Archetypes

“How many people have you met?” I ask, vaguely.
Since acquiring Facebook, I have collected approximately 800 friends. Probably at least 150 of those are fake accounts, enterprises, duplicates, or strangers who have added me. But if I lean back on my faux leather couch, chin tilted to the ceiling, and really think about it, I’d have to say I’ve met perhaps… eight people. Eight people in total, give or take one or two. Hundreds of different human beings, to be sure, but probably only about eight archetypes that continuously circle in and out of my life, like Halley’s Comet. Maybe it’s different for you, Dear Reader, but at any given moment in my life, I find I am always surrounded by these eight people:

1.) The Health Guru
This is the person who is always knowledgeable about diet and exercise. They are the person I instinctively turn to when I want to find out how to stop feeling sluggish, or the fastest natural way to cure a cold, or the best way to increase the strength in my knees. These are the people who invite me to do outdoor activities, and who inspire me to take good care of myself.

Health Guru
Coach always took good health to an extreme in “New Girl”

 

2.) The Spiritual Guide
I don’t always know in which direction my life should be heading, but the spiritual guide is the person who will always listen to my concerns, offer me advice, and help me find the path that I was unable to find on my own. I would say that the Spiritual Guide is also the person who pushes me to be better, and to challenge myself. They are the ones who bring me out of the house and invite me to cultural events.

Spiritual Guid
Wilson was always Tim’s go-to advice man in “Home Improvement”

 

3.) The Moral Compass
Being an adult means sometimes not knowing the right thing to do. Luckily, when I find myself in such a quandary, I have a Moral Compass who will take me aside, and kindly explain to me the correct way to treat other human beings. When the paths of virtue and sin become convoluted, I can rely on my Moral Compass to set me on the right course.

Moral Compass
No matter the odds, Eddard Stark always tried to do the right thing in “Game of Thrones”

 

4.) The Drinking Companion
Alcohol need not be involved, but we all need that friend with whom we can just shoot the breeze. This is the easy friend; the one without pretense. My Drinking Companion is the person who allows me to step outside of the cyclone of my existence and observe the events of my life from a relaxed distance. Conversation is broad as opposed to deep, but sometimes those light conversations are exactly what I need.

American Maid
I always liked how American Maid would keep Arthur grounded in “The Tick”

 

5.) The Nuisance
When examining the archetypes in my life I cannot help but notice that there is almost always someone in it that has a tendency to get on my nerves. They’re not bad people, but they do have a tendency to try my patience a great deal more than the rest of my friends. It’s terrible to speak negatively of people, but at least acknowledging the nuisance in my life gives me the patience to enjoy their company.

Nuisance
Kramer is kind of annoying, but you can’t help but like him in “Seinfeld”

 

6.) The Love Interest
I am always in love. Or, at least, I always have a crush on someone. Often, nothing comes from this, and when the person I love passes out of my life, a new love interest will inevitably rear their gorgeous head and turn my world upside down.

Love Interest
The Waitress is the quintessential Love Interest in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

 

7.) The Bad Influence
A lot of people do drugs, I’ve realised. A lot of people drink a lot too. Most people have their vices, and sadly some people allow their vices to overcome them. I feel like I’ve done a good job so far of avoiding too many bad influences in my life, but I think it’s always good to have the Bad Influence around to draw you out of your shell and make you go a bit crazy once in a while.

Bad Influence
Your parents might not like him, but Barney from “How I Met Your Mother” definitely knows how to keep life interesting

 

8.) The Neophyte
Look around and you will always find someone who is slightly less experienced that you. Someone who is new on the job, or new in town. They won’t always ask for help, but you’ll sense that they need it. Getting your life on an even keel doesn’t count for much if you can’t pull others on board with you.

Neophyte
There’s a lot that Todd doesn’t understand about Hollywood, which is why he needs someone to guide him in “Bojack Horseman”

 

Now, it’s important to remember that people shouldn’t be put into boxes. Just because someone is an archetype to you doesn’t mean that they aren’t so much more as well. But it’s in our nature to find patterns, and this is just another pattern that I’ve observed.
I am also almost certain that there are many more archetypes than the ones I have listed here, but this is the general idea. Sometimes each archetype exists within a different human being. Sometimes several archetypes can be encompassed by one person. Sometimes, a person that you know might change from one archetype to another during the time that you know them. But it seems to me that, without fail, I always have these eight influences in my life.
I cannot overstate the value that many people have brought into my life. I have been blessed with the honour of crossing paths with some of the finest souls on the planet. But my lifestyle means that my social circle tends to renew itself every six months or so, with old friends leaving and new friends stepping into my world. In all of those cycles I have always observed the same recurring archetypes.

