Why White South Africa Needs a PK*

Yesterday was one of those days where you kind of wish social media hadn’t been invented because, worse by far than the envy someone’s holiday in Prague inspires, it means you get  exposed to a kind of ignorance you’d like to think doesn’t exist. And to top it all, some of the people showing their stupidity to all the world are amongst your so-called friends. I read some of the tweets and status updates regarding #FeesMustFall and the comments that followed and started to respond, but got overcome by a dismay so deep it made me want to adopt the foetal position and rock back and forth with my thumb in my mouth until it all went away. Only, it won’t. So, to maintain my own sanity I’m going to respond, in brief, to the pearls – the ones that make you shake your head in wonderment that these people made it to the age of 50 (or 40 or 30) without falling down a long-drop or setting themselves alight. Here they are, in no particular order:

“They want it handed to them on a silver platter. They don’t understand that to succeed you have to work hard.”
Um. Firstly, who are ‘they’? But that’s a minor stjoepid compared to the rest. If you were the only person in the world who didn’t see the facebook meme that reads, ‘if wealth was about hard work every woman in Africa would be a billionaire,’ let me explain in short. Like wealth, poverty is not a choice. It comes as a result of very specific socio-political determinants that favour a small portion of the population (you) and disfavour the rest (your maid). In short, you didn’t get a job as a manager and your cleaner as a cleaner because of your superior intellect and work ethic. She works longer, harder and dirtier than you ever will for a pittance that barely keeps her kids in school. All these young South Africans want is the chance to not be cleaners. To leave the township, to afford electricity. To have basic human rights. No amount of part-time work in South Africa will cover the cost of their tuition. These students have jobs. It’s not enough. All they are asking is to be allowed an education so that they can be productive members of society. Why is that so hard to understand? I don’t know, but come over here, you need a klap.

“If I want to go overseas but can’t afford the ticket I don’t go to the airport and protest. I work hard and I save.”
These youngsters are not asking to go on overseas holidays, they are asking to be allowed to finish their degrees so that they can become tax-paying citizens like you and I. They are asking for a tiny fraction of the opportunities that we, as white South Africans, take for granted and believe are our god-given right. They aren’t asking for leg ups, they are simply asking that their one opportunity at freeing themselves from the cycle of poverty is not taken away from them. Why aren’t you supporting this effort? Don’t you understand it is for the good of all of us if South Africa lowers its unemployment rate; that if more people enter the workforce and join the middle class it translates to more money and freedom for everyone? Don’t you want this country to have a stable economy? These people are fighting for our future, for our kids’ futures. They are taking to the streets and protesting and getting arrested to save South Africa while you sound off on Facebook about how unfair it all is. No, sis on you. Come here for your klap.

“My brother has studied so hard and he’s trying to write his exams and now he can’t because of these protestors and he’s extremely stressed. If you want your degree, study and write your exams like everyone else. Stop trying to get out of it.”
We are very sorry that your brother has been inconvenienced by the student protests. We are shedding real tears of sadness for him and his friends in Constantia whose Plett holiday now hangs in the balance. I know – why don’t you get in your Mini Coopers and drive to the airport with your dad’s credit card and buy one-way tickets to Perth because you have no role to play in the future of this beautiful, troubled country. In fact, you and your kind are part of the problem. But first, come here. You’re both getting a klap.

“I work 50 hours a week and I study overseas. It is possible, but nobody wants to see it.”
Damn these students for having every opportunity to succeed but still being annoying and asking for more! I have a plan for middle class South Africans across the colour bar. Instead of taking a gap year and waitering in London, the government – like they do with medical graduates – must send you to the township for 12 months. There you must live in a shack, do a menial job, wash your clothes by hand, use a public toilet and survive with no external help for the duration of your time there. If you have to fetch your own water, so much the better. It’s the only way we will ever understand the difference between rich and poor lives; the only way the privileged few are ever going to ‘get it’. It’s dangerous? Correct. Public transport is unreliable? Shame. You have a toothache but can’t afford the dentist? Crying for you. It seems, without this experience, the privileged continue to have no conception of their privilege or the blissful ignorance in which they live their lives. Since it’s unlikely this will ever happen, I’m going to have to settle for your klap.

*Poes Klap (sorry, Mom)

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Steal His Photograph!

