food, I had reason to believe there were others like me caught in the four-walled confines of their irrational fears.
I know, almost imperceptibly, I’m going mad. The thought frightens me. I am becoming ‘un-attached’, the world is floating away from me and all I have left in my head for company are empty neuroses sticking sterile pins into the rawness of my psyche. Drink offers solace but its rewards are destructive.
I would not open the door. At every ring, I would move to the bedroom and Wendy would open the door. The telephone terrified me. I would not answer it. When the call was for me, I’d take it only if absolutely necessary, replace the receiver, my hand cramped from holding it in an uncontrollable, vice-like grip. When I was sober, Wendy would have to take me for walks, leading me along the quiet avenues like a dog, reassuring me there was little chance of bumping into anybody we knew, crossing the street in choked-breath, sweat-soaked anxiety whenever a stranger approached. Eventually I could no longer enter a shop for fear the assistant might speak to me. When I had to, I would, in panic-stricken, wax-faced horror, emit strangled instructions and grab my goods, fearing the moment I would be crucified on the cross of my terror, struck dumb and down.
I’m in a low stage of death. I’m away and, in a sense, free but as yet I’m not sure I can accept it. I can’t take the plunge. I cling desperately to sanity, hating it but knowing a tenuous security. I have not been a part of the world for as long as I can remember, but in its own very brutal way, it has forced itself upon me. My development of defense mechanisms has been misdirected for as long as that long ago day I realised my alienation. My mind has done everything in its power to reinforce that alienation and it now no longer needs to carry on its sordid work.
There appeared, in those days, to be no way out. The passion and sensitivity that had brought me love was, with alcohol, threatening to take my life. My job was going to hell. My outgoing, laid-back, and friendly personality combined with some smart ideas had landed me in marketing. [This remains, for me, one of the great mysteries of my default persona. Twenty years on, people still take me as casual, relaxed, comfortable, a great guy to listen to and a guy who will always listen. It's a crock. I take every kind of medication under the sun just to stay sane. I'm so wired with ideas most of the time, I feel as though my head should explode or my heart give in. Weird. And still, I always end up in Marketing.] Anyway, marketing meant people and that’s not a good idea for a drunk. I was coming home at lunchtime to have a bottle of wine to steady my nerves. Couldn’t these fuckers see I was out of my tree?
I’m alone and don’t want to have anything to do. With anything. The only thing I’m certain of that in moments of lucidity I reject my loneliness for the sordid, self-pitying idiocy it certainly or most probably certainly is. I hate my insecurity, hate with a raging blindness that sees everything my state of transference. I’m a furious traveller, going nowhere at a desperate speed, not quite here, not all there. Objectively, I watch the image I present to the world, talking, thinking, expostulating, protesting, doing all in its power to resolve my detachment from my psyche. It has an unenviable job, but it certainly has its moments of happiness, usually when it leaves the solution of those periods of unhappiness to some abstraction. But we cannot cling to abstractions forever. Our gods are as vulnerable as we, destined to return to ashes tasting foul on the tongue.
In desperation, I looked around for another job and landed one in the field I should have stuck with, publishing. It was a good day for me and the appointment was early. I was a kid without qualifications and they could pay me poorly. I didn’t see it as such back then, but I have learnt a great deal over the past twenty years. I was shunted straight from the company secretary to the CEO, chatted to him for about an hour and started working there the following month, to the regret of the company I left.
Like the navy, publishing is no place for someone with a predilection for abusing the fruits of Bacchus. For some reason, perhaps the fervor one puts into a new job and a potential career, I successfully juggled full-blown alcoholism and my job. Besides, in those days [we're talking electric typewriters, the first word processors, and eventually XTs], publishing was still locked in the old British tradition of “going out to lunch with the printers”. We were the largest legal and educational publishing house in the country and printers sought our business in the time-honored tradition of catering to our basest needs. Lunch would start at twelve and end around the same time in the evening.
I was a natural. Twelve hours of drinking, four hours of sleep, and then pasting a smile to the dial before settling down to the manual payment of authors’ royalties, attending to their complaints and requests for more money, departmental accounts, proofing, subbing, reading, taking manuscripts through repro, buying print, putting together marketing campaigns and materials, learning the intricacies of the printer’s art, etc. were great. There was always a free lunch attached.
The Angel of Death Flies a White Aeroplane
People clap soundlessly – they dance.