I am just about certain that this idea of the archetypes in our lives is not an original one. I’m sure you’ve noticed these pattern in your life too, Dear Reader. But in recent weeks I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind, and I began to look inward and ask myself which archetype I am. When I asked myself the question, the answer was immediately evident: I am the Main Character, of course!
But sadly I am the main character only in my universe. For everyone else, I am just a passing influence. The truth is, I don’t know what kind of archetype I am, but I think it is profoundly important to acknowledge that most people will see me as one thing or another. I would bet that I am a different archetype to different people. Perhaps some people see me as the Health Guru, or the Drinking Buddy. I’d hate to be someone’s Nuisance, but it’s possible. I’m fairly certain that I’m no one’s Bad Influence, but it would be nice to think that I am someone’s Love Interest.

The point is, when engaging with a friend, it might help to consider who that friend thinks they’re talking to. Do they want you to be their Spiritual Guide, or your Drinking Companion. Are they looking for health advice or moral guidance? Hopefully, once you figure out who you are to different people, then you would start to become a better human being. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want to be?

Fate Like Potatoes

Give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, and it will eventually write the words of Shakespeare. Or, so it is said. On the other hand, give one bachelor his own apartment and a handful of months, and he will inevitably blow something up.
Of course, like any responsibility-denying adult, I cannot take full credit for what happened. I am simple one cog in a vastly complex machine, and it is impossible to know what the other cogs are doing until everything lines up in a way that blindsides your life and sets it off on a bit of a speed wobble.

Monkey Typewriter
Technology has come a long way. Who uses wooden chairs anymore?

When my kettle blew up, my first instinct was to blame the potato, but I believe the chain of causation goes back further than that. I could point my finger at my friend, who was going out of town for a month and had to give away her potatoes so that they wouldn’t be wasted in her absence. Or I could blame my stubborn pan which had become difficult to clean. But if I really give it some thought, I believe the chain of events truly got started when the light bulb in my kitchen burned out.

Light Bulb
I have since replaced the light bulb. There it shines, an angelic halo.

My kitchen is situated in a tiny nook that receives almost no ambient light, so when the bulb blew it was quite a task to get anything done in there. My immediate, lazy solution was to use my space heater as a substitute. The heater has three bars that cast a bright orange light when it is turned on, which was perfect for my temporary needs. The best place for it was on the tiny piece of kitchen counter next to the fridge, where my kettle usually sits. In order to free up an outlet so that I could plug the heater in, I unplugged the kettle and moved it next to the kitchen sink. And that’s where the kettle stayed.

Dark Kitchen
See? Tiny, dark kitchen nook

A few nights ago, I decided to roast a potato for dinner, having developed an affinity for them after my friend had given me some a few weeks previously. The only problem was that the pan I used to roast them had lost its non-stick properties a long time ago, and therefore required quite a scrub to get it clean. For this purpose, I had purchased some steel wool, and after scrubbing the pan clean I left the ball of wool by the sink, next to the kettle.

The next day I arose groggily and put the kettle on for coffee. Once the water had boiled, I lifted the kettle from its stand, poured water into a mug, and moved to replaced the kettle on its stand. As I completed this maneuver I noticed how an errant strand of wool had uncoiled itself until the tiny end of it was resting right on top of the connector that supplies electricity to the kettle. My reflexes were slow, but even as I put the kettle down I thought to myself, “That piece of steel there is probably not safe,” and then my apartment exploded.

Potato
This is partly your fault, Potato!

There was a loud popping noise followed by silence. My fridge had stopped humming. The annoyingly loud extractor fan in my bathroom had stopped buzzing. Even the recently-replaced kitchen light bulb had gone dark, and I smelled fire. I lifted the kettle back up and saw that the tip of the steel wool had caught fire like an environmentally unfriendly stick of incense. I stared at the flame quizzically until it died on its own, and then I careful set the kettle back down on the counter, far from the smoking steel wool, and went to check my fuse box. A few switches had tripped, so I flipped them back up. My apartment remained dark and silent. I felt like Bilbo in Gollum’s cave. In the distance, I could hear my neighbour’s music. Evidently they still had power.
By that point, the sun had come up sufficiently for me not to need light in the living room. Plus I already had my coffee, so for the time being I did not need electricity. I sat on my couch and stared at my laptop which was now no longer connected to the internet because the modem had no power. I ate my cereal, drank my coffee, brushed my teeth, and left for work.

As I went about my day, I considered my options:
1.) I could ignore the problem and live out the rest of my days here without electricity.
2.) I could blow my neighbour’s fusebox so that they would be forced to take the initiative to sort things out.
3.) I could ask my concierge to turn the power back on at the main switch.

Obviously, Option 3 was out of the question. I didn’t know the Spanish words for “switch” or “main switch” or “to switch something on.” It was an insurmountable obstacle.

I was sorely tempted to try Option 2. It had a Tom Sawyer-esque cleverness to it, but I didn’t really know how I would go about sabotaging my neighbour’s electricity. Perhaps I could try disrupting the whole building? But that might cause me to fatally damage myself, or even get into trouble with the police.

