Sunday, January 05, 2014

2014 - Reflections and Prognostications

Who said "it was the best times, it was the worst of times?" That was my 2013. The year Nelson Mandela's life force finally gave out. A year in which sport suffered more than its fair share of bone rattling - from Lance ("I am flawed, deeply flawed")to the tragic and untimely death of Burry Stander and the still-unfolding drama surrounding Michael Schumacher's skiing accident and serious head injury. Margaret Thatcher died in April 2013, actor James Gandolfini and writers Tom Clancy and Elmore Leonard also passed.  Two huge court cases rocked the South African zeitgeist - the Oscar Pistorius killing of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day, and the infamous rape-murder bloodbath in Griequastad.  Both trials should come to final resolution in 2014.


One of my best friends, Alex qualified and took his family to the world half Ironman championships in Vegas. That was a big wake up call for me, because the 70.2 has been 'my' event, and while Alex is now in world class shape, I - clearly - am not. In fact this year I bulged to my heaviest tonnage ever - 94kg. That's 5kg beyond my ultimate threshold - 89kg - which I've set and maintained for many years.
One of the epiphanies I've had in 2013 is that one has to be vigilant about simply eating less due to the sheer amount of sitting still. Smaller portions. Eat when hungry. My 2013 has been dominated by sports injury which I believe are due to using minimalist footwear. I used to advocate barefoot running, but I don't think older, heavier, more sedentary runners stand to benefit from it.

Another epiphany is a lot more personal, and specific. I've been in a 3 year on again off again relationship and sometime in the middle to latter part of 2013 the off part started to dominate. How often do we wish against a surfeit of evidence? How often do we hear not what someone is saying but what we want to hear? So I found myself reluctantly booted out the door labelled 'Relationships' and back into the cold, wide, windy world of Singledom. It has its perks, no doubt about it. Change of scene. Change of pace. Some scary visits to one's self esteem and the disconnect (or not) of one's own attractiveness rating vs someone elses. In the area of relationships health is actually - in my opinion - a crucial indicator. I met a lovely young woman who early on told me she suffers from MS. A serious disease with no known cause, or cure. What I liked about her was an urgency she gave off, a love of life and a constant grasping of opportunities to live it. But often these seeming strengths and resilience mask some other more brittle armour. 
As a single 40-something one does eventually, inevitably find oneself asking the question:
 - are there any non divorced single people (not half my age) around any more?
 - who don't have children
 - aren't on drugs
 - or suffering from self-hate
 - or hanging on one anti-depressant at a time

The answer appears to be no. In fact I know of only one other male former class mate(and school friend) - a globehopper like me - who is similarly single. And he's just moved to Australia. Restart. Reshuffle. Re-lationship.


This is also the same year a friend of mine got engaged to her boyfriend of 5 years (I think), and once again, it's hard, as was the case with Alex, not to look at Valerie's decision and contrast it with my own. I'm probably further from being married at age 40 than I was at age 30, but who knows what could happen. I know a few people who see marriage as the be-all end all, and for some it is a good safety net, but it that net real? Or does the net soon (if not immediately) feel like a trap? I was happy just a few mere months ago to settle down into a longish term relationship with my boo, but for reasons unknown, the feeling wasn't mutual. A lucky escape for her perhaps because writers and artists don't make the easiest companions, or bedfellows. They need space and intimacy. They need to be given plenty of breaks, but also need regular reminding what the boundaries are.

One of the big boundaries shifting around the prospects of this planet - expanding and contracting in ever greater and more volatile convulsions - is the price of energy. Specifically the energy endowments we've inherited from a previous age, and are burning like there is no tomorrow. One commentator sees oil falling down to $80. I hate these prognostications because it suggests relief is just around the corner. It may be, but with even greater stricture waiting for us over the longer term. South Africa is learning the lesson slowly, but at least solar is being ramped up rapidly, and wind looks to be following suit. What is clear is our room to manouevre is decreasing by the day. Which means we must find ways to live simpler and better. With less. With less money, and less fuss. Here's more on the economical outlook for 2014.

Daydreaming or Day Doing

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (watched in early 2014, starring Ben Stiller) is a good reference point in this regard.

 I am a daydreamer par excellence, and daydreams are good if they inspire wonders (in others just as much as ourselves). They're no good to anyone when they simply inspire more daydreaming. Sometimes books and movies and TV and every other distraction is just that. A distraction from living. I sometimes wonder, are we sometimes given an entire lifetime to answer - or run away - from a single very simple question. Am I worth loving? Can I do this? Am I a good person? What can I get out of life? What can I give?

Or is it even simpler than that. Is all the fussing and flapping a roundabout way of getting around and about answering:
 - who am I?
 - who do you say that I am?
 - and are those the same?
 - do I want to be me, or want to be what I project to you, and how you project me

As in the movie, do we need someone to serenade us to get us out of the house and onto the helicopter, and into the storm courtesy of its drunk helicopter pilot. And when we jump into the sea and miss the boat, do we second guess that decision, or do we stick to it? When things go awry, can we stay true to courage of the convictions that got us out of our comfort zones?