When the drummer is no longer there,
They walk down empty streets,
Eat lifeless dinners,
Beside cold fires.
The mushroom grows.
I’m afraid I laughed when I read that. Did I know something? Things were deteriorating fast. I’d dropped desperation as a bad deal. I was looking for oblivion, my private ‘delicious, creeping numbness’. I had taken to waking up in the morning and, driven by fear and the awareness that I hadn’t a clue about the day before, I’d go to the garage to check if the car was there. It usually was. I’d then think about getting up. The medicine cabinet bore testimony to my condition. I’m still not used to having a bathroom free of bottles of eye drops, Rennies, and Alka Seltzer [or their South African equivalents].
I was aware of the pain I was causing others. I was aware of every goddamn thing. I was careening through the world like a person stripped of his skin, trailing my neurons behind me. Everything hurt, everything mortified me. I was looking for unconsciousness or death, whichever came first. The greatest pain was the fact that I loved my wife more than I was capable of loving myself. Psychologists will tell you it’s not possible but, believe me, with alcoholism, anything is.
I just don’t feel a part of me anymore. All the memories, the pretty memories I lived through have gone. Thoughts of suicide have become more frequent. God knows what Wendy’s done to deserve this. Inside my head, I’ve become twisted and there’s no way I can tell anybody. This weekend has been depressing. I am dead inside somewhere and I just want it all to end so that I can be happy again without disturbing anybody else. I love my Wendy. I just wish there was some way we could be together. We’re both fucked and I can’t see anybody being able to pull us right. Something has gone wrong with me – desperately wrong. It’s so fucking sad, I never wanted it to be this way.
Having her own demons to deal with, Wendy had to contend with me as well. I was in the habit of going psychotic after too much alcohol and, by then, I’d drink anything. I knew I was in for shit because I was banned from all the bars in my neighborhood. My mind had gone. I was writing meaningless crap. Don’t bother to read the following if you want to fast forward, it’s drivel. But it does give a pretty fair idea of where I was at. And I can’t afford to forget it.
Rats in the head, rot in the ball, treacle in the hall. “Hallo you slapdash mingy mutt Dutch runt cunt – slenting slunting down you grot.” “Grok you,” say I to strains of Bacchanalian tremulosity. Familiar faces in the movie house. flickering “Hallo” to horrid distortion: stretched, elastic, fibrous faces – stretch, prick, break. “Hallo, rot your slot, rope your slope. Who the fuck are you anyway?” “HALLO GREENSPLEEN!” Madmen in the streets, Saturday morning shopper hopped high on spleen beans, looking muted “hallos” at split side shards of shops – stagger-woozy in the smoke – spunk drunk in nine ‘o clock gunk. Hey, where’s I at? Sailing the Strand Street blat – I want to meet the nine ‘o clock papers in my mindy suit – clothed in coolth – filthy feelth – schoolboys in schoolgirls… Who’s the stronger? Cape Town rots under the mountain, the people stink. Taiwanese trawlers sink in the gormless harbour. Quiet oily flat shit plÃªk [place]. I seek the hole to the other side – gross grits in footloose tits – repetition’s the panacea to all. We accept war death blotch – all that is mindless shitless gretch. Slob throb on the hob you hurt worm grot – you slicky slothy froth lob I feel you in your grut grooth. But the atomic threat is a painted dread around an insular island – matchstick men in asbestos suits, luminous balls of fire, thundering guitars, flop the lot on our side. “Why the hell you smell grunt fucks? Where are you, eyes to heaven raised? Where you come from mothers?” All around me you slither sloth – you snail-shit – I hate your flipping flopping globs, folds and rolls – your roly poly ridiculously holy polony… Back to the censor. Oh, my God Mr Man in a black hat – hide rock don’t shock – hock your block. Cape Town stinks of snoek in every hoek [corner] – don’t look – sorry sorry sorry it’s so easy to hide behind the blind, the King and the Queen in the poke. Do I flipsy flopsy my mindsy windsy? Dive bombers on dark nights – babies cry – the radio speaks – life continues and my mind burns – blistered boil in a skull aflame. Lord, look kindly on my burnt twitchings and perfect offerings. Desperate longing to explode the myth of our being – desperate energy to explore the bottom of our beens – the beens of our bottoms. Are they really there? Things come and go. So does Plato, musing on Michelangelo. All those shits, what is it that keeps God here? Who invited Him to stay? I must see the losers, the soulless shits of everyday – nausea – existential nightmare – I want to explore it – not become the shit in the news who [shame] committed death on himself because he was weak. What weird writing. No, not for me the pauper’s funeral. We leave in a hole. “Let me light up your hole – it’s my mission – I will show you the bottomless pit of your existence – the hole in your hall. I’ll explore it with you – leave you feeling dirty and hopeless – cringing and hurt. You’ll want to wake up other people because you’ll be alive, shocked.” Wake up, wake up, you’re being ripped off, taken for a ride, life’s passing you by.