Option 1 seemed possible. My oven is gas powered, so I could still cook food. I could turn my phone into a WiFi hot spot so that I could use the internet on my laptop. That’s all I really needed. It would cost a fortune in data, though.

As my day progressed, the options circled around in my head, and I slowly came to the realization that I would have to eventually seek help from the concierge. So when I returned to my building, I greeted the concierge, went upstairs to my apartment, and waited the appropriate amount of time it would have taken for me to put my things down, get changed out of my work clothes, make a cup of tea, and then accidentally blow myself up. I put it at fourteen minutes, which is also about how long it took me to look up and memorise the Spanish words for “switch,” “main switch,” and “to switch something on.” Then I went back downstairs and threw myself dramatically onto the concierge’s desk.

“You would not believe the disaster that has just this very moment befallen me!” I wailed. “Not fourteen minutes ago, while attempting to make myself a cup of tea, a short circuit occurred and knocked out the power to my apartment! I tried switching the power back on but nothing happened. Would you please be so kind as to switch on the main switch?”

Dramatic
Accurate re-enactment of me talking to the concierge.

Actually, what I said was more like, “No electricity. Accident. Switch main switch to switch something on please?” Thankfully, the plucky concierge was able to find meaning from context. He produced some keys marked “Luz” and bade me follow him back up to my floor and towards the electricity cupboard there. It was an awkward elevator ride. To break the silence I rolled my eyes and chummily said, “Main switch, eh?” The plucky concierge remained passive.

After that, my life improved swiftly and dramatically. The concierge found the electricity closet, flicked a few switches, went downstairs again, flicked some switches there, then returned and flicked one final switch which lit up my apartment once again. A problem that had stretched out for five hours had been solved in ten minutes.

I learned two things that day: The first thing is that you don’t need to be fluent in a language to be understood. Most people just need a few key words and a context.
The second thing I learned is that all the micro-actions in our lives are like pieces on an infinite chess board, or the keys of a typewriter being struck by an infinite monkey. Eventually the chaos will lead to macro-actions that will blow your mind.

New Kettle
I also learned how much a new kettle costs.

 

The Old Man and the Snow

When the winter came to Santiago I knew I hated it. The cold is merciless and it creeps in through the poorly insulated windows of my apartment and weaves through my flimsy clothing and bites into my flesh deeply. The plants on my balcony wilt and die for lack of sunlight, and in the streets the denizens of Santiago pull their jackets tight over their hearts and bend their scarfed heads into the wind. The street dogs have mysteriously acquired little woolen coats but still they lie curled in corners dreaming of warmer days or death.

I first became aware of my contempt for cold weather when I returned to South Africa from Thailand. The thrilling shift from tropical humidity to the piercing midwinter chill caught me off guard and kicked the life out of me like a nighttime assailant. That was when my animosity towards bleak weather was first seeded profoundly within me, but it had lain relatively dormant until some weeks ago when I had gone out for the night with friends and found myself at a table outside in the dark, sharing revelry and ignoring the icy grip of my monstrous foe. By the time I returned to my drafty apartment the monster had sunk its claws deep into me and pressed my core temperature far below a healthy level. The next day I woke with ‘flu.

Despite my animosity and fear of ice I still listened when the old man Carlos spoke to me about snowboarding. He made a habit of going out of the city on weekends for hiking or camping or skiing so when he first broached the idea with me I did not flee nor change the subject. Carlos is short and broad and rounded at the shoulders like a scarab, and I had been into the wilderness with him before and I trusted that I would be well-led by him. He had many acquaintances in the field of winter sports and was able to negotiate a remarkably cheap deal. That is how I came to find myself swaddled in borrowed snow gear somewhere outside of Santiago in the lee of the Andes mountains. We had been fortunate with the weather and the sky was clear that day. There were about ten of us in total and while most of us could speak English the majority of the people were primarily Spanish speakers. As such hardly any English was spoken at all. I mostly just listened.

Our modest group had convened outside a wooden bungalow that gave way to a frosty courtyard. A narrow porch ran around the property and at intervals there were rooms filled with snow boots and snowboards. It was early still, and only one other couple sat on a wooden bench in the courtyard speaking in the stilled tones demanded by peaceful winter mornings. Puddles which had iced over in the night lay as yet uncracked by industrious footfalls and the exposed earth was sodden and scattered with damp leaves like autumnal sprinkles on an earthen cake.
We were designated our boots and the snowboards were loaded on to the top of a van and then our group clambered into the van. Our driver ignited the engine and put Guns N’ Roses on the radio at a high volume. It was a fine move and probably one he did on every tour. It excited the spirits of my companions and they began conversing in a restless way that was occasionally broken by nervous laughter.
We were driving into a place called San Jose de Maipo where the sky was as blue and as clear as a newborn’s eyes, and the mountainsides were thickly layered with snow like shaving cream on a pie destined for a clown’s painted face.
I am not accustomed to such copious amounts of snow and I found myself transfixed by it. The driver’s selection of popular music loosened my mind and put me in a meditative state.

