Skeleton Beach Backpackers
The sun bobs below the horizon like a sinking coin. The three of us, on the terrace, strangers forcing ourselves to find some common ground before we share a 4-bed-dorm together; before we spit airline issue toothpaste into the same sink and mark our territory with backpack crumpled clothes.
“Let’s play a game”
They wait for me to elaborate.
“Let’s play: How old am I?”
I ask, knowing the answers before they are spoken; yet in the reflection of my beer glass I see the echo of an elderly woman.
Kolmanskop, Namib Desert.
In 1908 a man found a diamond here.
And then there was a town.
But one day, there were no more diamonds.
So, eventually, there was no more town.
Diamonds, town and diamonds, dust.
That’s how it goes in this world.
Something, everything, nothing, bust.
There is not much left to see, unless you know where to look. To the untrained eye, this place is just an over-sized sandbox that belongs to a kid who left his toys out too long in bad weather. Hills of sand inching their way through door jams like impatient tenants, paint curling into fronds of surrender, the roof tiles have given up completely – falling to their death, awaiting burial.
I should have a permit to be here, but I like the feeling of minor league rebelling. Like the kid that sneaks into the back row of the movie theatre without a ticket. No one is getting hurt, it’s just the high jinx of “youth”.
Why should I need a permit anyway?
I have blood. Blood lines, not dotted lines.
My Grandpa, Grandpa Jacks, was a miner by trade. He dragged my grandma, Maribella, here all the way here from Bloemfontein, a city of roses in the heart of an adolescent South Africa. But they came to the party too late to walk away any richer than they arrived. Granny hated it. She grew up working a vineyard. In Kolmanskop there were no trees or shrubs, green was a forgotten color. And the only roses now were the ones on the rim of her chipped Royal Dolton tea set.
Jacks thought Maribella was in danger of becoming ill of mind without anything living around her, so he got her a dog, a Terrier Mix named Dolly, sadly the dog didn’t want to live there either and hitched a ride on the coal train back to Lüderitz a week later.
However it wasn’t until she told him about the fountain that he thought her really off her rocker.
Two kilometers north-west of Kolmanskop.
If you had asked Jacks back then, there was no blooming fountain.
What would a fountain be doing in the middle of a desert?
One of the oldest and driest deserts in the world no less.
Desert madness. It had to be what the miners sometimes talked about under hushed breaths and hunched shoulders. Maribella had taken to wandering and not short distances either. She said she was wandering to pass the time and the more time she had to pass, the further she walked. Until she found the fountain.
But Jacks remained disbelieving, her mind was a suitcase. She must have unpacked this relic from a memory to serve as comfort amongst foreign landscapes. “A fountain with no water supply is like trying to cook over a fire with no flame. Even thinking one out here mad –”
Maribella said the fountain didn’t need water, what flowed from its six heads were scarlet beetles. Ripe and rotund, waiting to be trod, like grapes into liquor.
She gestured to her stained feet one day.
“They are bathed in blood.”
“They are burnt from the sand Mari.”
Jacks ordered her to take him to this fountain hoping to expose her madness and shock her back to reality. Maribella took him. And as he suspected, he saw nothing.
But she did, and so did my mother and so do I.
The catch? If a man can’t see, no one will believe it.
She saw the way he frowned at her. Worry, guilt and self-pity in that crease above his eyes.
Worry, that the woman he loved might be gone.
Guilt, that the choices he made had chased her away.
Self-pity, that he may not be able to raise children with this woman now, not as she was.
She put a hand on his arm, realizing his limitations.
“You look at me that way now. But in the years to come you will see.”
“Me as I am now, always. Like a diamond Jack.”
And so, he couldn’t see the fountain but he did see her as she was, always. Many years after they returned to Bloemfontein and many years after that, as her face stayed the same though his sagged and wrinkled, and succumbed to the god of gravity.
He had to concede as he ran his fingers across her cheek. “My diamond.”
