Tuesday, 29 May 2007

"It's just like the 60s, but with less hope."

I guess a film about a pre-orgasmic protagonist is bound to be a little anticlimactic. But in the case of John Cameron Mitchell's recent film Shortbus, the anticlimax is both relief and disappointment.

Many will rage and roar that it's porn. Certainly, there's porn out there with a lower body count in terms of sheer fornication. But there's nothing about Shortbus that's designed to turn you on. Rather, it'll make you laugh, and wince. Unlike most mainstream films, this one doesn't mystify or demystify sex. It doesn't cast sex as mysterious collateral for the main plot. Instead, sex - in all its forms, from masturbation to twosomes, threesomes and wild orgies - is simply part of the story, part of the question that each character is trying to answer for themselves: What do I need? How am I going to find it?

Like any ensemble comedy, really, this one deals with people in pain. Specifically, a fringe bunch of New Yorkers who find their way to the lounge-cum-pleasure-palace called Shortbus, where they play out the extremes of their sexual fantasies. But, at the heart of it, they are people in pain, people looking for solace and solutions, looking to connect with others, to turn on their lights, as it were, in a city where the lights keep going out. Heironymous Bosch would turn in his grave: here's sexual deviancy that's not just refreshingly real - it's uplifting, playful, fresh and unimpeded by moralising overtones.

It doesn't exactly get there in the end, I must admit. I could have done with a more convincing turning point for the main character, a more emotionally satisfying ending. The closing scene felt a little like a pantomime encore pantomime, with the cast gathering for one last rowdy number, almost tearful at the imminent farewell, but mostly celebrating what a fine old time they'd had making the show. Which, no doubt they had.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Quotation of the weekend

"Don't get sad. You're in your best place. You have peace of mind. You have self-respect. And you have creative ideas for hand-cuffs." - the lovely LDH.

An eye for an I

I must admit, I don't like thinking too hard about disease and injury. Yes, hospitals make me uneasy. The thought of surgery makes me squeamish. The details of my death are something I figure I can ignore. And I've had the good fortune of decent health and a relatively accident-free existence. Lucky me. But I'm feeling quite proud of myself of late. I finally got round to looking my internal organs in the eye, as it were, and registering as an organ donor.

It's easy - you can register online, they send you the stickers to put on your ID and driver's licence, you let your family know, and that's it. There are currently 3 000 South Africans awaiting organs for transplants that could save their lives. Because of shortages of organs, fewer than 1 in 3 of them will receive those transplants.
This from the Organ Donor Foundation's website:

Research has shown that organ donation is acceptable to the majority of South Africans and contrary to popular belief, a grieving family takes great comfort from the knowledge that they are able to help others through the donation of their loved one's organs and tissues.

With excellent long-term survival rates of over 80%, transplantation can no longer be considered experimental and is accepted as the treatment of choice for most patients with end-stage disease.

I'm not going to apologise for the proselytising tone of this post. Sometime, when you need an eye, a kidney or a heart, I really want to know that you're going to get one. The only way that can happen is for more people to get the little red sticker.

South Africa: www.odf.org.za
UK: www.uktransplant.org.uk
Europe: www.transplant.org
USA: www.shareyourlife.org

Friday, 25 May 2007

When I grow up...

Just back from my big adventure to the soggy island known as England, and the slightly smaller, but no less damp island of Arran in Scotland. Where I discovered that you can never tell what's going to happen when you grow up.

This isn't Arran. It's Holy Isle, which is the view from Arran.
When I grow up I'm going to be a Buddhist monk there. Well, in one of my other lives.

When Nicole grows up, she's going to be a doctor during the week, an artist on the weekend and a sailor around midnight. No, wait. She already is...

Dani, my favourite piece of she-fluff. I would've voted her least likely to juggle radical chic with domesticity.
But my prescient skills are really quite shite.

Me and Nicole. After 20 years of not seeing one another, we had a lot of catching up to do. When we grow up, maybe we'll get to be the Scrabble equivalent of John Turturro in Quiz Show.

And when Nikolai and I grow up, we are going to be notorious co-authors. Of something. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Airports and nationalism

Because I come from South Africa, and not, say, the UK or US, I need a visa stamped into my passport before I can set foot in most countries on earth. When I travel to the Caribbean on business, I go via London instead of Miami, because the Americans won’t even let me pass through their doors in transit without half a ton of paperwork and an expensive visa application process. I have friends who’ve gone through the mill of proving that their grandparents were born in Lithuania in order to get a Lithuanian passport. Which amounts to EU citizenship. For the sake of sidestepping their travel visa headaches. (Or, in more cases, to allow them to live and work in the EU.) I can’t help wondering what their ancestral connections really prove to the powers that be. What on earth makes that individual a more palatable entrant to these countries than someone whose passport has a different country name on it?

