Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To BE or to DO?

Recently I’ve been corresponding with an old friend I haven’t seen in years – well, more accurately she’s one of my brother’s ex-girlfriends from about 20 years ago. In one email she sent last week she described me using three words which at the time I struggled to see in me – driven, focused and motivated.

At first I couldn’t understand what on earth she was talking about. For the most part I felt like a kind of nomadic hippy without a clue or direction – or is that how I think others have perceived me? I’ve moved between six countries on three continents over the past 40 months or so and haven’t stuck with a job for longer than 5 months during that time. At the moment I’m still not sure I want to do with myself, so how on earth can anyone seemingly that smart see anything that resembles focus, drive and determination in me?

I realised that perhaps this was true, but that I had started to look at things a bit differently. I’d started saying: to BE or to DO, that is the question. My determination has become less focused on what I do as opposed to who I am – that said, it doesn’t necessarily help me to be understood or liked. But that’s not my motivation, in any case.

While it’s obviously impossible to simply BE without ever DOing anything I’ve been thinking about the cause and effect of these matters. Do I do in order to find out who I am or does what I do come out of who I am? I remember one of the first times I had to wrestle with this sort of question back in 1997. I was a 17-year old kid who had been doing gymnastics for 11 years – during which time I had competed regionally, nationally and internationally. When I realised that my gymnastic career was coming to an end I wrestled with questions regarding who I was if I wasn’t a gymnast anymore. Did what I did really tell me who I was or was I trying to extract some kind of identity out of an activity and the associated accolades? The way I see it, the fact that I was struggling to figure out who I was without the gymnastics suggests that I had put the cart before the horse.

I’m still figuring out how the do-vs.-be questions play out in life but I’m determined to BE who I am and to DO whatever comes out of that as opposed to allowing other factors to tell me who I am and/or what I should do. But that’s something to explore another time…

PS: Ms B, let the conversations continue…

Friday, October 9, 2009

This too is Cape Town...

Over the past few weeks I’ve been using public transport to get around. In some ways it’s strange because for most of my life I’ve constantly had some kind of access to private transport. That said though I’d gotten used to using whatever transport was available during my time away from Cape Town

Although waiting for our not-so-rapid public transport is one of my least favourite activities (about on par with listening to Kurt Darren’s music) I actually enjoy watching the world go buy while sitting on a train or a bus. I also find that I’m reminded of things that I have long forgotten about this town or things that I have not thought about in a while.

I was on a train from Lansdowne to Cape Town station just yesterday and noticed a diverse array of people passing through that carriage. A young couple got onto the train and one of them was carrying a glossy red box. It was the kind from a specialty baker with some mouth-watering cakes or donuts or something. They looked as though they wanted to wait until they got to their destination before the tucked in but it looked too good. She decided to try some of the fresh cream and invited him to try it. Soon she was picking pieces off the edge of one of the pastries. By the time we’d passed Maitland station any self-control that may have been present had fallen out the train onto one of the platforms we’d just left. She had one of the cream-filled (although not as full as it had been) chocolate ├ęclairs in her hands and she was inviting him to dig in.

In the far corner of the carriage a guy sat looking at his cell-phone and occasionally looking around him. He seemed pretty relaxed and his body language while sitting there, as well as when he eventually got off the train suggested that he didn’t have anywhere urgent to get to. But it was the presumably high school learners who caught my attention.

I say ‘presumably’ because they appeared to be the right age for high school, had backpacks and under the multi-coloured layers of clothes there appeared to be the white collar of what could have been a school shirt. The rest of their (lack of) uniform gave no suggestion as to what school they may have attended. There were the pyjama-looking red-checked pants, combined with moccasins and a hoodie. Otherwise you could go with the white hoodie, navy blue tracksuit pants and (probably knock-off) Timberland boots. Alternatively, how about grey school pants, red t-shirt, no shirt and broken white flip-flops. I wasn’t really able to process any thoughts as I sat on that train but I was scared to wonder what ‘home’ could be like for them or what their outlook on life could be when something as easily taken for granted as a school uniform (or something that resembled one) was out of reach.

We have Table Mountain, great wines and Robben Island. But when thinking about what I saw on that train we need to remember that this too is Cape Town.

Friday, October 2, 2009

FROM it but not really IN it…

I spent part of the morning of my 30th birthday on top of Table Mountain – it’s a little know fact that on your birthday South African citizens can enjoy a trip on the cable car FREE OF CHARGE.

I hadn’t been on top of Table Mountain in a long time and I was really enjoying the few from the top. As I looked down at the City Bowl it had a sense of familiarity yet strangeness at the same time. I knew many of the streets, I could see the area where I’d spent the early years of my childhood, I could see some of the familiar tourist spots, yet at the same time I had this sense that it didn’t feel like home. Back in December 2007, while I was living in Cusco, I wrote a blog about the idea of ‘home’ (http://maverickonthemove.blogspot.com/2007/12/home-is-where-well-where-is-it.html). At the time I was wrestling with home is where the heart is versus it being wherever I lay my hat. I guess I’ve come to realise that my heart isn’t in Cape Town the way it was about 5 years ago. But like Cusco back then, Cape Town is where I “lay my hat“ at the moment so this is home. I don’t expect to feel completely settedl or at ease in Cape Town any time soon, but I figure it’s more likely I’m going to learn to deal with feeling like a bit of a detached outsider in my home town.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though. Cape Town, for those who don’t know it, is a great place to be even if it’s not “home”.