You know you have your finger on the pulse of the city not at all when it takes a Danish friend who has been in town for all of five minutes to tell you about one of the coolest endeavours Cape Town has ever been involved with. Creative Mornings (http://creativemornings.com) is part of a programme happening across the globe where a bunch of interesting cities from Berlin to Melbourne to San Francisco host a morning talk on the same day, in the same time slot covering a range of design/innovation/art/living in the world-related topics.

Last month’s theme, for example, was bravery, and the speaker was a young guy who decided to raise money by travelling alone through the Amazon jungle and ended up getting shot and surviving through the kindness of strangers. While not too many of us will kayak through a jungle, the point of the talk was human efficacy – how we must remember to be mindful; to ask questions; to think for ourselves; to say no when we don’t agree with what we’re being told.

Because bravery and courage are resources we need every day in a world which can be pretty hostile and more than a little bit scary. And, we tend to forget that one human being can, in fact, make a pretty big difference if we put our minds to it. It was a cool talk, and it’s especially applicable to anyone who has decided to take a path slightly less travelled, and use their skills and gifts and creativity to forge their own way in the world. Which isn’t always easy.

After the talk a bunch of us went up the road to a coffee shop in Rose Street, including a Finnish guy called Lukas Renlund who is totally going out on a limb by doing something incredibly interesting with social media. Lukas is a very successful fashion photographer (though that title doesn’t do his art justice) in Copenhagen who wanted to find ways of getting his work noticed by a wider audience. So, he decided to start a project called ‘Steal My Photograph’ where he travels to cities like London and Barcelona and encourages people to literally steal his art in exchange for the person in question taking a pic of where the artwork is hanging in their homes and posting it on his Facebook page.

And while it might seem mad – giving art away – this is how social media has changed the way we think, act and market ourselves. It’s not about thinking out of the box – there is simply no box anymore. Anyway, his work is amazing, and I loved the energy and enthusiasm with which he approaches his craft – and life. The world is wide open and, particularly here where the creative and entrepreneurial spirit is so strong, anything is possible.

It was really cool to hear all these Scandinavians raving about how innovative South Africans are; how cutting-edge our design is and how impressed they are by the way we think. Who knew? If you’re in town and you can, get to Creative Mornings. It’s a very worthwhile way of spending a few hours on a Friday. You’ll learn stuff, be inspired and are sure to make at least one interesting connection over coffee afterwards. Here are the videos Lukas made of ‘Steal My Photograph’ in Barcelona and Copenhagen. He has the good sense to be staying in Cape Town for a while. Check out his Facebook page for info on how to steal his photograph: https://www.facebook.com/Lukas.Renlund.Photographer

On Not Being an Arsehole in the World

Last Friday evening I attended the launch of Ruby Wax’s new book, Sane New World. Ruby is a close friend of my neighbour, and I’ve spent a few evenings around a dinner table with her where her openness about her lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety impressed me. We human beings are not big on admitting when we’re in trouble. We’re so terrified of telling the people around us that we’re frightened and not coping that we soldier on until we find ourselves so far gone that the only option is medication. When celebs (who have a lot to lose) come out with their stuff, it really helps the rest of us be brave about our stuff, too.

Anyhow, one thing she said really stuck with me. Due to her own mental health issues, she took it upon herself to get a Masters degree in Mindfulness and Cognitive Psychology at Oxford University, and learn about the human brain and why we do the things we do. And one of the things she explained was that, when we face social rejection, the same area in our brain which responds to physical pain is activated. Which is why, when people are crap to us on social media, our hearts start pounding and our mouths go dry and we experience a surge of adrenalin. Our brains can’t distinguish between a troll on Twitter and a zombie wielding a chainsaw. The threat is perceived to be the same, so even when the snarky comment comes from a complete arb who has no meaning in your life, you practically poo in your pants.

And I was relieved to hear that I’m not alone. Because when I get a criticized on Facebook or my blog for something I’ve written (though it’s really only happened a very few times) it bothers me a lot. I mull over it for days, wondering if I was wrong or if I should have expressed myself differently. (I am actually far too thin-skinned to be this opinionated about stuff). When I see a new comment has come in, I hold my iPad at arm’s length and read it with one eye shut for fear it’s someone telling me I suck. It’s pathetic, but that’s how I am. I have a few friends whose comments I dread getting. Because, while they are nice enough people, they’re not that good at thinking through the things they say, and I regularly get stung by their words. And I guess this is why we still have wars – we have a hard time thinking beyond our own noses and appreciating that other people have different thoughts and different experiences from ours.