The drive was pleasant and warm and lulling, and in truth I did not want it to end.
We arrived at an area where other vehicles had turned the ground into muddy slush. People milled around in puffy winter clothing, smoking cigarettes and selling snow gear from crude tables set up under small gazebos. I found a dry piece of exposed rock where I knelt down to remove my hiking boots and push my feet deep into the comfortable tightness of the snow shoes I had been given. An instructor helped me to negotiate the complex drawstrings that pulled the inner and outer layers of the boots snugly around my ankles. That done, I was given a hefty snowboard and fell in line as our party began trudging farther into the hills.

IMG_20170701_111501562
At times the path was flat and at other times the path was steeped in snow.

I gauged the hike to be about one kilometer, but I had to carry a heavy snowboard and with each step I had to pull my cumbersome snow boots out of a clinging pocket of snow.
At length we drew up to a soft slope that ended in a flat expanse that had roughly the dimensions of a football field. The shadow cast by the surrounding peaks was slowly pulling away from the white terrain, reflecting sunlight off of millions of ice crystals and pitching it directly into my unshielded eyes. An instructor asked me if I had any sunglasses and when I answered in the negative he deftly plucked the sunglasses from his own face and placed them firmly into my palm. He had brought snow goggles with him and had no need for glasses.

We gathered in a loose semi circle around the lead instructor. He was a genial man who exuded the mighty confidence of one accustomed to life in the snow. In Spanish he explained many things about the art and science of snowboarding. He showed us the honed edges of the board which feigned sharpness like the base of an ice skate. The keen edge could be used to hack into the snow to give us stability and prevent the board from slipping away or to prevent ourselves from being carried down the mountain by the presence of gravity and the absence of friction. The instructor likewise demonstrated the way in which we were to strap ourselves into the snowboard using the corrugated straps that were attached to the board. This was a process that was easy enough in principle yet the effort of bending forward over copious layers of clothing to wrestle the strap into the catch required a startling amount of dexterity and energy.

IMG_20170701_134912820
The straps of the snowboard were simultaneously my prison and my freedom.

The tutorial was swift and uncomplicated, and then the instructor left us alone to take on the slope at our own pace. After minutes of struggling to attach myself to my board I arose and positioned myself so that I was facing the soft decline. Following the guidance of the instructor I bent my legs slightly at the knees and placed my weight onto my foremost leg and allowed gravity to take over. I was unafraid of falling because I knew that the snow was soft and would yield under my weight and that I would be unharmed in a fall. I had momentum for the briefest of moments before I came unbalanced and pitched forward violently with my board cresting over my body and raining fresh ice all over me. I emerged unharmed save for a sharp sting in my hands which I had flung out before me to cushion my fall. I fished my gloves from my pockets and pulled them onto my hands as a form of protection rather than a shield against the cold. In order to bring myself once again to the top of the rise I had to unfasten myself from the snowboard with a simple flick of the straps. It was an elementary act but one that preceded the more laborious tasks of hiking back to the top of the rise with snowboard in hand and then reattaching myself to the board. For every ten minutes that was spent walking and fiddling with straps I was able to achieve perhaps ten seconds of actual snowboarding. I do not count this as a tragedy since the sensation of gliding down the hill was highly exciting and we had been given all day to play on the snow.

DSC00908
A man must embrace adversity head-on when it arises, even when that adversity is a wall of ice rising to strike you squarely in the face.

With each new foray down the slope I was able to stay on the board for longer moments, and at times I was even able to reach level ground without tumbling over myself. I was also becoming more adept at fastening my boots onto the board. Yet after several attempts I began to tire and overheat, and I sought respite on the sidelines with some of my cohorts. One of them hailed from the United States, and their talk fluctuated between English and Spanish. I joined in with them at times, but mostly my attention was captured by the old man Carlos, who had proven to be more resilient than most of us. His squat figure was adorned in a thick orange snow jacket that made him easy to pick out among the rabble of beginners who were falling over themselves and kicking up ice across the frozen expanse on which we found ourselves. A week before, he had confided to me that he had damaged his knee on a hike, but he showed no sign of discomfort or energy loss as he tackled the slope time and again. What I observed was a man who was brave and true and who did not falter when the time came for him to test himself. I, on the other hand, favoured the tea and sandwich that the instructors had begun handing out. The sandwich was wrapped in foil and the bread was tough and hurt the inside of my mouth when I bit into it, but the salami and lettuce provided sustenance and the end result was that the sandwich was one of the best I’d ever had.

After that simple lunch I took to the slope a few more times until fatigue outdistance my desire for excitement. I was neither the best nor the worst snowboarder on the slope, and as I unbuckled my boots for the last time I was aware that others had done the same thing. We were surrounded by snow on all sides and yet the sun was shining brightly and I had become uncomfortably warm, to the point where I had to remove the sweater I had on underneath my snow jacket. I realised, too, that I had not applied sunscreen to my exposed skin and I could already feel my face becoming sensitive to the touch. Not too long after that most of the group stopped snowboarding altogether and the instructors suggested we head back before it got dark. The journey on foot back to the van was even more difficult upon the return because now we lacked the energy. We walked slowly, and up ahead I saw the old man Carlos soldiering on, leading the group with one end of his snowboard dragging in the snow.

