Ever had that sinking euphoric feeling of falling off a cliff into interminable space, when confronted with the ghosts of loves past?
It is never merely connected to a specific person, but more of a loosely defined emotional compass that points – nowhere.
In 1995 I purchased this charcoal etch, done by one of the close friends of my girlfriend at the time. Good artwork, complicated relationship. I was in the midst of self-inflicted twenty-something existential angst; she wanted me to stop drinking and behave, simple as that. Or not.
At that stage my discomfort and disillusionment with the self-entitled enclave that was and is the University of Stellenbosch had played a huge role (in my mind at least) in me flunking out of academic prosperity. She felt I was making everything far more complicated than need be. Today I think she meant I was being an insufferable self-preoccupied git.
Being an upstanding revolutionary, I proceeded to a position as corporate finance officer for a big financial institution. Institution indeed – racism, corporate corruption and general fucked-upness were the order of the day. Welcome to the New South Africa little job entrant.
Those were tumultuous times. The first free elections gave the black majority a fresh taste of political power, and middle class white South Africans were immersed in the frisson of changing times. Muttering news of dark tidings over drinks in pubs and at BBQs to assuage their fears of the imagined impending doom, and focusing on their studies and careers as a means to protect them from the selfsame. Tens of thousands of concerned ‘white’ citizens fled to the greener pastures of, in their minds safer, ‘white’ countries. The Rainbow Nation and Nelson Mandela shirts were all the rage. Well, nothing changed there over the past 17 years.
Looking back, it all seems like halcyon days of ludicrous wonder and exhilarated confusion compared to the unparalleled obtuseness and willful ignorance of the here and now. The same people who derided the new, democratically elected government were overjoyed with South Africa’s re-entrance into the international sporting arena. TV bosses rubbed their hands in glee at the viewing figures.
Not to leave the so-called alternatives out of it, there was as much joy at the arrival of international musical acts on these shores. Everyone turned into a self-serving hypocritical asshole overnight. My juvenile mind could not process the nascent bile building up inside, so I chose Hemingway’s – no, not the author, the pub in central Cape Town.
I suppose the union of a lazily idealistic and very reticent ex-law student and that of a conscientious and practically inclined science major was never going to be an easy one, but it was never the less my first introduction to the agonising reality of taking someone else into consideration. In the macho, privileged culture of South Africa of that era, as a male you brooked no dissent. It was – and still is – a dog eats dog world. Verbalising the tiniest disaffection became minor guerrilla warfare, with no party giving an inch. Needless to say said relationship went the way of the dodo.
So I am left with this piece of artwork – a reminder of times spent in oblivious confusion and the appreciation of agonising personal growth that only nostalgic middle age can bring forth. So shove your Game of Thrones, I have my own romantic kingdom to contemplate.
Life is intensely personal, despite the protestations of the more cynically minded. I believe it is cardinal to our general health as sentient creatures to revisit, not just history in general, but our own personal misfortunes and triumphs. How else would we learn to be better human beings?
Inspired by tales of global greed, personal failure, good tequila and The Pixies on repeat.