Though she was not to outlive him, despite her appearance. The generation of she and my mother you see, they only dipped their toes in another world, two feet to be exact. Its power was only surface deep, as mine has been so far…
Though standing in the fountain now, for the second time in my life, and treading the scarlet beetles to a paste, I wonder what will happen if I don’t merely bathe but drink this time?
Fountain image from: http://olddesignshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/OldDesignShop_Fountain.jpg
Diamond Mine image from: http://www.miningartifacts.org/Bulfontein_Diamond_Mine_-_South_Africa.jpg
Kolmanskopp image from: http://www.lovethesepics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Kolmanskop.jpg
Terrier Mix image from: http://www.trahernbt.com/images/oldepictwo.jpg
Writer's Group Exercise 31/03/2014
We begin with the basic twitch:
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Index , index, ring, ring.
The left hand of Demi Sargis has been performing the foxtrot ever since it was run over by a red Ford Festiva back in the summer of ‘08. She remembers perching on a PVC covered gurney, doctor pointing out the obvious, variations on darkness and shadow, bones splintered and frayed like wet matchsticks.
Her, thinking, “those aren’t marriageable fingers”.
Thinking, “no man going to wanna put a Harry Winston on that”.
Thinking, “that’s another goddamn flaw Imma have to learn to disguise”.
Along with untannable legs.
Along with the absence of thigh gap.
Along with being 3 inches shorter than the shortest supermodel.
The ******* burden of being female.
The doctor says, “you should regain the majority of the dexterity you had prior to the accident, over time, with a good physiotherapist.”
“…You don’t play an instrument do you?”
The physiotherapist is a fundamentalist optimist.
“It’s not until you injure your body that you truly appreciate how it works. We are all miracles.”
“Yes. Absolutely. A miracle.”
“Don’t get Jesus on me. There is no miracle here, just metacarrot - metacootie - metacaramel damage – check the referral.”
“That’s what I said.”
Regis Square. 9pm. Bathed in a waterfall of KFC neon…
At the crossroads of the nightclub district.
Demi Sargis. Shiny, black patent three-inch pumps, now the same height as the shortest supermodel. Flanked by Sal (single) and Terri (attached, but open to negotiation). All eyes on the divining hand.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Index, index, ring, ring.
YOLO Bar or Club Isis. Left or right. Which finger ending the cycle of the twitch, sealing their night’s destination. Standing undefeated at a one-hundred percent hit rate. Follow the hand, find a man (see Fig.1):
Fig. 1 'Navigating Attraction within Mundane Scenarios to Avoid Missed Connections'
Yes. Just follow the hand, to find a man.
Tonight it’s Mission Sal.
Suppressing a smirk and raising an eyebrow towards YOLO, she concedes…
Turns out, some of us are miracles.
Manicure Image from:
Writer's group exercise 08/03/2014.
I am lying in an empty bathtub blanketed in the shadow of a man standing at the opposite end in top coat and tails. His pleated gabardine slacks not so much frayed but hacked at the knees, ragged, like he has wandered from the perimeter a bomb blast.
Bagdad Route Irish chic.
But a glance to his wild west handlebar, pomaded into precise fronds and the Kerouac quote just visible in the raised topography of his left foot tell me he’s too hipster to have attempted a tête-à-tête in the Persian sandbox.
His expression is both intense and unreadable; therefore, unsettling. And he is staring at me with such force, I feel myself instinctively flatten my spine against the rigid L-curve of the tub, in a bid to put an extra centimeter between us.
I feel the chill of steel enamel through the thin membrane of my dress. It travels like an up-flowing river to the top of my neck. I shiver, over-sized earrings chiming like timpani’s against copper faucets that bookend my head.
His body triggered into motion by the sound, he gracefully collapses to a low crouch, heels flat in the style of a Korean adjoshi. And I wonder if I was wrong about him.
Perhaps he is well travelled. Seen things. Things other than the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or the Quinoa section at Whole Foods.