Yup, acres of that sort of crap. I was way over the hill and far beyond the pale, a stranger in my own strange land. When truly drunk, I’d pick fights with the biggest motherfucker I could find. The police were always a good bet and nightclub bouncers can be extremely rough. Looking back, I realize I wanted them to put out my lights for me. They didn’t. Nor did they throw me into jail. I usually ended up in some psychiatric ward with someone sticking needles into me. So I tried to do the job myself. I’ve blogged it. I believe I wanted to die because I could see no alternatives. The alternative was there though and it became apparent to me once I’d carved my arm up. I wanted to live at any cost.
So I had my arm stitched together [after smashing the hospital's admissions area], and started crawling towards sanity. I joined the Rondebosch group of Alcoholics Anonymous and found, through people who knew exactly what I was talking about, that love, freedom, responsibility, happiness, acceptance of self, and all the good things are possible. It just took years of practice and a good dose of honesty.
I reckon I equal your record of 86 out of 90 meetings in 90 days, Frank. My sponsor was a prematurely gray and balding ex-surfer type of about 45. He had a hell of a sense of humor and, with about ten years’ sobriety behind him, qualified as an old-timer. I recall walking into him at a meeting after about six weeks. “So how’re you doing?” he asked cheerily, slapping my back. “Jeez, Buddy, I’m so fucking tired I reckon I won’t make it through the evening,” I answered. His response was immediate. “Hah! Lack of sleep never killed anybody.” He expected me to understand. I did and kept going.
As I’ve blogged it wasn’t quite that easy. I slipped and slid in the vomit of vacillation and it was only after I attacked my boss one day after a particularly heavy lunch during which I figured ‘just one wouldn’t hurt’, I found that my AA buddies truly accepted me for who I was. I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed underlying conditions and treated them. Dysthymia, anxiety, and panic attacks. I’d become aware of these things developing around 17 or 18, but they were not popular ‘conditions’ in those days. I saw them as symptoms of my ‘raging against the machine’. Today, I’m a firm believer in chewing tablets having a positive and constructive effect.
I found a therapist and a group focused on alcoholism and, over two years, followed the group through its life cycle to an immensely satisfying and rewarding close. I spoke at AA meetings on a regular basis. There were two each night in Cape Town and I was a regular on the speaking trail. There is nothing like a bunch of fellow alcoholics [and in those days most comprised crusty curmudgeons over forty who stood for little bullshit] to keep one honest.
This is where I find the AA of today very different to that of yesteryear. Our meetings started in the coffee shop after the meeting. We’d speak for hours. It was at one of these coffee shop evenings that I sat alongside one of the few people who can claim to have been the second man on the moon. Much as I wanted to speak about the legend, Buzz and I spoke AA. That’s how basic and honest it was. It was a democracy similar to that prevailing on the Web. The group I attended drew over a hundred on a good night, yet it was a tight-knit circle of people who appreciated the miracle of their sobriety. Not everybody made it and many died through reverting to booze or suicide.
They speak of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and they do so for a reason. I cannot describe the spirit that bound me to this extraordinary program. I cannot begin to convey the sense of miracles unfolding, the wonder of finding my own mind. I met people who had done the most extraordinary things, both drunk and sober, and they reinforced my belief that all of us are capable of anything. The also taught me that once I put myself above another, I’m destined to crash. I learnt my strengths and limitations and to accept that I’m never going to be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. I learnt too, that alcoholics find it very, very difficult to deal with success. That’s why I’ve yet to take that one on. I also learned that those of us who are slightly ‘more different’ than others, are extremely fortunate.
Yeah, I certainly don’t regret having just about drunk myself to death.
Wendy has her own story and it’s up to her to tell it. From my side, dealing with codependency meant a conscious return to the program after an absence of some ten years. I found an online group and, it was through my experience of that group, which also, luckily, came into being, went through the full group dynamic, and came to a quiet close, that I really began to appreciate the potential of the Web. I wrote like a demon for two years.
