freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Generally I actually like getting older, I'm an improved version of the younger me in many ways, but I hate getting older when all my icons inexorably die. We've just lost Ursula le Guin. When I grow up even older and have improved even further to the point where I can overcome all the multitudes of blockages which are preventing me from actually writing fiction in any real, public sense, she's the writer I want to be. She is the archetypal proponent of "thought experiment" science fiction, her work upheld by a steel backbone of intellectual enquiry and rigorous world-building.

I can't overestimate the effect Left Hand of Darkness and Lathe of Heaven had on me in undergrad, the way they colonised my thinking and pried open my assumptions with crowbars. I also identify very strongly with the elements of restraint, dispassion, almost calm which characterise her writing, and which I hope on good days characterise mine; in a lot of ways the snowscapes of Left Hand exemplify the aspects of her work which feel cold until you realise the seething life and driving passions under the surface. And Earthsea, of course, is formative for the genre as much as for many of its readers. I owned the first three Earthsea novels as a child, I vaguely remember acquiring them, expensively and new, from a surprisingly enlightened Zimbabwean bookshop when I was a young teenager, in those skinny volumes with the slightly stylised art-deoish covers, and the man half changed into a hawk. I read them with a sort of fascinated inadequacy, realising how much was going on under the surface, returning again and again to them to try and work out what it was.

I cried when the Tumblr posts came over my feed. However natural and graceful an exit this was on a fully lived life, however much the work of her hands will endure, she is a great loss.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hobbit (?2006-2016)

The house I shared with the Evil Landlord was legendary for its feline hobo-sign, the secret inscription on the gate which proclaims 'HUMAN SOFT TOUCH HERE!" Both Ounce and Hobbit simply moved in, stubbornly deploying their determination to belong in defiance of our half-hearted attempts to chase them off . (It's still there, the cat-sign: the EL lost all three, Golux, Todal and Ounce, over the last year, another reason why 2016 sucked, but has acquired another two or three by similar processes of arrive-and-demand-the-wine-list). Hobbit first turned up in my blog posts in late 2009, a friendly, fluffy, ginger thing who flirted shamelessly with anyone within range. At the time I posted pics of him "helping" me with a dressmaking project:


He also played us rather nicely, in that he concealed with some skill certain aspects of his personality until we'd taken him into the household: he was very friendly to the other cats, who at that point comprised Todal, Golux and Ounce. (I'd lost Fish a couple of years earlier; as Jo(ty) commented, clearly the "fat fluffy bossy cat" niche in our house was empty). It's only later that he revealed himself as, in slightly indolent and good-natured terms, something of a bully. He never beat up any of our other cats seriously, and was cordially sat on by the neighbourhood's more Greebo-like fighters, but he threw his weight around enough to be undisputed Top Cat. Ounce, poor shadowy twitchy thing, became shadowier and more twitchy under Hobbit's dominion, and apparently relaxed enormously after I moved out. (Although that might have been about me, come to think of it. Ounce never forgave me for attempting to chase him off when he attempted to move in. I adopted Hobbit immediately and without resistance because I couldn't face another guilt trip if I was nasty to him. See Soft Touch, above.)

Ounce was the Evil Landlord's cat, Toad and Golux were co-owned by both of us, but Hobbit was mine. The Evil Landlord initially identified him as a hobbit, on the "giant furry feet, predilection for Second Breakfast" principle, but like most of my naming attempts, my initial plan was doomed. I'd mentally christened him Pippin, after Peregrine Took, as the personality fit seemed appropriate and it would have been satisfying to shout "Fool of a Took!" every time I fell over him in the kitchen. But nope. Apparently "Hobbit" it was, and the end consonants in the name can be satisfyingly spat, at least. It was also a name peculiarly suited to linguistic play, so he was Hobbiton, and Hobbitonium, and Hobyah Cat, and in moments of unusually high Tolkien geekery, Hobytla.