Which brings me to freelancing, and writing my novel, in 2013. Freelancing was a rough ride in 2013 for me. On the plus side I was interviewed for OFM, a local radio station, brought out a classy calendar with the help of great designer, Rhona Davin. I got published in a handful of new magazines and newspaper whilst others folded.  I attended the Mobile Money Africa conference on behalf of an overseas tech mag and the Discovery Health Summit (in Rosebank and Sandton respectively) and met former world number 1 cyclist Tyler Hamilton.  An interesting feeling reading his book, and then asking him directly, intimate questions around the book.  He also acknowledged that I had picked up a few unusual insights that had slipped by the mainstream.

 I saw some early success in being appointed the SKA's official photographer, but it was also an early disaster, in that after delivering and being paid, I delivered again and then I wasn't paid, and I didn't handle that setback the folks at the helm (who seem as distracted and time-lazy as the most creative people) with an excess of aplomb. I tried to make up for this setback by doing something even more extraordinary, and almost succeeded. I was invited to present a paper at the Oxford and Cambridge Club (near Buckingham Palace in Central London) on the Economics of Climate Change. I duly got my visa and flew via the flashing needle that is the world's tallest building to London. My, how it has changed since I was last there 13 years ago. It has it's own brand new landmark, the Shard, which I stumbled upon at my first stop (at Tower Bridge).

 I also stumbled into a fugue of pneumonia and a fog of flu and sinus, which put paid to my presentation, and after a week in bed, I cancelled my trip to Scotland and Ireland. I'd even considered jumping across the channel to catch the Tour de France at Le Mont St Michel (an island I slept on with a backpacking friend as a twenty-something). And had I secured that visa would have trotted up the road to Leek, in Holland, to investigate family roots. Alas, the pneumonia ruled that I return immediately to the Dark Continent, to The Sticks. After being sickened and stung by the bright, wealthy, busy, bright walking and rumbling bigness and smallness of London, it was even more sickening realising I was back in a country my forebears had chosen over Europe. Why? Would they make that decision now?

But an extended adventure through Namibia, courtesy of Gondwana Collection, made it hard not to want to be here.  Some of the world's greatest open spaces are here.  For the taking.  For the living.

Home Front

Increasingly I am aware that the leaders of South Africa don't represent me, or my views. They don't represent my standards, or my morals. They don't represent anyone elses either. For simple reason. They exist to ingratiate themselves at our expense. It is profoundly sad when people live out their own cliches - rich kids = drug addicts, lawyers = sharks, politicians and presidents = liars and philanderers, celebrities = shallow sex addicts. Is your life a similar cliche? Are you simply going through the motion of your own clicheness? Am I? And how do I know that these leaders represent none but themselves? Because they're only in it for themselves. Our distaste for that, and disdain, is a reflection of our own greed, and selfishness. We begin to take care of ourselves, when we look to the well being of others. Mandela was a great - if not the greatest - in this regard. Does the real world have a reservoir of such resilient moral fibre, and if not, what then?

I have been working for some months on a novel - swords, ice, spaceships and Scotland. In it a leader emerges who is that strong person. It is that stronger person that lives in all of us, a Ulysses that rises like a phoenix out of our own brokenness. A tough survivor. A life force whose facets are hardened by pressure, until finally a diamond appears. Hence the emphasis on an elf-ish countenance, silver hair, and grey eyes. This book is my gift to the world, and myself. Is my whole life about just the writing of this one book? Ultimately? And if so, will I be able to deliver? Will I be able to give this gift? If I do, will it deliver?


On the cards for 2014...more caution with finances, less caution perhaps with the opposite sex, possibly a postgraduate diploma in chartered financial planning, and hopefully stronger ties with present friends and family, and some new ones too.

2014 may well see me return in June to London for the book fair, and an extended visit to flog a hopefully polished product to some publishers. At a time when publishing is awash in a digital shitstorm.

It will also see me depart further and further away from the 94kg heft to something lighter, and with more spring in its step. In other words, 2013 was an unintended departure from health and fitness and slimness.  2014 is going to be more about forcing the whole engine back onto the right tracks, and then keeping them there.  I believe I can, and I believe I'm already a few good steps on the way to that.

 As for love - what can one do but do what you love and perhaps, ultimately be what one loves. If fear has to be overcome, hope alone won't do it. Hope needs a target. My hope for you is that find that target in 2014 and hold onto to it. Love. Most of all, start off loving and honoring yourself. Each of us, even this planet, can seem just a fracture away from catastrophe. But a change of belief, a change of heart, is all it takes to live out the course of a life. A good life, a happy life. And somehow despite the evidence of fractures, it all spins on. The Earth and us. As long as we do, we win a free trip around the sun. Don't forget to look up, feel the sunshine and enjoy the simple business of living as simply as you can.

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