And this whole thing has been quite a challenge for me, because when you’re writing for magazines and newspapers, you know on some conceptual level that you have an audience, but barring the odd email you might get, your readers remain largely anonymous. When you’re blogging, on the other hand, your audience is right there, a click away. You get responses immediately, and you have to deal with them. Lots of responses from lots of people living lives and in circumstances that are different from yours. And while most are really, really nice a few can be less so, and the knee-jerk reaction is to defend your position, and even be a tiny bit not nice back. Because their comment has hurt your feelings. But then you start a war.

So, what I’ve been doing instead is only being nice. I put my thoughts out there, and they get interpreted in different ways, but I elect not to defend my position or explain what I actually meant or point out things they might have misunderstood. It is not my job to convince them that my view is right. They are, after all, as ‘right’ as I am, they’ve just had different experiences. And an interesting thing happens when you consciously operate from a place of tolerance and acceptance (and it’s not always bloody easy): the fight goes away. There is no fight, just human beings sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Yet somehow we’re raised to believe we need to make ourselves heard and stand our ground and fight for our place in the world. And I’m not saying there is no reason to push back, ever, but we’re very quick to draw our guns and go onto the defensive. I have a few people in my life whose entire ethos revolves around their egos and pushing their opinions and being the ‘rightest’ in the world, and they’re tiring and make me wonder who they’re trying to convince. And the thing is, if you can take a step back and not engage you do yourself the biggest favour. Because when people are shouting and being bullies and mean to those around them, more often than not it comes from a place of sadness and confusion. Individuals who feel loved and affirmed don’t need to sound off all the time.

And what I’m learning in the biggest, biggest way is that what you put out you get back. Give that injured inner child of yours a hug, and make a decision to err on the side of niceness. It’s easy making fires and shouting the house down, but contrary to what we’ve been taught, what takes the most strength and the most courage is being kind to the people who might not have been kind to you. And when you do that – are large and gracious – it’s astonishing, the bounty and grace you attract. And I can only imagine that the opposite holds true – be angry and aggressive, and that’s what’s you’re going to experience.

So, forgive me for sounding like the Dalai fucking Lama, but this has been a major a-ha moment for me. There are a lot of people in a lot of pain, and this makes them do (and say) really weird things. And, like Ruby says, if we could learn to be mindful about this stuff instead of going into battle at the drop of a hat, we’d all suffer less in our lives. And that’s what we human beings have in common, really, isn’t it? The quest to be happy and to avoid pain. And I’ll get it wrong and probably be annoyed before I’m done posting this blog, but it’s a step in the right direction. If we all made a decision right now that, for the rest of the day, we’ll be nice to every single person who crosses our paths – even when we feel they’re buffoons from hell – our worlds would become easier to navigate. Because, really, every one of us is crazy and a bit lost and fighting some or other kind of battle. So let’s try and remember that before we throw our word grenades.

Why You Must Never, Ever Send a Guy a Second Whatsapp

It’s a good thing smart phones and social media hadn’t been invented when I met my husband because I can tell you, for free, we would not be together now. While I am fun and delightful, I am also mammothly needy and intense, and he would have taken one look at the 19 whatsapps I’d sent before 7am and run for those proverbial hills. Which would have been a shame, because we’re actually great together. He is logical and sensible and easygoing, while I am more, well… not any of those things. And therefore we balance each other nicely. But I can say with absolute certainly that I would not have managed that space and the whole instant accessibility thing well.

Back in those days (which are now pretty much regarded as the dark ages but was actually only about thirteen years ago) not even everyone had cell phones. You still relied on a landline which sometimes, but not always, had an answering machine. Therefore, when the guy you were crushing on madly didn’t answer it meant he wasn’t home and you had to go away and think about something else (Or drive past his house but that’s just nuts and I never, ever did that. At all.) Me, in my twenties, with a smart phone? It would have a mess on wheels. I would have been relentless – messaging, tagging, instagramming, whatsapping and then freaking out when he didn’t answer me instantaneously, as in the following second.