He was a Personality - ridiculously affectionate, playful, gregarious and more than slightly evil. He was also absurdly fluffy, with the classic "poofy pants" look to his rear elevation, and a rather magnificent neck ruff that became even more magnificent in winter. His slightly teddy-bear quality was exacerbated by the fact that he liked to be picked up and cuddled, and would lie on his back in my arms purring like a loon for as long as my arms held out. He was not a cat of enormous dignity, despite the natural gravitational advantages of his bulk. One of my favourite photos of him is of him perched on the bass speaker for my computer, overflowing gently:


He liked to be around you as much as possible - underfoot, if you were standing, or on your lap the instant you sat down. His two favourite tricks were (a) sitting just behind your ankles in the kitchen, the better to be stepped back upon, and (b) to reach his forepaws up your thighs, mostly but not invariably without claws, pat your leg and go "prrrrp!" in a demand for attention. It was outrageously cute. He was also prone to affectionate biting - occasionally grumpily, mostly playfully, never breaking the skin. He was a bit weird about sleeping on my bed - he'd climb on and snuggle next to me when I first got into bed, but would stay there only as long as I was sitting up reading or playing games on my phone. When I turned out the light and lay down to sleep, he'd leave within a couple of minutes. I'm not sure if that was about his complicated roof-prowling nightlife, or if I'm a restless sleeper and he didn't like being disturbed. Either way, it was an effective hard-to-get technique, I'd let him sleep pretty much wherever he wanted to as long as he stayed, and his bulk and tendency to sprawl meant I'd be pushed into odd, contorted corners.

When I moved out of the Evil Landlord's place, it was me and Hobbit, a girl and her cat. That partnership was very heavily implicated, I think, in the speed with which I settled into my own place: I was never alone. The two-of-us-against-the-world vibe intensified our interactions and connection, and threw his already strong personality into relief. He drove me madder than he did in a larger house with three other cats to diffuse the personality a bit, but it was also a stronger bond, which endured even when Pandora joined us. He was quite sweet to her, as well: never really beat her up, a lot of the hissing was on her side, and by the end they were touching noses and sleeping not-quite-together. If Hobbit was characterised by anything, it was absolute security in his centrality in the universe.

He was a bit of a shadow of himself when he came to the end of the cancer options: I don't think he was actively in pain, but he was thin, quiet, sad, a little bewildered, unwilling to be held for long even though he purred. I'd rather remember him at the height of his bumptious, affectionate, enormously fluffy powers. I miss him every day.

(Lovely header photo is by stv, it's going on the mantelpiece as soon as I find someone to print it, the campus photo-shop appears to have folded its tents in the night. Rest of photos by me, as you can tell by their complete lack of technical wossname.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Yesterday's Cape Times billboard read, I swear to FSM, COFFIN PAIR CHAIN ROW. While that's a vintage and irreproachable crash blossom of the high quality which is so broadly suggestive it appears to almost preclude actual meaning, it's also beautifully distracting, in that not even my highly-trained and fertile imagination could come up with any back story that seemed in the least likely. I drove around most of yesterday (which was a lot of driving, on account of work + mid-morning excursion to rescue the Jo from being locked out of her own house with a sprained ankle + home from work + vet trip) with my brain gently revolving scenarios in fascinated disbelief. (Googling it is unpleasant and I wish I hadn't, because it's a nasty story, although it also yields the equally vintage crash blossom VIRAL COFFIN HELL VIDEO DUO).

I also badly needed the distraction, because yesterday we lost the Hobbit struggle: the oral cortisone had stopped working, the stronger injected stuff gave him precisely two days of appetite, and then he stopped eating again. He's been increasingly slow, dazed and sad for the last couple of weeks, and it got to the horrible, inescapable point where the only thing I could still do for him was to make it stop. We put him down yesterday afternoon. My house is full of absence.

(My subject line quotes the Ink-Spots, from the Fallout 4 soundtrack, which is lovely vintage music chosen by a clearly demented genius to range very satisfyingly, given various current events, from maudlin romanticism to nuclear-apocalypse black humour.)

the c-word

Sunday, 9 October 2016 10:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Back in the days of the Osborne Rd digs with Dylan, Mich and Mykal, we had an ongoing joke about "the c-word". I actually can't remember what the C in c-word referred to, I suspect it may have been a post-break-up cynical rant about commitment-phobia from Mich, but I don't think its genesis was obscene. The point was that you could use it to refer to anything you didn't want to contemplate, regardless of whether or not it began with C. Love. The Masters thesis. The cat throwing up on the carpet. The washing up.

I've needed that word this week. Particularly since everything that has rendered this last week a c-word does, in fact, begin with C.

Campus. Is still closed, and will be tomorrow, and we are seeing the possibility of actually finishing the semester slipping inexorably from our grasp. The protesters won't budge, and our attempts to lecture last week were futile. I don't know where this is all going to go, but nowhere good. The destruction to the fabric of the university is already incalculable.