DSC00764

 

Sleep Tax

I know I might sound like a super villain, but the human race is rather a nuisance. I mean, we’re marvelous, but we’re pretty high maintenance. Bring us up too high and we pop. Pull us too low and we crumple like a tin of Red Bull in Batman’s angry fist. Bump the thermostat a tad too far in either direction and we burn or freeze. Either way, we hate extremes. And once we’ve found a comfortable piece of earth that won’t render us immediately dead, we still have a long list of demands. We need nourishment regularly, and our digestive systems are so feeble that if we eat the wrong thing we get sick, or die, or get sick and then die. We require constant hydration too, and if our liquids aren’t made up of the correct distribution of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, then we go ballistic.

LEGO Batman
I like to imagine Batman as being always angry and always drinking Red Bull.

From a scientific point of view, I understand why we are so picky about where we choose to manifest life. Like the world’s most annoying step-father, we’re difficult to get along with, but we’re not that bad once you get to know us. That said, there is one aspect of the human race which I find myself completely unable to come to terms with: Our constant need for sleep. What ridiculously stupid genetic mechanism decided that we need to spend approximately one third of our lives being dormant? Aren’t hydration and nourishment enough? Why do we need to switch off at regular intervals as well? I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation behind it, but I have another theory:

Imagine a well-run first-world country, like Finland.* In Finland, you get free health care, excellent schools, flawless public transportation. The streets are well-lit, the law enforcement is ever-vigilant, and criminals are cryogenically frozen. Each citizen has his or her own personal robot butler, and the wifi is free and faster than anywhere else on the planet. It’s a veritable utopia, and the reason for this wonderful lifestyle is that the Finnish government takes 70% off of everyone’s salary in tax.** It’s a hefty tax, but the results are arguably worth it. The Finnish might sacrifice their income, but in return they get unmatched quality of life.

Now imagine a country where my quality of life was directly dependent on the amount of taxes I decided to pay. If I kept all of my money to myself, then I would receive no free healthcare, no free education, shoddy infrastructure, and unfrozen criminals. If I paid 10% of my money in tax, then I would receive 10% off healthcare, 10% off education, and so forth. It’s perhaps not a plausible form of government, but I believe that sleep works that way.

Demolitian Man
To be honest, I often get confused between Finland and Demolition Man (1993)

The way I see it, sleep is the tax that Life takes from us in order for us to experience a fully engaged lucid state. For every 24 hours that we are paid, Life takes approximately eight of those hours as tax, and spends it on the infrastructure that makes for a fully functioning existence. When I pay my eight hours of sleep tax, it means that my senses function at their optimum level, it means I get high levels of energy, and it means that I am adept at learning new things and memorising new information. It enhances my enjoyment of food and music, and my sleep tax goes towards making me more quick-witted. It encourages my hair and nails to grow healthier, it encourages wounds to heal, and it helps my body fight illness. So all in all, the sleep tax I pay has noble ends. But sometimes I don’t want to pay my taxes. Sure, being able to remember things is cool, but I also want to see how many episodes of Game of Thrones I can watch in a day, or spend more time talking to my friends back home. It frustrates me that the sleep tax puts such a limit on my life. It’s like having free health care, but knowing I’ll never be able to afford a holiday to Europe. Sure, that seems greedy, but I can’t bare being restricted. That’s why I’m engaging in a protest against sleep tax. I’m pushing the boundaries of fatigue so that I can enjoy life on my own terms. Understandably, my memory might get shot to heck, and I might start appearing slow-witted to my peers, but there’s so much more I want to do with my time. I’m so behind on the books I want to read. I would also like to do more exercise, and socialise more. Sixteen hours of wakefulness per day isn’t enough time to do all the things that I want to do, so I’m going to embezzle sleep for a while, and see where that gets me.

I don’t imagine it’ll last long. The overall benefits of paying my sleep tax far outweigh the costs. Besides, the human race is far too needy and high maintenance to get by without the comfort of sleep.

Sleeping Dog
On the other hand, some people make sleep look so good.

*I know nothing about Finland.

**I’ve literally just made that up.

Culture Between Culture

“What is South Africa like?”

This is a question I get asked often. The most recent occurrence was when I made the acquaintance of an economist from Spain a few weeks ago. He had recently become my student, and he was interested to know more about me and my origins.

Upon hearing the question I leaned back in my chair and looked wistfully at the wall, which was sadly lacking a window, and pretended to conjure up happy childhood memories. Ideally I would have lit up a cigarette just then, but I don’t smoke and we were in a sealed, windowless room. After a pause I took a breath in preparation for the speech I always give on such occasions.