These past seven months of blogging have taught me that it’s not absolutely necessary to restrict myself to groups dealing specifically with substance-related problems. The difficulties Wendy has faced in getting to where she is today caused me great pain. Yet, it was as a blogger that I found that most people care. The number of people who shared their ‘experience, strength and hope’ with me was staggering. Mostly, they were people who had to deal with alcoholic parents or spouses. Yet they came through as only true friends do.
— Buzz A.
Another Side of Mike Golby -
The Interview, Part Five of Five
So for my last question, I asked Mike Golby: “What challenges must be overcome to assure our children, the world’s children, a peaceful and healthy future?”
And he replied:
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered -
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives -
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies -
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight -
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous -
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow -
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough -
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God -
It was never between you and them anyway.”
[Attributed to Mother Theresa]
Ah, yes, running out of words… even in this medium, space is a problem, both physically and philosophically. But it is not a problem in the same league as that which we face on our increasingly small planet. I’ve forgotten the exact figure but, about three weeks ago, I was around at a friend’s place and he slipped a documentary on the twentieth century into his video machine.
I don’t recall much of the video [even why he put the damned thing on] but I do remember being brought up short by a statistic to the effect that, in the one hundred years between 1901 and 2021, the world’s population increased from about 1.5 billion to 6 billion. That staggered me.
No wonder my nerves are shot to ribbons of road rage and anger at my daily closure in a prefabricated box reaching for the smog-laden sky. There’s no fucking space, I’ve people crawling all over me, and the noise and fumes from the street [seeping through the air conditioner] are driving me insane.
Yep, the Johannesburg summit. Is this Rio III or Kyoto II? Will George tell us to shove it? I don’t know. Does it matter? Again, I don’t know but I’m willing hazard a couple of guesses. Frank, my short answer to your question is to leave the planet to King George and his ilk and kill off people like me. It’ll probably happen anyway. Yet, as an answer, it doesn’t suffice.
Why? You might well ask, you scurrilous, lowdown dog, you. Yes, Mr. Paynter, the man I’ve been trying to wriggle into my Blogtree Pedigree as a parent but have yet to work out the bloody gizmo’s structure, I know exactly what you’re up to. If there’s anybody left reading this, let me fill you in on the scheming and devious mind of our word wizard from Wisconsin. Deluged by a sea of verbiage from yours truly, our Frank has been pushing the outside of the envelope encasing his mind, wondering “How the hell do I shut this bastard up? I need a real blinder or he’ll have my blog and I’ll be laughed off the Web forever.”
It does not take a conspiracy theorist to work out this obvious and simple truth, but you are a master of your craft, Frank. On any radio or TV show, the politician’s immediate response to this question would be, “That’s a very good question”, and he or she would then proceed to waffle as I’m doing now before punting his party [read my blog at <http://pagecount.blogspot.com>;] and going home. The interviewer smiles smugly, draws his hand across his throat, and says to his crew, “That’s a wrap.” Or something like that.
[The above, of course, is not true. It is merely waffle designed to fill the yawning gap I find filling my mind on considering your question.]
Let me tell you why there’s a gap. There are two answers, one posing [for people like us] as the answer to the world’s problems and another [for people like Glenn Reynolds and Dick Cheney and scrape-kneed schoolboys all over the world] that also poses as the answer. I’m not going to shuffle treaties and accords here, argue the case for Greenpeace, Amnesty, or your sterling work in fighting for peace, Frank, or slam the vile and evil minions of dark forces currently turning our planet into a cesspit incapable of sustaining any life but cockroaches like them.
Let me put forward a concept. My family, a relatively wealthy, middle-class outfit comprising a mix of professionals and misfits geared for a life of work, retirement, ossification, and death, has some extremely wealthy friends. A couple I know and regard as family [Uli was MC at Wendy and my wedding, providing the requisite outsized Mercedes for the ride] have fallen on rough times. They have raised two daughters in wealth and opulence and owned a magnificent ‘house’ in Cape Town’s mink and manure belt and another up the east coast in a highly sought after resort town.
Uli tied up a lot of his money in an outfit selling satellite-signalling security systems for motor vehicles. He did so when white business went on the rampage post-1994. Being an honest guy, he didn’t realize what a bunch of hoods he was getting into bed with and saw most of his money fritter away over two years. He got out when he could but, being in his late fifties, he’s not exactly the most desirable candidate for a job. As a chartered accountant who has taken several businesses to obscene wealth, he falls into the CFO bracket. We don’t need them. Anybody can stuff his or her hands in the till.