Car. Dead battery for two days running, necessitating waiting around for jump starts and things. It's on a maintenance plan, so I can't get it sorted at the battery place around the corner, I have to trek out to Paarden Eiland. Where it transpired that the battery is, in fact, dead, and out of warranty, so that was an expensive replacement noise.

Cat, and, in fact, cancer. Hobbit is currently in at the vet's, on a drip. He's been increasingly subdued and thin, and this week spent several days not moving from one spot on the living room carpet, eating little or nothing. On Wednesday the doctor found a lump in his kidney, which tests and things have revealed is almost certainly cancer of the kidney, which has spread into the liver and lymph nodes. We are waiting for one last round of test results tomorrow to narrow the kind of cancer it is, but basically the options are chemotherapy or euthanase, and I'm fucked if I'm putting him through chemo to scratch out a last few months of unpleasant life. He's been miserable enough this last week as it is. I am almost certainly going to have to put down my cat on Monday. The effect of this has been to muffle all the campus disasters, which I really should be worrying about, but am not, because I am devastated about Hobbit. I am not coping.

Fuck this week. I'd like to return it to sender with extreme prejudice. You can keep it.

taking it hard

Friday, 15 January 2016 02:27 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Fuck cancer. Really, fuck it, and fuck 2016 for so far being a horrible deadly beast. No-one reading this should need to be reminded of the levels of my love for David Bowie and all his works. Likewise Alan Rickman, whose voice and face and ironic distance I have loved across numerous roles. No-one seems to have known that either of them was fighting cancer, and in some ways I'm glad they had that privacy, but to their fans it feels as though they've been stolen away, without warning, stealthily and overnight. Both were artistic institutions quite apart from their significance to me personally. I'm a little surprised by quite how sad and angry I'm feeling.

I hate this about getting older. One's parents die, and one's idols die, and one's cats die. It sucks. Make it stop.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Over the last year I have discovered Growing Things From Seed. There's something oddly satisfying and semi-magical about willing a whole, solid, verifiable plant into existence from a tiny, apparently lifeless speck of plant matter. In this particular case it wasn't seed or even bulbs, but rhizomes, which are weird finger-like chunks you plant horizontally without knowing which end will grow. (Teh Internets assured me solemnly that the plant works out which way is up). My three rhizomes grew, as scheduled, flame lilies, which rejoice in the somewhat hyperbolic Latin name gloriosa superba. A flame lily is beautiful and slightly unlikely, and astonishingly flamelike. They're native to Southern Africa, and I cherish memories of them growing wild in the bush near various homes in Zimbabwe. The flowers are very vivid, and in the slight dusk of a wooded area seem to float. I also discover, on growing these particular ones, that they have this particularly elegant adaptation - they're semi-climbing, in that they grow straight up but don't quite stand alone, and the end of every long, narrow leaf has the ability to curl around a thin support and cling to it. I find this enchanting: so economical! none of this messing around with growing separate tendrils.

I wanted to grow flame lilies because I've always loved them and I associate them very strongly with my childhood, but they're also the national flower of Zimbabwe. Before that, they were the national flower of Rhodesia.

I have been a denizen of my pinko-liberal Commie Cherished Institution for nearly three decades now, absorbing postcolonialist rhetoric like an unenlightened sponge, and there is absolutely no way in hell I lament lost Rhodesia in any political sense. It was a deeply illegitimate regime, founded on white privilege, exploitative and dehumanising to its black people, and not nearly as up-front as South Africa about its basic apartheid divides. The fact that the black regime which took over is equally morally bankrupt and just as destructive doesn't mitigate this in the slightest, Two Wrongs maths being what it is.

But it was also my childhood home, and I had a child's essentially innocent experience of it. Flame lilies are an extremely emblematic shorthand not only for the things I loved about Zimbabwe - its landscapes and animals, the ordered and productive agricultural world I grew up in, my family's place in creating that order - but for a sort of naive and nebulous nationalism. I felt, driving down the jacaranda avenue in the capital or having tea in the city's big department store, a subliminal, undefined pride in the country's achievements in civilisation and functionality.