Smoking
South Africa? Yeah, I could tell you stories about South Africa.

“South Africa is beautiful,” I said, oozing smugness. “If you get the opportunity you should absolutely go there.” For lack of a cigarette I tented my fingertips in front of my lips and continued. “South Africa has everything. Everything. My home country has some of the best beaches in the world. We have deserts, and forests, and farmland, and some mountains. We have cage diving, and horse racing, and safaris. We’ve got trekking, and cycling, and one of the biggest running cultures on earth.”

I paused, as scripted, and turned to lock eyes with my student. “Does it rain, in Spain?” I asked, pointing an accusing finger.

“Yes,” said he, almost cowering, “but mainly on the-”

“I’d wager you’ve never felt anything like a Highveld storm,” I interjected. “Those summer torments will roll through your core. The thunder cracks will shake you to your very bones!” If I had a mustache I would have twirled it.

“And what is the capital of South Africa?” asked my eager student.

“A fine question,” I replied, going off script. “See, unlike your country, South Africa has, in fact, three capitals.”

My student leaned forward, intrigued. “Three capitals…” he whispered.

“Yes. Pretoria, Cape Town, and… and a third one!”

“But why would a country need three? What is the purpose?”

I shook my head in mock pity, but it was mostly to buy time to think. “My dear fellow, each capital serves a very special purpose. You see you have Pretoria, which is the capital of… law, and then you have Cape Town, which is the… the political capital. And then you have the third one, which is the capital of… diamonds! We have diamonds, you know.”

I had hoped that the mention of diamonds would continue to mesmerize, but I suspected the spell was breaking.

“What is the population of South Africa?” queried the man.

“Millions,” I said. “Absolutely millions. Did you hear what I said about the storms, though?”

“And the GDP. What is the GDP of your country?”

“Oh, you know, the… usual.” I was losing ground fast. “But perhaps we could talk about South Africa another day. Right now I want to talk about gerunds and-”

“Sorry, one last question-”

“Darn!”

“-but what percentage of the country is made up of white South Africans?”

“Yes I’d love to answer but I think we’re out of time. The first class is only eight minutes, after all…”

Leo Angry
What’s with all the questions anyway?!

The truth is, Dear Reader, that there’s an awful lot I don’t know about my own country. I haven’t properly lived there for some time, and now it feels as if South Africa is in red shift, moving further and further away from me into the void of memory. I am more in touch with the news in Chile and the United States than I am with what’s going on in South Africa, and when it comes to geography, you can just forget about it. At times, I will meet another South African, and inevitably I will ask them where they’re from. If they say something like Ellisras I will draw an immediate blank and change the subject. I know nothing about South African geography.

On the other hand, if I meet someone from the United States I will inevitably ask them where they’re from and if they say something like Missouri I will say “Oh that’s the ‘Show me’ state, right?” I know more about North America than I do my own country.

General knowledge aside, there’s also my general outward behaviour. More recently I have noticed a certain inter-nationality in my personality. My accent has certainly changed. I say “Yeah” a lot, and I notice that I say words like “job” and “hot dog” with an American accent. I forget how South Africans spell things like tyre, cosy, and specialise (although as I write this, these words are underlined in red, so I’m pretty sure I’m on the right track). These days, when I say “braai” I am conscious that it is an affectation, because my first impulse is to say “barbecue” or “asado.” When I accidentally bump into someone, my first reflex is to say “Ay perdón!” I’m trying to hold onto “Shame,” though, mostly because no other word quite fills that gap. But I am aware of when I do say it, because non-native English speakers might become self-conscious if they think I’m literally shaming them.

So I fear that I may be slowly oozing out of the mould of a South African, and I might not be able to slot right back into place when I return. But if I’m changing away from South African, then what am I becoming?

Snow
Here’s me in snow. That’s not very South African at all.

I’m certainly not Chilean. Gosh no. I battle enough with just the language, let alone the popular culture and the politics. I am friends with expats who have lived here for years, and they still haven’t been able to craft a comfortable expat-shaped hole for themselves. Sure, they’ve got comfortable lives, but some of these friends have told me that they don’t quite feel as if they have been accepted by the culture. I have many friends from the United States, but I don’t believe the US is a place that I could call home. For one thing, my accent sticks out. They all think I’m British.

So I’m starting to think that I don’t fit in anywhere, and funnily enough, many of my friends feel the same way. Those of us who have chosen to live outside of their home countries tend to agree that going back home is not easy, and neither is forging a new life in their new environment. But where we do fit in perfectly is among each other. I tend to get along well with other expats. The jokes are similar, as are our perspectives. I also have a pretty good idea of our collective population and per capita income.

Culture can be a difficult thing to pin down. Not everyone can be classified according to their country of origin. Look closely at any society and you will find running through it a shadow culture. A culture that flows between the rocks of nationality and race. A group of people who find familiarity within each other, but who have trouble defining who they are. I don’t have a name for it, but I guess this is the group that I’m a part of. So I’ll never stop telling people that I’m a South African, but at least for the time being I’m happy being a part of the culture between cultures.