Instead, I was forced to be patient and wait till he came back from his dive/finished watching the game/ended his working day till I could impose myself on him again, which led him to believe that I was more reasonable than I really was. So, it’s with great empathy and tremendous referred pain (from them to me) that I watch my single girlfriends navigating the dating website space and conducting these agonizing exercises in torture otherwise known as chatting to a new guy. And I cannot judge their eagerness and concomitant devastation when he doesn’t take the bait for one nanosecond, because that would have been me.

But on Sunday I went for a walk with a new girlfriend who shared a simple, but very clever little analogy re the whole dating website/new guy fiasco. And, being a dispassionate observer who is not (god forbid) looking for a man, I can see how absolutely correct and appropriate it is, and share it with you. She said, when you meet a new guy, either in person or online, you’ve got to imagine a tennis court with two people on either side and a ball going back and forth. Back and forth is the only way. You serve, he returns your ball. You send it back to him, he sends it back to you, and so it goes on. If he does not return the ball to your court, you do not serve again. There is one ball in this game. It is tennis, not snooker. If that ball doesn’t come back to you, you wait. And wait. Still not coming? He’s on another court. Move on. Don’t ask him where the court is or what he’s doing on it – he doesn’t want to play with you, and that’s all you need to know.

And yet all the time I see the women sending that ball over, then sending another and then another still, and then asking, why doesn’t he answer? Was it something I said? What’s his problem? And then taking their communication apart word for word in an attempt to decipher its hidden message. There’s no hidden message – he doesn’t want to play ball with you so you must go away. It’s much simpler than we believe. We sit there over-analysing, picking things apart, second-guessing: what is he doing? Why is he online and not answering me? Who else is he talking to? When none of this matters. It’s irrelevant. Despite all this technology which (for better or for worse) keeps us connected 24/7 some things have stayed the same: if the boy likes the girl he will go and get her. And that’s the long and the short of it.

Stop sending more balls – it just makes you look desperate. Even if you just want to say this one thing – don’t. Even if it’s the funniest, cleverest thing anyone has ever said in the world – don’t do it. He’ll feel hounded and think you’re psycho and not like you anymore. True story. And it’s easy as hell for me to say this because my dude is chained to the net, bless his tennis socks, but at the same time this vantage point allows me to see things a lot more clearly than I would if I were waiting to see if the little yellow ball was coming my way anytime soon. And if this guy isn’t game, eff him; there are many more where he came from. You served, he missed, game over.

I get that there are people who don’t like Facebook, but don’t bring them to my house.

I get that there are people who don’t like Facebook, like there are people who don’t like wine and chocolate and small, furry animals. But don’t bring them to my house. Because Facebook is, frankly, one of the best things god ever invented. People will say of other people – okay, me- she’s on Facebook a LOT. Like she’s on crack cocaine a LOT, or slapping her children a LOT when what ‘she’ is actually doing a lot is interacting with the world. Yes, the world.

There is no greater source of useful information than Facebook, topping google by a prettttty long margin because while google can tell me about stuff I know nothing about, Facebook fills in the gaps of the things I do. Like that seventies song, it colours my world. An example: while I know my ex-boyfriend married a model from Estonia, the best google can do is tell me where Estonia is. Facebook, on the other hand, is the true friend that tells me her ears are quite sticky-outy. And a girl needs to know these things.

I mean, isn’t it a beautiful thing seeing the nerdy guy from high school who no girl would touch with a barge pole go on to head the plastic surgery division of a major university hospital (bet he’s laughing now), or the beautiful girl who was shitty to everyone develop thighs the size of a church door? Maybe I’m unnaturally curious about people and their lives, but it’s immensely interesting to me that someone I once worked with married a gazonkazillionaire and is on honeymoon in St Barts; my next-door-neighbour from childhood has four beautiful daughters and a guy I once kissed at a party is running an ashram in North India.

And I fail to understand how social media could possibly make us antisocial. I’m in contact with waaaaay more people than I would normally be on a daily basis. I engage with people all over the continent, from different walks of life, and the overriding sense is of our sameness; our commonalities. I don’t go on Facebook instead of going out. No-one stays home from parties to post status updates. You post a pic of your drink, and then you go and talk to real people. Maybe some people are content to interact only with the three people in their immediate vicinity; can’t be arsed to take pictures of their dinner and think all this nattering about nothing is a big old waste of time. But frankly I think they’re pretty boring.