I think it's significant that I grew flame lilies this summer. I was rocked astonishingly hard last year by the Dylann Roof massacre - the American mass shooting where a disgusting little 20-something white boy went into a black church in Charleston and gunned down nine people with hollow-point bullets. Dylann Roof was a white supremacist trying to start a race war. He had a website called The Last Rhodesian, and his jacket displayed both the apartheid South African flag, and that of Rhodesia. I'm slightly more detached from South African apartheid: I arrived in this country shortly before apartheid ended, and in a weird sort of way it was not entirely my guilt to feel. Rhodesia, though - Rhodesia is. Growing flame lilies was, I realise, an unconscious attempt to try and recoup some of my childhood sense of pride, because seeing that Rhodesian flag on Dylann Roof's jacket was a gut-punch, an inexorable reminder that the country I loved was really an illusion, that my experience of it was a cushioned and privileged lie. Rhodesia is now a particularly vile symbol to the kind of bigoted dickhead whose existence I find basically offensive, and in fact it always was. The flame lily was never mine.

It's hard to reconcile. The Rhodesia to which Dylann Roof imagines he belongs doesn't exist, and it would be an ugly thing if it did. But by the same token, my version doesn't exist either. It never did. It was a child's construct, crafted in blindness and complacence. And in innocence, but I'm way too old for innocence. I can grow as many flame lilies as I want, but I can't make them mean what I want them to. What they mean is now infinitely complicated and filled with guilty regret. My subject line is Magnetic Fields, who say accusingly "If you think you can leave the past behind / If you think you can simply press rewind / You must be out of your mind". I'm not sure if they're talking to Dylann Roof, or me.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
no title

Golux (1998-2015)

I am saddened to report that yesterday the Evil Landlord had to take the unpleasant and necessary decision to euthanase Golux, as the cancerous growths on her nose were no longer responding to palliative treatment and were causing her distress. And while I haven't shared space with Golux for eighteen months, she was my kitty for fifteen years, and I am sad, and missing her with a new poignancy.

When I moved in with the Evil Landlord, late in 1998, I had only the one cat, Fish of lamented memory and Death Star legend. The dreaded Thakky was responsible for our acquisition, several months later, of two kittens from Animal Welfare; she took us out there to select them, and paid for all the paperwork, as a house-warming present. (Best. Housewarming. Present. Ever.) We inspected cage after cage of wriggling kittens in various shades and at various stages of development. I wanted, particularly, one male and one female for reasons of personality balance, and at least one black cat because I missed Pixie and Polonius, the two black cats I'd owned previously. We found a small black female of approximately the right age who was the sole black spot in a seething mass of silver tabby/white siblings, and the nice schoolkid volunteer who was assisting us solemnly held up all said siblings to inspect their nether regions, finally handing over one he swore was male. The black kitten became Todal, and the tabby/white "male" Golux. The vet later, and with some mockery, disabused us of the "male" assumption, so it's fortunate the name works as gender-neutral. But I swear the initial gender mis-assignment somehow shaped her character, or at least those parts of it that were hesitant, thoughtful and slightly confused.

Todal and Golux were named from James Thurber's Thirteen Clocks; the Todal is an agent of the devil sent to punish evil-doers for not doing as much evil as they should, which is everything you need to know about Todal the cat right there. (Favourite pastime: sitting on top of the bookshelf and knocking the row of yarn cones onto the floor deliberately, one by one). Tracy always maintained that we doomed her to that personality with the name, and we should have called her Cream-Puff if we wanted a less evil feline. By that logic we possibly also created Golux: the book-Golux is an odd, gentle, offbeat little character who's invisible at will, and whose essentially good nature is slightly hapless and bumbling.

Thurber's description says that "his eyes were wide and astonished, as if everything were happening for the first time", which expresses something of the sweetly naive element to Golux's character. I obviously chose the name because the kitten was fairly shy and retiring from the first, but either it was an inspired choice, or a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Or I over-anthropomorphise my cats. Jo suggested the other day that most people share space with slightly alien little cat-entities, where I have relationships with colourful feline personalities. It's a fair cop.) It makes me obscurely happy that if you do a Google image search for "thurber golux" you'll pull up a photo of Golux from this blog about two screens down.