He’s one of those people; those people that play with the fabric of your reality because they don’t obey the role you assigned them.
“Ready?” he asks.
I'm glad I'm me. I'm not going to lie, like everyone else, my life has it's own set of challenges, for one, I probably over-think and live in my head too much, but my life is always interesting and most of the time, pretty damn amusing.
On the note of my imagination (which doesn't appear to have much of a discernible filter), I've been generating ideas for activities that I can do with my elementary students for Summer Camp. For some reason started thinking about Jackson Pollock and the way he paints.
About two minutes later, trying to think of unusual ways to create paintings, my brain put together the concept of watercolours with waterpistols.
I road tested it today and this is what happened.
I call this one: "Postcards from Another Planet [my brain]"
I call that a success.
BRING ON SUMMER CAMP. Can't wait to see what the students come up with!
When I was little, birthdays used to be a thing.
SNAPSHOT EIGHT YEARS OLD:
- Dunedin, New Zealand.
- Invitations and RSVPs
- Pretty dress, patent shoes
- Hair tied back with a ribbon
- Infamous birthday cake (one year I had a swimming pool, the next a horse's head)
- Orange wedge jelly boats and fairy bread
- 10 other little girls running up and the down the hallway screeching and popping balloons.
- Pass-the-Parcel and Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey
SNAPSHOT FOURTEEN YEARS OLD:
- Dunedin, New Zealand.
- I'm too cool for birthdays and have decided it's something other people celebrate but not me.
- My friends throw me a surprise sleepover birthday party anyway.
SNAPSHOT 29 YEARS OLD:
- Gwangju, South Korea.
- I slipped over in my apartment and have bruises all down my left arm.
- Almost forgot my birthday.
- I buy a candle from Paris Baguette.
- A slice of cake from Starbucks.
- Light the candle, eat the cake, by myself, in my apartment.
- I watch five episodes of The Office (US) on my laptop (which sounds like a lawnmover because the fans are broken).
- Then write my favourite Great Gatsby quotes over all my dinner ware.
At some point during my life I lost the point of celebrating my birthday. My question became: Yes, it's my birthday - but why are we celebrating it? All I've done is complete another revolution around the sun, a feat which I'm definitely not alone in.
I am also extremely uncomfortable with days which have social expectation and celebration attached to them or me as the focus. Think Birthdays, Christmas, Graduations, Weddings, Valentines etc... there is an expectation they are supposed to be happy-happy-dance-around-the-maypole type gigs. I spend the entire day holding my breath waiting for the one thing to go wrong and break the illusion, because in my experience 99% of the time it always happens. In many ways it's easier to not participate in the illusion at all than have it fail and disappoint.
Back to birthdays: So I decided to downplay my birthday as much as possible and my rule became I'll only REALLY celebrate when something cool happens. 'Cool' usually meant I won a writing award or something like that. But when that happened I didn't celebrate properly then either because I thought, I'll celebrate next time - when I climb another rung up the ladder.
And now? I haven't written anything of note in a while. So if that was my rule for celebrating then my life has become one unbroken nothingness devoid of celebration.
Maybe I need my birthday celebrations back again just to break up the nothingness.
These days when my birthday rolls around I make a goal - something concrete I can achieve which doesn't rely on anyone else (otherwise the goal is potentially impossible).
In 2012 my goal was to be in a different country by the time I turned 29. GOAL: ACHIEVED. I am in South Korea and although from time to time it can be isolating and has the expected frustrations of living in a non-English speaking country, I genuinely like my life here.
But 2014... I think my goal might simply be to celebrate my birthday again. Properly. As much as that idea makes me feel uncomfortable, it's probably time to bite the bullet and get over myself.
When I first moved to Wellington in 2007 I lived in an area called Kelburn. It's an upmarket suburb where people have status dogs and buy houses they can't afford so they begrudgingly rent out spare rooms to post-grads and young professionals.