To my overly wealthy friends, I’m a nice guy who never amounted to anything. “Married too young.” “He should have studied law. Even an academic would have been better than what he’s now doing. What is he doing?” “Well, why doesn’t he just start something and make some money from it?” I can imagine comments of that sort emanating from the plush splendor of Bishopscourt and Constantia. To these people, I am ‘cash poor’ and cannot therefore be very happy with my lot. This attitude is a creeping social cancer that poisons our minds most subtly and insidiously.
When I was covering live music, I frequented clubs most freelancers wouldn’t touch. One of them, Club Montreal, was great club in a low-income area called Manenberg. Yes, the same Manenberg that inspired Basil Coetzee and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) to rip off a piece of African music and write Cape Town’s unofficial anthem. For the average person living there, gangsters, druglords, and criminals of every kind known to man are a massive problem. they outnumber law-abiding citizens by about ten to one. It’s not a problem for the police. They just collect the bodies in the morning.
As a kid, I was a frequent visitor to suburbs my color precluded me from visiting so I have no fear of the townships. People are living there. It’s wise to be careful though and the people running Club Montreal were. Guards, dogs, guns, knives, clubs [baseball], and enclosed parking ensured a good evening’s jazz in a venue redolent of a fifties jazz club in New York. Afterwards, the guys outside would report any drive-by shooters, nearby incidents and the like, and plan the wisest route home. The club was a block or two from the main road but they took their jobs seriously.
I used to wonder how people could be happy living there. No money, no houses [stinking tenements ranked side by side, lit by high-rise lights at night, separated by dark stretches of sand, the shadows in which the gangsters went about their work], and no hope of work. Locked doors are no problem for gangsters. If they ‘wanted’ a woman they’d break into an apartment and take one, use her, and do whatever they wanted to do with the evidence. I recall a disgusting incident wherein a retarded man was decapitated and his head taken to a gang leader’s house in a bucket to serve as a ‘warning’. The headline the next day read “Decapitated man mentally impaired.” Call it Cape Town humor.
Many people in Manenberg took to whining about their lot, especially after the city council took some three years to repair damage visited on the place by a tornado. My feelings were, “For God’s sake, if you don’t like it there, just move across the main road into Heideveld or go the other way and move to Guguletu.” A good friend of mine lives in Guguletu. He has what probably constitutes one of the best jazz collections in the city. When I used to visit him on a regularly [he had me set up his CV and promotional material but I've seen little of him as he's become more fully booked], I called his sitting room ‘the soul clinic’.
With regard to the sorry people of Manenberg, my thinking was of the same type that made my wealthy friends decide I could not be very happy. In other words, my attitude stank. My youth, political work, and covering jazz taught me something. Happiness has nothing whatsoever to do with situations over which you have little control and a great deal to do with your approach to that which you have. I’ve met happy, well-adjusted, optimistic people from every corner of this previously divided city and as many bitter and twisted shitheads.
Given a Western lifestyle, with all the trappings of our vicarious genius in diverse fields, technology, medicine, building, services delivery, defense, etc., we lose sight of some fundamental truths. Much like substance abusers, we become addicted to our material comforts and, as I’ve seen with my friends, who’ve sold their large homestead in Constantia and moved into one of the biggest apartments in the ‘better’ part of our neighborhood, lowering our standard of living is like giving up alcohol, one drink each day. It seems that material wealth comes at a huge cost and most of us fail to realize that the price extends far beyond the tag or the monthly payments.
The Western world is like an anxiety freak threatened with the loss of his or her stock of Valium. It’s apparent to those of us living out here in the Third World. There’s a desperation to consolidate wealth at any cost. George Bush’s recent acquisition in the energy industry, Afghanistan, and his next foray into securing energy interests, Iraq, are less apparent signs of that desperation. Enron, Harken and other companies are more obvious signs and they are closer to home.
[I'm not preaching here, eh, I live as a so-called 'Westerner'.]