Golux was a gentle soul, tending towards the solemnly thoughtful in her responses: she always had to think about things for a minute or so before she did them. She used to sit out in the back courtyard, watching the tendrils of water slowly creep across the paving stones from where I'd been watering the potplants. She could sit there for ten minutes at a time, her ears at an angle denoting extreme interest, but eventually all she'd do would be to put out a paw and touch the water, gently, in an experimental mode. She was, conversely, a talented sneak-thief, with an amazingly ability to climb onto the kitchen counter after food with such nonchalance that I wouldn't register the movement despite being a few metres away and looking in approximately the right direction.

She was a very pretty cat; she had the dramatic Gothy eye-makeup which comes with that silver tabby coat, and her white bits - paws, shirt front, one front leg, as though she'd stepped into a paint pot accidentally - were always immaculate. Her little pink nose was inordinately cute, but of course ended up killing her, given its incompatibility with African sunlight. I was particularly fond of the black tips to her ears, which gave her a sharply defined silhouette - I think my header photo was taken by Dylan, it's one of my favourites of her because the tips are so clearly pronounced, like a caracal's. She always sat very neatly, with her tail curled around her feet.

She was very much my cat, although technically the Evil Landlord and I co-owned her and Todal; she spent a lot of time sitting on my desk, and she slept on my bed every night, usually joining me just after I'd switched off the light. She'd come through the bathroom window, and I could always hear her approach because she talked to herself, a succession of gentle, conversational, slightly plaintive yowls all across the courtyard, in through the window, and across the room to my bed. We used to think of it as her existential angst - sometimes she'd wander around the back courtyard meeping gently to herself for no apparent reason other than requesting from the universe some revelation about the meaning of life. If you put her in a box to take her to the vet (which was always difficult, her command of body language was exquisite and she'd make a break for it the instant you even thought about boxing her) she'd commentate continuously all the way there in chesty, baritone, Siamese-sounding yowls. She always held a grudge longer than the other cats - days, often, before she'd forgive you for a vet trip or a de-fleaing. There were unfortunately a lot of vet trips, as we combated the cancerous spots as well as we could; we kept up the treatments over seven or eight years, giving her a lot of life she wouldn't have otherwise had, so I feel as though her final end was only after a hard fight in which we did everything we could.

I didn't take Golux with me when I moved out of the Evil Landlord's place: we knew she had limited time left, and I didn't want to put her through the stress of relocating her. I think it was the right choice, even though I missed her a lot. Eckie and Danielle gave her a safe and tranquil and loving place to end her days, and I'm enormously grateful to them for looking after her, and for making the difficult and necessary call to let her go. I hope that she enriched their lives as much as she did, in her quiet way, mine. The full quote from Thirteen Clocks in my subject line is the Golux speaking, and reads: "I can feel a thing I cannot touch and touch a thing I cannot feel. The first is sad and sorry, the second is your heart." She did that.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am the victim of my own efficiency and general student-centred empathetic wossnames. Today is the last day for applying for leave of absence. In a rush of all of the above, first thing this morning I sent a general email to the Humanities undergrad list to remind all our students of same, as a result of which I have had a continual stream of LoA applications through my office since about 15 minutes after the reminder went out. This has concentrated into one intense period a whole array of medical, psychological and personal ills which have cumulatively been saddening beyond belief. Apparently student levels of depression and anxiety are at an all-time high; I have also seen chronic headaches, seizures, cancer, and that poor lad whose teeth are so painful he can barely speak.

These kids are struggling so hard, and some of them are in such distress, I've spent most of the day consciously emanating a gentle, soothing and empathetic calm which does seem to be helping, but which is exhausting like whoa and dammit. It may also be hard-wiring itself as we speak. If you try to talk to me in the next few days about something perfectly benign and neutral and I pat you gently on the hand and say "I understand, you're doing exactly the right thing," you'll know why. Also, I propose to totter home early to a stiff gin, because I am slightly disintegrated and may actually burst into tears if someone looks at me squiffy-eyed.

My subject line is Hamlet, from memory, because Hamlet was my A-level set Shakespeare text, and it's burned into my backbrain. It's also my favourite Shakespeare, mostly because language, and charged Oedipal scenarios and what have you. The Barbican Cumberbatch stage version is on the cinema circuit here in November, incidentally, through Cinema Nouveau, and by all accounts it's a kick-butt production. I have my ticket already. Gloat.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The ALS ice-bucket challenge is making me feel really odd. However valid the fund-raising and consciousness-raising aspect of the whole thing, there's a bizarre disconnect between a celebrity meme and the thing that killed my dad.