On my walking route to University each day, I passed a twenty foot tall concrete retaining wall on which someone had spray painted in green:
"You adore me. Run come save me."
I hope that message is still there.* I have no idea who wrote it, how long it has been there or who it was meant for. To some extent, who it was meant for is irrelevant because to all that noticed it, it became theirs.
It became mine.
I always wondered why Wellington City Council didn't make an effort to get rid of it. Technically it was graffiti and in a suburb like Kelburn, you'd expect it to be dealt with rather swiftly. But it was allowed to stay, and to the best of my knowledge it's still there.
It got me thinking about the effect words have when they're decontextulised in unexpected locations. "You adore me. Run come save me" became like a teaser from a story I wanted to know the end of - and the beginning - and the difficult second act - and what my role was in it.
As a writer myself, I recently began thinking about ways I could provoke thought in strangers via decontextulised messages. So I decided to start leaving messages (on paper is the rule - but any type of paper) in random places and it turns out travelling provides many opportunities to do this e.g.
I call them (in honour of my recent visit to Tokyo) Shinobi* Memos. Here are some examples:
1. Shinobi Memo on the plane. Write on the barf bag and bookmark it in the in-flight magazine or behind the tray table. I left the following paraphrase on a barf bag bookmarked in the in-flight magazine. It is from the film 'Before Sunrise':
"You know what this makes me think of? All those people you briefly intersect with, maybe make eye contact with and then pass by. Now it's like... no matter what happens, we have met."
2. Toilet Roll Gag - I did this at my hostel.
3. Napkin Memo - Don't be afraid to be silly. I left 'Don't cry for me Argentinaaaah!' at Shakey's Diner in Harajuku.
4. Bunk Bed Slats - I left this note in my bunkbed at a hostel in Tokyo.
Want to leave your own Shinobi Memo?
> Take a book from the book-swap shelf in a hostel and write a message in pencil in the margin
> Take a book in your local library and tuck in a piece of paper.
> Write on the next leaf of toilet paper in a public toilet.
> In hotels, leave a few words on their feedback pad (but don't give them "feedback")
> Take a serviette from the pile in a cafe, put down your thoughts then replace it, hidden in the middle.
> Write on the barf-bag in an aeroplane.
> If you're in a bunk-bed hostel, leave a message tucked into the slats.
Any other ideas? Comment on this blog.
And if you take a photo, show me!
Leave the message in a place where the cleaning staff are unlikely to find it.
Don't get caught. Don't let people see you leaving it. Anonymity is key.
Why do this?
'Why' anything. But I suppose:
Maybe because it might break the monotony of routine in someone's day.
Maybe because by fluke it might be the words someone needs to hear.
Maybe because it will be a good story to tell their friends and family.
Maybe because it might make them smile or laugh.
Maybe because it might make someone feel privy to a secret.
Maybe because it might make them feel special.
Maybe because it might make someone stop for a second.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not the first person to have slept in that hotel room or to have pulled sheets from that toilet roll dispenser.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not alone.
*If anyone has a photo of "You adore me. Run come save me." in Kelburn, Wellington, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll update this blog (with you as the photo credit).
*A ninja (忍者)/shinobi (忍び)
Update: We checked Google Maps streetview and the phrase 'You adore me. Run come save me.' , is no longer there. Sad. Thanks for the heads-up though Catherine!
The limits of the English language to adequately convey the inner workings of my mind.
In the previous post I talked about concepts which exist in other languages but are absent or untranslatable in English.
That exercise got me thinking about my day to day life and concepts and feelings (are feelings concepts?) which I don't think there is any word for in any language.
Though since I am not Babel I can probably only comment on English and the percentage of it that I know.
However, I thought I'd have a stab at making up these new words:
First image in blog sourced from here.
Below image is taken from this blog and displays McCandless final resting place in pursuit of ideology.