Corner Shop
Life in another language.

 

Breaking the Bond

I’ve always admired James Bond. He’s everything I aspire to be: Smart, athletic, Sean Connery, witty. Sure, the face of James Bond has changed over the years, but there are some traits that have persisted in every iteration of the man, and which have come to embody the heart of manliness: Never show weakness, get the girl, be the alpha male.

James Bond is the ideal man, the man’s man, and in my quest to be like him I have fallen far, far short. I have failed to capture the spirit of masculinity that the man’s man encapsulates, and I think the reason for that is because I’ve started to realise that being James Bond isn’t very fun at all. In fact, unless you really are doing Her Majesty a secret service, I think we could do with far fewer James Bonds in the world. It strikes me that being a man’s man must be quite restrictive. It is my recommendation, then, that men should have a go at stepping out of their masculinity, at slackening their grip on the idea of what it means to be a “real man.” And here I make my case in a list entitled:

Six Reasons to Step Out of Your Masculinity

1.) It’ll make you more creative

A man’s man has always got to be thinking on his feet, but he can’t allow his thoughts to wander into the realm of whimsy. When a man’s man encounters a problem, he thinks about how a real man will overcome it. He shies away from ideas that could challenge his manhood.

But allow the masculine mind to journey into non-masculine territory, and suddenly the mental walls begin to soften. Previously-uncomfortable thoughts are given the freedom to clash and merge and produce brand new and interesting ideas.

Picture the scene: The man’s man is running late to a dinner party, yet his tuxedo is covered in blood, and he lost his backup blazer when he unexpectedly had to jump from an aircraft to avoid certain death. What can he do?

Well, the man’s man would surely sneak up on another dinner guest on the way to the party, pacify him with the butt of a revolver (or a well-timed judo chop to the trapezius), and steal his clothes. While this is effective, it’s unnecessarily aggressive for a dinner engagement.

But a man who is comfortable enough to relax his masculinity might fashion a toga out of a table cloth instead, arrive on time with a grin on his face, and regale the other dinner guests with the hilarious tale of how your tuxedo got ruined while you were unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to make beetroot salad. Oh dear. How embarrassing. You’re not the deft gent everyone thought you were, but now you’re the life of the party and everyone likes you, and no one gets their vertebrae damaged.

Indiana Jones
“Did you… did you just take a swing at me? Also, why is there blood on your clothes?”

 

2.) It makes you more empathetic

James Bond is famous for always following the A, B, Cs: Always Be Cmanly. A man’s man always needs to dominate the room. He is the alpha, and he cannot afford to slip up lest he loses his social standing. One misstep, one wrong word, and his peers will judge him poorly. His mind is always at work, and with any social interaction he must be aware of his manliness at all times. But as soon as the effort of Always Being Cmanly is relaxed, the preoccupation with oneself is no longer of tantamount importance, and a man can start to mould himself into his surroundings.

Picture the scene: The man’s man is attending a dinner party to gain intelligence on a wealthy Middle Eastern oil baron. He has brought along a woman to act as his cover. Not only is she a highly trained assassin, but she is also a former supermodel. Normally she laughs at our man’s quips, but tonight something is off. She’s not talkative, and she seems moody. When she doesn’t touch her pâté de fois grois, man’s man asks her what her problem is. She mumbles something about stomach cramps. The man’s man knows what to do, and he springs into action. Unnoticed by the oil baron, our man of action leans over and whispers into her ear: “Just man up, okay?” The assassin-model clenches her jaw and flawlessly completes her part of the mission. The plans for the nuclear bomb are obtained, and a few anonymous guards have had their lives silently cut short. After completion of the mission, the assassin-model is oddly cold towards the man’s man, despite his helpful advice.

However, a man who is less concerned with his own social position, and more interested in the lives of others, might have taken a different course of action. He might have approached the oil baron’s wife and surreptitiously beseeched her for some chocolate and a copy of her favourite magazine. The wife would quickly cotton on and lead the assassin-model into her private room for better care, which is exactly where the plans to the nuclear bomb are kept. The mission is a success, the assassin-model has made a friend for life in the oil baron’s wife, and no one lost their lives. All thanks to empathy.

Shaving Legs
Shaving your legs helps you understand other people who shave their legs.

4.) It makes you a better conversationalist

Mr Bond is a master of persuasion. He can keep any villain talking while he manages to pick the lock on his handcuffs and swiftly incapacitate the guard holding a gun to his head. It’s pretty impressive stuff. Yet in the real world, a real man’s ability to talk about imminent death has only limited usefulness.

Picture the scene: The alpha male attends a barbecue with his new girlfriend. The girlfriend’s kid brother goes over to talk to him. The brother is in art school, and he’s talking about a musical called Hamilton which he wants to see. While the kid’s words wash over the man of action, he is scanning the area for potential threats. When he notices a lull in the conversation, he looks the kid dead in the eye and tells him about the gun that he’s got strapped to his leg. The girlfriend’s family kindly ask the man’s man to leave.