I love BC's take on it, but I can't really laugh at it. Then again, I still can't really cry about my dad. Maybe the painful mix of message is appropriate, after all.

(My subject line is Swinburne's "Garden of Proserpine", still my favourite poem about death, and the one that most encapsulates the relief when my dad was finally able to escape. And I'm sorry to be so morbid.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am having Boss Troubles - I have a new one, and she's being hardcore and making me generally rather unhappy. I therefore console myself with wols bathing, which echoes to a curiously disturbing extent a dream I had last night about cleaning new houses and people suddenly finding themselves holding geese and peregrines and wols and things, by some sort of weird teleport process. The below wol also nicely echoes today, which is cool and rainy and somewhat consoling given the suddenly unpleasant spaces of my working life. On the upside, I'm on leave from tomorrow until Tuesday, so can drown my sorrows a bit.

Wols! Abluting! life isn't so bad.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am officially Over 11-hour days. You can keep them. I do not want them, they are skraaaatched. I wish to unsubscribe from their newsletter, which is a nasty and exhausting publication offering little inspiration. Other, that is, than grateful ex-confused first years, who are actually both cute and inspiring at times. All puppy-dog. Their ears droop when they're lost and bewildered, and then you solve all their problems with the laser power of your curriculum skill and fearsome missile array of institutional knowledge, and they bounce around with their tails wagging madly. (Thoroughly mixed metaphors brought to you courtesy of too many computer games, and Roxy).

I could also, may I add, have done without the 3-hour readmission appeals meeting this morning, on account of the awful things that happen to students, and the complete lack of tangible feedback even when we are able to find reasons to re-admit and thereby, presumably, make students happy. Apart from the usual (death of parents, poverty, depression, abortions), this morning we had five separate examples of students with unplanned pregnancies whose babies are now being looked after by parents or in-laws at the other end of the country while the student is studying. I don't know how people do that. I mean, I don't have children, I have only observer knowledge of that mother/child bond, but it must be hideously difficult to live apart from your baby like that. Some people have really sucky lives which make me realise mine isn't really that bad even with 11-hour days.

In the insane morass of registration, orientation and seething seas of student angst, I am grateful for the internet, which keeps me sane. (As do jo&stv, who feed me rosé and ice of an evening, and listen to me with commendable patience while I blither on whingesomely). Today's internet sanity moment is Canada's response to all the wretched stupid ugly Russian anti-gay stuff around the Olympics. I have been reading way too much slash recently for this little gem to allow me to do anything other than laugh until actual tears.

My subject line is still Magnetic Fields, who also keep me sane; said song is invoked both in honour of homoerotic Olympic ad campaigns and the probable cause of unplanned pregnancies, but of my new skirt, which is a pleasing shade of brilliant purple but which trial and error (i.e. wearing it to campus this morning) has revealed as being diaphanous to the point of unwonted revelation. I don't think you can quite see my underwear, but I quite definitely have legs. Who knew? Generally I prefer to keep the actual existence of my legs shrouded in a decent veil of mystery, but being as how there is absolutely no other option, I have simply worn the thing all day with a cheerful acceptance of its less professional aspects. It has caused me surprisingly small amounts of self-consciousness or angst. It's really a very cheerful shade of purple.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I don't know if it's possible to be South African and not be moved, in some way, by Mandela's death: I know I started crying when I saw the newspaper headlines on the way up to work. He's such a figure of integrity, a miraculously unblemished icon whose image has managed to survive the self-seeking venality of modern politics almost unscathed, a gentle, paternal guide to our flawed and struggling democracy. He embodies, in a sense, reconciliation: he's the hook we've hung it on. With the possible exception of AWB die-hards and their noxious and irrelevant ilk we all love Madiba, if only in the unrealistic and complex way we invest in him as a symbol entirely apart from his actual identity as a man and his inevitable errors as a politician. And his death is both loss, and a curious relief: he was very old, and very tired, and very helpless, struggling under the load of a disgusting family embroiled in disgusting squabbles as well as the weight of emotional and ideological investment of the nation and the world. I'm glad we finally let him go. He deserves a rest.