The limits of speaking one language. This blog post is - unwittingly to her - inspired by my younger sister, Lucy, who is currently learning German. Over the last few weeks, she has been sharing some words/concepts which don't exist in English or at least, not in exactly the same way.
e.g. Drachenfutter - Literal translation is 'dragon food' but it is a peacekeeping gift a husband must bring his wife after pissing her off.
e.g. Kummerspeck - Literal translation is 'grief bacon' but refers to excess weight gained by emotional over-eating.
For me, language is the doorway to culture and one of the ways this is best demonstrated is by the discovery of words which don't exist in other languages.
I stumbled across the following word about three years ago and immediately fell in love with it.
It is from the Yaghan language from Tierra del Fuego (Chile - near the Southern most tip of South America).
It's often described as the most succinct word in the history of language and one of the most difficult to translate.
It's meaning? As defined, by the sometimes academically dubious but extremely useful site, Wikipedia, mamihlapinatapai refers to "a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves."
If you have a fascination with words and language as I do, I'll leave you with a few other unusual words but that actually exist in English:
Entomophilous - Adaptation for pollination by insects.
Apodysophilia - A feverish desire to undress.
Boustrophedon - Alternating writing left to right, then right to left.
...for more visit here.
A brilliant infographic: Untranslatable Emotions in Other Languages other than English vs. Parrot's Emotion Classification.
Click the above link for the full view. Here is just a teaser:
First image in blog post modified from: http://www.adinnerguest.com/60-minutes/why-mamihlapinatapai-is-your-new-favorite-word/
Christmas and New Year
I've often toyed with the idea of deactivating my Facebook account but it took the New Year to roll around for me to actually do it.
I did wonder if the timing was coincidental, but on reflection, I doubt it. I think it was more influential than anything. A catalyst.
There is so much out pouring of mawkish sentiment at this time of year with most of it being amplified ten fold by the social networks that all I want to do is crawl into the rather large cavity under my sink and reappear mid-Jan.
You love your family. Congratulations. So do I. But why do most people only say it once a year? Is it because festive celebrations inevitably result in an annual epic domestic that takes another 12 months and a nip of brandy to recover from? If so, that leaves you with a damn slim window to get mawkish before all hell breaks loose.
But why profess on Facebook? Why not face to face? If it can't even be done through a cloud of alcoholic merriness, there is no hope for us. I don't have a problem if you're spouting well wishes to family and friends you can't physically be around. I do however take issue with this sort of fare:
'Just had the most amaze day with Darren and the fam. Ate way too much, best Christmas eva. Got totally spoilt. So lucky to have you in my life, love you guys loads xx.'
We're just a species that's evolved with the specific purpose of creating barriers to physical human interaction. Or that's evolved only to be comfortable dealing with emotion when you don't have to deal with the real time reaction. Are we DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL POVERTY? FAKEBOOK is it your fault? Fakebook will say no because like guns don't kill people, people kill people, Fakebook will say Fakebook doesn't kill physical human interaction, humans kill physical human interaction.
Yes, it's a dog eat dog world isn't it Fakebook? But here's a point, like guns Fakebook, you enable.
Anyway, long story short: I don't need to know you love your family, your family needs to know you love them.
And as an endnote to this entry I have discovered that there are actually sites out there blatantly feeding into this festive Facebook feeling frenzy. If you yourself can't even produce the mawkish sentiment to stick in your status update box, some freelance copywriting hack has saved you the exertion.
These are taken from FacebookStatus123.com:
"Merry Christmas! From my wall to yours..." (all the Marketing Execs would have used this one)
"The best gifts in life will never be found under a Christmas tree! Those gifts are friends, family, kids and the one you love!!" (Mawkish Sentiment Level - MSL = 9/10. Also, no editing here, it really did come with two exclamation marks).
Strangely enough, I actually quite like this one:
"Ha ha ha Christmas is coming and there’s nothing you can do about it..."
Overall and in sum, at this rate, there is no hope for us. But please, prove me wrong (I really want you to).