I guess I could say, quite confidently, that I really don’t get nationalism. In fact, I get it less now than I did at school. Whenever I cross a border post by car, I’m struck by the absurdity of the wire fences that divide countries. Erected by labourers, manned by civil servants. The official dance of stamping bits of paper barely conceals the absurdity of it. What is this, exactly? Why do we need to do it? I can’t say I understand.

The last time I crossed from South Africa into Namibia, I mistakenly took my old passport, which had been invalidated when the new one was issued. The woman working at the desk didn’t notice. Relief for me. But also silent triumph. This is how significant the paperwork is. Its only significance is bestowed by the people handling it. Today, at Heathrow, I watched an official toss my make-up remover and body oil in the bin, because of some rule about containers that can hold more than 100 ml of liquid. She knew it was body oil, not napalm or whatever. She knew it was make-up remover. I knew the rules. She didn’t make them. Dumbly, we both complied. Dumbly, the liquids got tossed in the bin. Did this do something to advance national security in Britain? Somehow, I think not. I didn’t feel safer for it. I simply felt that some sort of tyranny of idiocy was at play, and neither of us had the power to do anything about it.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The soft and the spiky

cactus flower, Nieu Bethesda

"It is my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues." - Abraham Lincoln

Choices and choicelessness

Two years ago, a teacher from India told me: "When you are truly free, you do not spend your energy making choices. True freedom is choiceless." I argued with him. Daily, we have to make choices! Doesn't taking responsibility mean making choices, and making them carefully? He shook his head. "Be choiceless," he said.

It was anathema to the crowd. Which shoes go with that top? When exactly should I text that guy from last weekend? Who will I invite to next Saturday's party? Or would it be better to go alone? How can I tell your partner she's not doing it for me in bed? Should you tell her? Should I tell him? Should I look around for someone else? Trade up? And while I'm looking around, what about my career? Which job will catapult me further along my trajectory to ultimate career fulfilment? Choices, choices.

Perhaps I'm starting too big. The tyranny of choice starts at the banal level of our daily machinations: what we eat, where we sleep, what we buy and what we use. Over and over, we teach ourselves to step back from the options before us, appraise them with a cool, objective eye, make lists of pros and cons, merits and demerits, advantages and disadvantages. Splice them neatly into good, better and best, and then go for the one that tips the scales in the superlative direction. And yet. Stepping back means disconnecting. Appraising means judging. So you find you've ticked checkboxes, but you end up unconvinced. All you have to do is cast your eyes back in the direction of the choice you gave up, and you know what you get? Not satisfaction. Not contentment. You get regret. 'Cause you're never really sure you've gone the right route.

Mr Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice (subtitled Why More is Less) argues that a culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction. He has a point, though I'd say he spends way too much time analysing in detail exactly how rotten we can make ourselves feel by buying into a culture of choosing, comparing, striving for the best choices, and falling into disappointment later when we compare roads taken with those that might've been. And not enough time getting to the crux of it. So. Stop losing sleep over it. Here's the deal:

  • Most choices are a whole lot less significant than we give them credit for. Let it go. Do the one that feels right. You might not know the exact reasons. You probably don't need to.
  • Once you're on it, love it. You're already there. Your life is not around the corner. This is it.
  • Stick with it. Follow through.
  • Be grateful. The grass may well be greener on the other side. But seeing as you're here, you might as well notice it's pretty spectacular on this side too.
  • There's a path you're going to take. Sniff it out. Gut feel is a good thing. Trust yours.
Go on. Be choiceless.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Quotation of the weekend

"Anything worth doing is worth doing full frontal." - DdB, my favourite piece of girl-fluff.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

The Polytheism Pop Quiz

Current reading:

  • The Iliad by Homer
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Which have made me wonder why, considering the prevalence of consumerism in the 21st century, that there's quite so much enthusiasm for a measly one-god-fits-all idea. In the context of divine powers, how can less possibly be more? No, the Greeks had some fine ideas. You want gods? We'll give you gods. A whole extended network of them. Choose the one that suits your needs. Moreover, we'll give each one a unique selling proposition, as well as decent dose of proactivity.

The Greek gods weren't afraid to march into a war zone and slap mortals about for buggering up an invasion (we could do with a bit more of that). Nor were they shy of replying to requests (could definitely do with a bit more of that too). A couple of heartfelt pleas to the heavens could rustle up a supernatural hero with impressive six-pack and arrows bristling, striding down a mountain in your direction, ready to draw arms on your behalf. (Or a moonlit goddess if required.) And if one god got a bit nasty, you could go and make friends with another that was more understanding. Such a practical approach. And so MANY of them, too. No matter how specific your prayer requirements, there was likely to be a god or goddess that could fit it into his/her portfolio.