How do we satisfy our anxieties best? We project our needs onto others. If we look at the globe, this vast, intricate, living, breathing sphere of which we form but a single component [covering the surface like a sun-fried cerebral cortex], there is enough – at present – for everybody. Enough food, water, shelter, means of production and sustaining production, etc. But we want most of it for ourselves and our projection leads us to believe in scarcity because we feel we should foist our waste-producing lifestyles on 5.5 billion other people. Can’t be done. American citizens produce nine times more waste than people living in the Third World. If we continue aiming to deliver health and wealth [and democracy] to the rest of the world, we are going to fuck up sooner than is necessary. Because we’re selfish and indulge in a neurotic projection.
Technology’s a problem, Frank. We’re screwing up fast. It’s great that we can swap ideas like this but, for God’s sake, let’s keep it out of the hands of the great unwashed. Can you imagine what we’d do to the globe setting up the infrastructure necessary to give everybody their own PC and Net connection? Not only is the equitable sharing of health and wealth a naive, misguided dream; it’s downright dangerous. I use the Net as an example of technology for one reason only. It epitomises the way we infect the world with our reasoning and misguided perceptions of what we need to live full lives. Living a simple life did not preclude Christ realizing self-actualization. Maslow would have been proud of him. I’ve not read all of Jung’s work but he must have, at some stage, used him as an example of an individuated being. A carpenter-cum-fisherman-cum-politician-cum-teacher-cum-savior.
How many war bloggers would even live in Israel? It’s tough country, especially without air-conditioning. We look up to the Ghandis and the Mandelas and the Nyereres and the Mother Theresas but we seldom look ‘at’ them. Simple people eschewing clutter. Most poor people have a far greater appreciation of life and our role in the grand scheme of things than we do with our intellect and reasoning. Look at the clutter on Everest. The mess at the South Pole [there was a mushy hole at the North Pole this year]. Most living in the shadow of Everest revere it. I revere my local mountain [it means I don't have to climb the damned thing]. Most ‘poor’ people are a damned side more clued and in tune with their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs than we Westerners.
While we are fucking up this planet on a scale not seen since that rock hit Guatemala, I believe it will survive us. Given our inextricable link to the earth of which we are a part, I reckon we’ll make it too, whatever happens. One of my father’s dictums was “The worst thing our ancestors could have done was set sail in ships.” Europeans killed some 100 million native Americans [north and south] through the spread of their syphilitic lifestyle to that part of the world. Where the end times happened for the Jews with the trashing of the Temple in AD 70 [I'm open to correction] by a bunch of lowrent surrogates of Rome, I guess colonization must have been the native American’s Apocalypse. We have our own. Why share it?
My father would follow his dictum with a contemptuous, Dylan-esque sneer; “Missionary zeal, hah!” As a pathologist, he knew something of medicine. While he was grateful that antibiotics were around to save his life the third time he contracted tuberculosis, he was under no illusions about the damage it was causing the world and its people. There is a great deal of money to be made in viral research, Frank. Keep it under your hat. Send me a fat check and I will invest it wisely. We will make a great deal of money and live high on the hog for the rest of our lives. The future lies in viruses. They’re going to kill billions.
Our problem or, rather, my problem is that I fight the natural order of things. Entropy was a good idea. That’s why its currency is still good. I fight entropy, as do most things. However, intelligent, sentient being that I am, I do not know when to let a good thing go. One of my problems, throughout my life and my alcoholism, was my determination to see the world run according to Mike, a privileged, moralistic little fucker who didn’t have a clue [on the one hand]. I learnt the hard way that it wasn’t going to happen. But my realization that we will fuck up gloriously again and again did not disillusion me. I can learn. Dying people need love and care. Hurting people need others who’ve been there and survived. Survivors of disasters need shelter and hope. Victims of atrocities need love, empathy, and caring while they recover as best they can. Old people need to know that they matter.
Another of my old man’s dictums: “Too much information, too little knowledge, and buggerall wisdom. Heh!” I mentioned in my last post to you that I hated my parents when I was an adolescent. That appears to be the natural order of things. It allows us to separate and become ourselves. I returned to find that my father was my best friend, sharing a similar outlook on life. I reckon he had a measure of wisdom and if I can attain half his insight into himself, I’ll count myself lucky.
Yet, what is the wise response to the snippet of information that tells us, in accordance with Sharia law, 30-year old Nigerian Amina Lawal will finish breastfeeding her baby in June 2021, when it will be taken away from her and she will be stoned to death for having had sex outside of marriage? Our information technology is giving us a great deal, including live pictures of collapsing skyscrapers and people crying tearlessly as they endure the last stages of a hunger that makes them seek death. What do we do? Send a check to the World Food Program or Medicines Sans Frontieres? We’re being bombarded with problems that have beset us since the beginning of time. Not too long ago, we did not know of such things. And then came Biafra. And Bangladesh. And soon, pushing every misfortune known to man [who used to regard it as a problem to be dealt with or a part of living] came the great Satan of Atlanta, CNN.
