Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going back (North) West

A short note to share my trepidation: tomorrow I will be heading back to the province and town I grew up in. We are attending a music and arts festival in the North West province of SA. The town is called Potchefstroom, the festival is Aardklop. Potchefstroom is near Stilfontein, the town I spent most of my puberty in.

Growing up in a small town has its advantages - you tend to find creative ways of keeping busy (no movie theatres or malls), and you do not get shot at when acquiring fruit from neighbours' trees... Ringing the church bell in the wee hours of the morning is fun when you have exhausted the video collection at the local video shop during school holidays. Children could roam the streets in safety and the ice-cream at Keurboom Motors was divine.

There is only one high school - where the entire grade 11 group refused to take part in singsongs by shouting an empathic "NO" to the teacher when asked for their participation in'92... and paid for that with resultant laps around the field for disobedience. There we played hockey in winter, coached by a man affectionately called "Jan Bom" (meaning John Bomb), whose philosophies on injuries included "if there's no blood it doesn't hurt". The school housed the usual group of teachers with weird and sometimes wonderful quirks - the accounting one who called the pupils "papkoppe" (cereal heads); the English subject head (Mad Mam) who listened to children's radio shows during class time; and the sexy biology teacher who had all the boys in hormone-ridden suspense.

I remember the incredibly cold winter mornings on the hockey fields - your hands so icy you could hardly feel the vibrations of the stick when you hit the ball. And the exam hall in winter... The cold seeped into your legs - we ended up bringing blankets to school to wrap around our legs like old people. Summers were long and hot, the yellow school shirts with blue tunics almost unbearable; and the sunburn at the local athletics hurt even more than losing to the other schools.

The town holds many many memories. That's where I got my first kiss (wasn't nice); learnt to drive (dangerous!) in the old unused drive-in area; where we rode our pasolas past the Afrikaans teacher's house after someone burnt unmentionable words into her grass using petrol... In Stilfontein I laughed and cried and played and grew. Although I will never regret growing up there, I detested the narrow-minded "box" mentality of small-towners that expected you to act in a certain way. I wanted out of the smallness and therefore spread my wings in the city of Pretoria after school. I never went back there except to visit my mom while she was still there. She was the only reason to go back. That is why I cannot think of the town separate from my memories of my mother.

I think that is where my trepidation lies: I haven't been back to that place since we moved my mom's house (September 06) after her passing away in December 05. My mom was an icon there: the English and drama teacher of the only High School, she left no-one untouched. She was one of those teachers that you either adored or couldn't stand. She lived out loud: she laughed loudly, she cried loudly, she sang loudly (and beautifully) and would support you through anything. And that is not just as our mom - it was the kind of person she was. She could be difficult as hell and sweeter than honey. She was tough and fragile and mean and caring all at the same time.

I realised people's perceptions of her when we held her memorial service in town. So many people attended, most we didn't know. We held many men and women who cried on our shoulders - sobbing "she was like a mother to me". I felt like screaming: "she was MY mother!!!!" They wrote poignant notes in a "memory journal" for her; they shared stories and memories.

Yes, my mom made an impression on the town and on its people. Now I'm going back - back to the memories and the house I grew up in. I'm scared because I heard the town is run-down now... I also heard the later owners of my mom's house had all the trees cut down, including the big shady one in the front yard, the fruit trees in the back yard and the huge apricot tree. I'm not sure I want to see that.

I'm not sure I want to face the tiny ghosts of my uneventful past - but I will. In a way, it will be a rite of passage, a last good bye. Not just to my childhood, but to the raw part of the sorrow I still bear for my mom. Because in the gold dust of the town lies my mom's footprints. And my own.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Case of you: thoughts on lust and desire

"I could drink a case of you, darling
and still be on my feet" Joni Mitchell (1971)

The above snippet is from one of my ultimate favourite love songs of all time - "A case of you". In my opinion, Tori Amos' version is the best. These specific lyrics have made me think about many things love-related over the years. Two concepts have taken up some space in my mind off late: lust and desire. Two terms often used interchangeably; similar in meaning, but for me, two very different things.

A question of lust
Lust is defined as an overmastering craving; an intense sexual appetite (Dictionary.com). Synonyms include insatiable, lecherous, lewd, libertine, lubricious, lustful, randy, salacious. All these terms relate to something relatively uncontrollable and ultimately primal in nature.

Desire is half of life (Kahlil Gibran)

Desire as a noun is defined as a longing or craving for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment; as a verb it is to wish or long for; crave; want. Synonyms include ache, hanker, long, pine, want, wish, yearn. These symbolize an intensive yearning for something that will bring great satisfaction.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire
I wish to liken lust and desire to the element of fire. Fire consists of heat and air and some sort of fuel. Without one of these elements fire cannot exist. Similarly, lust and desire both contain elements that make them work. Passion is the heat that feeds the fire for lust and desire. The fuel is also similar: usually an object of intense affection. It is in the air that lust and desire require that I see a difference. And that air makes the difference between a destructive wildfire and the comforting flames of a winter fireplace.

The air that keeps lust going consists of a need for immediate gratification and this drive leaves no thoughts for consequence. Lust inhales its own pleasure above all others. Lust breathes with the body: with its most primal sexual nature. It is wild and uncontrolled, and in the drive to fulfill lust, it often sucks the life out of everything around it. Bad addictions are often the result of lust raging uncontrolled.

Desire's air is relational. It is something more than just an insatiable yearning. It is more than mindless passion and bodily drive. It is both primal and sophisticated; it inhales its own pleasure and exhales into the pleasure of others, like emotional CPR. It breathes through the heart, the mind and the body. It is vibrant and it gives life to all it touches. Its vigour comes from the same primal drive as that of lust. This is revealed in its passion and its fire, but it transcends the pure basic instinct of lust.

In many ways desire takes lust and turns it into a masterpiece in much the same manner as an artist takes formless clay and makes a figure. Lust is the clay, desire is the sculpture. Lust transformed is recreated as art. And that art is desire.

A Case of You
"Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
And you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
And still be on my feet"

I think Joni Mitchell knew desire when she wrote these beautiful lyrics. These words speak of pure, unadulterated desire. They talk of being intoxicated with the one you love: filled with the wine of that person's love. Intoxicated but not uncontrolled...

You see, lust will also want to drink the whole case. But it can only handle one bottle.

Desire... now desire will have the whole case. And in its warm intoxication, it will still be on its feet.