So, So. In the interests of offering you more bang for your deistic buck, please consider the offerings of the polytheistic pantheon. Please note that this is an abridged list. More gods available on request.
  • Zeus. If you're coming from a Christian background, Zeus may be the god for you. Think booming voice, anger, judgement, thunderbolts. Big daddy.
  • Poseidon. For those interested in alternative lifestyles, Poseidon might be your man. Has a really sexy trident and lives under the sea.
  • Hades. Goths, CLAWS members and anyone with a fondness for self-pity might go for Hades. He's known to be unpitying and invisible, so you'll get to do all your wallowing in solitary misery, and pine for the underworld.
  • Hestia. For the domestically inclined among us: the virginal goddess of the hearth. Warm, homely and a little boring. But won't hurt you with arrows or anything.
  • Hera. Think you test the boundaries of your sexual identity? Hera's got a few up on you. Wife AND sister of Zeus, famous for getting the other gods to tie him up. Go Hera.
  • Ares. Feeling down? Take comfort - you're not as disliked as Ares. He's considered a murderous coward. His symbols are the vulture and the dog.
  • Athena. Overachievers, look no further. What doesn't she do? She's a fierce, brave warrior; goddess of city, handicrafts and agriculture. She allegedly invented the bridle, the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship and the chariot. And she was Zeus's favourite and got to play with his thunderbolts. Yeah, a bit irritating, I agree.
  • Hermes. No more unanswered prayers. Hermes is messenger of Zeus, known for swiftness. Get it, on time, direct from the skies, delivered in cool winged sandals. We think Amazon.com should consider a subscription.
  • Artemis. Guys that are intimidated by women: Artemis has you dialled. She's virginal, hunts with arrows, and wild animals are afraid of her. We just can't guarantee she'll help you get over it, but you can worship her if you like.
  • Apollo. For those that prefer natural blonds. Not much imagination; only tells the truth. But does stuff with a flute. He reminds me of that guy from Blue Lagoon. But, by all means, if blond does it for you, go ahead.
  • Aphrodite. Goddess of lurve. Something tells me she's gonna be the most popular.
  • Haphaestus. A good choice for those that believe in the mythology of Shrek, Beauty and the Beast. Anyone who's had the "You're a really nice guy, but I just want to be friends" speech. Ugly and lame, but he knows how to make stuff out of metal. And a nice guy. Why doesn't he get more air time, we have to wonder?
Who's the one for you?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007


One of the many faces at the Owl House. I think Candice took the photograph.

Why I liked Venus

  • because Peter O'Toole gets the gleaming, soulful heart of a dirty, dirty old man
  • because Jodie Whittaker's smoky scowl is as convincing as her legs
  • because two old men dancing and weeping made me want to dance and weep
  • because it has grimy, damp, poky interiors
  • because love isn't always young, airbrushed and gorgeous
  • because I should be so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky.


So a close friend looked deeply into my eyes (hers blue into mine hazel) and asked:
"Do you view all your friendships romantically?"
If we hadn't been laying back on the grass, too comfortable to move, I would've had to walk around in a circle to think about that. Instead I turned it over a few times. Being the kind of friend that knows you sometimes have to rephrase the question so that it'll fall into the hole you're aiming for, she put it another way:
"Are all your friendships really, at the heart of it, love affairs?"
And there it went, like a ring, twirling round and round as it scooted down. Into the heart of it.
Of course they are. Of course I treat my friendships as grand passions. The surprise of the question was that it made me realise there's a world in which there are other ways of wearing it. There are lighter friendships, ones made of utilitarian fabrics. The ones that are there to stave off rain; the ones that are there to let air in. There are the flimsy, flashy ones that you can wear out at night, but will never keep you warm. There are the thick ones that will always keep you warm but stifle your inner beast. There are the leather ones you wear to belong to the group, but sometimes bother you with their herdlike smell. There are many, many, many. I admire those who can survive the variety of them. But the question - so astute! - made me realise I'm not one of them. I make it hard for you. So I'll start this thing off with a word of thanks. If you've found yourself here, it's probably because you're in my treasured constellation. You're one of the beloved. Or you've found your way here by chance, by invitation, by coincidence. Surviving my love is no mean feat. It's demanding, intense, unrelenting, unswerving, brutal. True friends stab you in the front. This is your invitation to stay for the ride.

All my love