Were it not for the Dick and George Virtual Reality Show, you’d be watching southern Africans dying of hunger today and tomorrow. Next month, you’d be watching somewhere else while floods drown thousands; earthquakes rip the world from under the feet of countries; volcanoes spew ash and flaming boulders onto sleeping cities; planes, ferries, shuttles, ships, and buildings full of people go down; war and peace break out; diseases and vaccines come into being or fade to memory. You’d be following the story of Elian Gonzales, or checking up on how the Guatemalan twins are doing, or wondering whether a highly paid actor with a penchant for racing cars is going to become another what’s-his-name, Superman – ah, yeah, Christopher Reeve.
We need to follow the information trail because it gives our lives meaning. We learn that my wealthy friends have perhaps far greater difficulty finding a lasting happiness than those countless wonderful people I’ve known living [and dying] in conditions far different to those in which I live. But we need to keep our bearings or we lose sight of ourselves and our kids. Only I see the world through my eyes. Everybody else has a different but equally valid perspective. And so it is with our kids. They share the house with us, cause us endless hassles, bust the bank, give us gray hairs, are geniuses or are misunderstood, are good or bad, caring or selfish. They are, of course, all going to change the world for the better. They are these things because we love them. We cannot lose sight of the importance of that because, besides those charged with accomplishing other tasks in life, why else would we be fortunate enough to have them?
Given the limitations of a family life, we do what we can, Frank. Did I drive my car to work today? Yeah, well… Okay, but I won’t beat myself up about it. Look at the countless millions who shared the roads with me. Did I slag the Bush administration for continuing its cynical campaign to tie up futures in the oil market while the poppy fields flourish again under an Afghan sky and countless thousands stand to die? Yeah… but that was fun. Well, as far as I’m concerned, being human should be fun. I don’t believe we’re here to suffer. And besides, King George is but a symbol to me. He is no man. He is Bob Mugabe kicking commercial farmers off their land and millions into starvation. He is Thabo Mbeki pursuing a ludicrous AIDS policy visiting an unimaginably ghastly death on millions of South Africans. He is Ariel Sharon, pursuing the obliteration of the Palestinian people with whom he refuses to accept as his neighbors. He is Slobodan Milosovic and Jonas Savimbi and Laurent Kabila and Idi Amin and Stalin and Hitler. George W. Bush is a nebbish, a nobody symbolizing that which I despise in those wielding power uncaringly and irresponsibly.
Whether it’s child abuse, malnutrition, AIDS, war, trauma, fear, illness, environmental degradation, political structures, megalomania, global threats, imagined fears or lost causes, we suckers fighting entropy and the way things have been for aeons are on to a hiding to nothing. But, fuck, it’s great to be alive, eh?
Ultimately, we get to the question, “What challenges must be overcome to assure our children, the world’s children, a peaceful and healthy future?” Okay, I see. As the question draws closer to home, it becomes a missile, a warhead. In looking at the future of our kids, I forget that so many of them are casualties right now. I’m a lucky parent, Frank. But Wendy and I, as you know, have seen a lot of ugly stuff. Wendy’s recent stay in a rehab in the Karoo comes to mind like a tracer bullet through the heart of a darkness that is fundamentally evil. There are many things that really piss me off about us as parents. I am sick and tired of watching dime-a-dozen platinum blonde socialites posing as worried parents on TV, publicly decrying the practices of their hitherto anonymous kids as the misguided actions of demented loons led astray by wicked and conniving drug peddlers.
I have seen and spoken to their kids and I know that most of those chasing dragons and batting rocks and spiking it up between their toes will not live out their twenties. And it makes me fucking angry because it’s so avoidable. Ninety-five percent of the wasted freaks that are our children have become that way because they choose to be that way. Looking back at an earlier question, I have to say that, yes, I chose to drink and drug rather face a loveless, functional world I feared in every fiber of my being. These kids work extremely hard, with what appears to be a missionary zeal, to get into their terrible conditions and to stay that way. I did. The loneliness of the long-distance drinker is a terrible sight to behold. The alternative, respectability as defined and proscribed by the addled society into which our kids are born and are told they are a part of, takes the shape of a mind-numbing, passion-sapping, nine-to-five psychosis, is an alternative too ugly to contemplate.