But had the man’s man been less shy about engaging in new and unusual experiences, he might have spoken at length about the musical, as well as it’s socio-political significance in contemporary society, or about musicals in general. The conversation continues, and suddenly he’s bought tickets for himself and the kid brother, and then before he knows it the girlfriend is asking him if he wants to spend Christmas with her.

Departed
“Excuse me sir, they’re singing about the founding of America. Could you please stop yelling ‘I’ll never fall for your tricks’?”

 

5.) You cry, and it feels wonderful

Real men don’t cry. They only seek vengeance. A real man feels only two emotions – anger and justice. When a man’s man becomes overwhelmed, he crushes bad guys and pounds his emotions down, down, down into a dark place inside himself where emotions go to die. And if that doesn’t work, he turns to expensive scotch and disposable women. It’s a dark spiral of self-destruction which might add an element of drama to an action film, but it does not do any favours to the man’s man in everyday life.

Here is a true secret about myself: My favourite thing to do on a Sunday is to curl up on the couch and watch movies with emotional triggers, and then cry. It’s terrifically cathartic. I become weepy at the drop of a hat. Even a well-made commercial can set me off, or a 40-second dog video. But by the time I slide into bed at night I feel fantastically refreshed and I sleep like a baby. I don’t claim to be particularly adept at talking about my feelings, but it’s something I’m working on. And allowing myself to cry on occasion is a big help when it comes to introspection.

127 Hours
This scene, at the end of 127 Hours, absolutely finished me.

 

6.) Your confidence skyrockets

You will hardly find a more confident man in popular culture than in James Bond himself. The man is so self-assured. He always knows what to say, who to talk to, and where to go. He never simply throws up his hands and says “I just don’t know.” It’s one of the many characteristics that makes Bond so attractive.

But it occurs to me that James Bond hardly ever finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Even when he’s at the mercy of his nemesis, on the brink of being dropped into a shark tank, he is still firmly within the realm of espionage and intrigue. This is a language that Bond speaks fluently.

But picture the scene: Bond is off duty, and has developed a budding romance with a school teacher. Not his usual type, but she’s attractive and he wants to see where this will go. One day, Bond tracks her down at the school where she works. It’s an elementary school with crayon drawings on the noticeboards. Bond steps into the classroom and greets the small patch of 6-year-olds who are all seated quietly on the floor while the teacher-girlfriend reads them a story. Bond leans down and whispers something profoundly smooth into the teacher’s ear. Something like, “I got us a reservation at El Bistro Sophistique at six o’ clock.”

The teacher flushes, and swoons, and needs to leave the room to splash some water onto her face, leaving Bond alone with the small patch of 6-year-olds. As soon as she’s gone, one child steps up and violently blows his nose directly into the fabric of Bond’s very expensive tuxedo jacket. I don’t know why he’s wearing a tuxedo jacket to an elementary school, but now he is totally flummoxed. He can’t very well strike a child. And besides, the damage is done. More children begin to fling paint onto him, and Bond finds himself completely out of his element. He’s angry but doesn’t know how to handle his emotions because he taught himself never to cry. He wants to break things but he doesn’t want to look weak in front of his new girlfriend. He wants to impress her with the way he handles children, but he doesn’t know how, and his life has suddenly become a shambles.

I’m not saying that stepping out of your masculinity will give you an instinct for handling absurdly naughty children, but it will definitely make you feel comfortable in every new environment. When you stop trying to conform to the idea of a real man’s man, you become open to experiences outside of your comfort zone, and you learn to handle them with grace. Having the courage to look vulnerable is admirable, and, (to me at least), it can be seen as a form of confidence.

Purple Dress
Also, you get the best stories when you drop your agenda.

 

The benefits of moving away from conventional ideas of masculinity are numerous. This list is hardly comprehensive, but it is highly subjective. To me, the idea of conforming to society’s expectations of manliness is claustrophobic. It’s like squeezing myself into a coffin. But when I act outside of these expectations I feel marvelously free. Also, people tend to like me, so I think I’m heading in the right direction.

I think that jealously clinging to conventional ideas of masculinity carries with it a certain level of fear. The fear of stepping outside the oppressive coffin of masculinity is dangerous, and not just to the manly men within it. June is LGBT Pride month, which means that celebrations and marches are happening all over the world. In a lot of progressive countries, these events are celebrations of pride and diversity. But, sadly, in most other countries, these are marches for basic human rights. Now, I don’t belong to the LGBT community, so I’ve got no place speaking on their behalf, but I do think it’s important to at least extend a hand across the divide. If one side stops being scared, then the other side won’t need to be.

James Bond Drag
It’s important to remember that James Bond is played by an actor who went to drama school, and who makes a living by dressing up and being silly.