That the kids I have met have been sprung from the sanitized loins of artificial people must be more than enough to send them over the edge. How can he or she contend with blinkered, unseeing eyes that see evil in all about them. The rehab at which Wendy spent three months with these kids ran a “Christian-based” program, paying lip service to AA and NA’s twelve-step program. Many of the parents I met are good, Christian folk in the cornflake tradition. Evil, for them, is neatly packaged and labeled and stacked on the supermarket shelves of their useless lives. It is an empty evil that they hear about and they read about in their boardroom churches with tiered cinema seats and three-piece pastors. It is an evil that is always without and never within. Their projection is absolute. And it is the same projection the Western world uses to justify inflicting its destructive ‘needs’ onto 5.5 billion other people.
Does it not ever strike those meddling in the minds of the young that it is they, the people with the disposable mind-sets, the born-again, quick-fix, throwaway moralities who might well be the ones sowing the seeds of self-destruction in the minds of the kids they don’t know how to love? Is it not possible that the get-rich-quick attitude they impose on all and sundry [I am not the only one judged by the wealthy] while denying their absolute enslavement to excess [yes, they are substance abusers] smacks of an hypocrisy so odious their kids are driven to anger, hatred, and despair?
They are two-dimensional, shallow, and completely out of touch. And they are perhaps worse off than their kids, the lost junkies who provide them an outlet for the guilt which builds up to pressure-cooker proportions as it’s repressed so far from consciousness they have as much idea about what’s going on inside their heads as a junkie who’s swallowed a truckload of acid?
Their pathetic, pitiful, and puerile pronouncements are the fish-like mouthings of the dazed and confused. They don’t know what is going on. They don’t know why their kids take drugs. They don’t have any of the answers. And the reason is simple. They don’t know how they fucked up. They have no comprehension of their own fears and phobias, their hang-ups, and their neuroses They’ve lost touch with their souls, sold them to the devil of material security and their designer brand of social responsibility. They’ve lost sight of who and what they are and they cannot presume to see the way for others. Their kids [some of whom, no doubt, will become as productively useless as their parents when they can be taught it's better to shut yourself up in the fanciful castle of a Disney-mind than face reality] see, for now, what a fucking mess we’re in and it scares them shitless.
Somehow, yes, far closer to home, both the parents and kids who’ve skidded off the road of a meaningful life need our love and care. They need those of us who’ve who’ve been there and survived. They need shelter and hope, love, empathy, and caring while they recover as best they can. Not only old people need to know that they matter.
Rant over, I don’t blame the limping, soul-sick casualties of our twisted ways at all. I reckon we need to change our attitudes, do what we can to clean up the mess we’ve exacerbated, and leave the future to those of our kids that survive. Living one life is more than enough. We cannot proscribe the lives of others but we can be there for them. Where my kids go wrong, I am responsible [not for their actions, but for my response to those actions]. I am the greatest obstacle to my kids living their lives to the full. I have in me that which I see in George Bush. I am the obdurate war blogger denying my kids reasoned debate when they feel too ill to go to school. And I am something that I can do something about. None of my kids have ended up junkies yet, and I hope to God they never do.
If my three survive me, and I believe they will, they will know peace and health. They’ll also know war and illness, happiness and misery, ecstasy and despair, sorrow, joy and every human feeling. I just hope they enjoy it as much as I do.
Think of it, Frank. Those who went through the ‘flu epidemic in Europe at the beginning of the last century are dead today. Those who fought at Gallipoli and Ypres and countless battlefields stripped of all life by bombardments we will never see are all dead today. The millions who carried their hopes and aspirations into a new country, freed of British domination in 1776 [I think], are dead today. I hesitate to say “I see dead people” but the world is full of ghosts. We give them scarcely a thought. I hope we are more fortunate. I trust our kids will give an occasional nod to what we were able to give them. I hope they then get on living their lives in a world in which we are but members of that same legion of ghosts that gave us a world in which we could become ourselves. I hope they remember us fondly, with love, and come to know peace and health. They will if we give them [and those parents who continue denying the world about them] the love they need to appreciate these things.
In the end, I think that although we overcome these things alone, we do so together as well. Yep, that Mother Theresa, she knew what she was talking about. The future starts and ends with each and every one of us.