But there's a very specific way that Madiba's death impacts on me given that I'm not actually South African. His life has, after all, a whole new layer of meaning and implication if you're a Zimbabwean, because he becomes the emblem for a process of political change which has worked, for a given value of "work", in South Africa in a way it has no-where else in Africa. Modern politics is an ugly landscape anywhere in the world, riddled with self-serving, power-hungry viciousness harnessed largely in the service of a moneyed elite whose religion is the absolute validity of accumulation by depriving others. In Africa, with its horrible colonial legacy, that global tendency is exacerbated by a fabric of power warped and twisted by a history of racial division and inequality, adding further awful resonances to entitlement and redistribution. Zimbabwe is one of the most disastrous and unpleasant examples of the classic African regime change, a new black political class adopting wholesale the least defensible and human aspects of the Western political system - corruption, greed, callous disregard for the powerless, all masked or justified by ideological spouting. That unchecked political selfishness has destroyed the country, reducing the viable economy of an agriculturally rich and productive nation to rubble, through which an oppressive political regime still picks for scraps.

Losing Madiba feels as though we've lost both a possibility, and a perimeter. Zimbabwe is irredeemable, but as long as Mandela existed there was a sort of symbolic assurance that South Africa would not share its fate; that the greater good of the country was actually more important than the personal aggrandizement of politicians; that Zuma would not turn out to be Mugabe. Of course, Mandela has not literally been a moral choke-chain on South Africa's potentially ravening pack of political hounds, because the poor man retired from politics a decade ago and presumably had very little input on policy in recent years. But to someone already rendered paranoid by the destruction and loss of their country, the relative lack of disaster in the last couple of South African presidencies is only a precarious hope: global and African trends alike suggest that it could all go to hell in a handbasket as a moment's notice. Mandela's legacy has felt the stronger and more instrumental because of his actual existence; now, in his definitive absence it's as though a constraint has been removed, a moral centre has been lost. And I hope to hell that I'm simply caught up in the process by which we've constructed him as a figure of fatherly oversight, and that these are entirely irrational insecurities, but I'm not only sad: I'm (a bit, irrationally) afraid.

Subject line from Swinburne's "Garden of Proserpine", which is the piece of poetry which, quite apart from my love of its heavy, drowsy, sensual cadences, most embodies my consolatory sense of death as rest.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Several Things!

  1. I spent the weekend holed up in my study marking Honours and second-year essays, with the net result that when the EL bounded into the kitchen on Sunday morning with a cheery greeting he was the first person I'd actually spoken to since 9pm on Friday night. 36 hours in my own head, particularly my own head colonised by student effusions, is really rather a lot. You end up forgetting how to actually form sentences. Or was that the effect of all the student writing? Discuss.
  2. On Friday the sound system in my car had a psychotic episode and for some reason started playing through the albums on the MP3 player in reverse alphabetical order by artist, which means I unaccountably jumped from Arcade Fire to Velvet Underground. (Have become very addicted to The Suburbs, possibly in preparation for Reflektor, which is released today. New Arcade Fire! Score!). I haven't aired my Velvet Underground collection for a couple of years, so it was quite fun to play through Loaded and the one with Nico, which is my favourite. Then my Twitter feed exploded last night with the news of Lou Reed's death. It seems like an appropriate fortuity to an extent which is potentially slightly sinister. I am unable to escape the faint suspicion that in fact I was afflicted with a sort of anticipatory musical ghost. It seems like Lou Reed's style. Of which he had rather a lot. RIP on one hell of a life. (Lovely Neil Gaiman interview here, if you're into that sort of thing).
  3. On the subject of the Circle of Life and what have you, congrats to [ profile] dicedcaret and his nice lady wife on their acquisition of sudden offspring of the female persuasion. Her name is Eva, she arrived safely on Friday via caesarian, all apparently well.
  4. A random text message arrived this morning purporting to be from the City of Cape Town's weather advisory service, and warning of "Severe storms with large hail" today. Insofar as (a) today is cloudless and hot and has quickly burned off the morning fog, and (b) I'm not actually subscribed to any weather advisory service, this also seems a bit sinister. I am inclining to the notion that I've somehow received a text from an alternate universe in another leg of the Trousers of Time. Or exceptionally lateral phishing spam.
  5. I could have lived very happily for the rest of my life without having encountered, in a student essay, the term "phallic fluids". She was writing about Dracula, but still. Not even the worst of fanfic does that sort of thing.

Subject line from Velvet Underground, natch. "Pale Blue Eyes". His lyrics tend to the oddly complex and evocative.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am desolated to report a tragic outcome to the Macavity saga. Our feeding-and-petting regime re-domesticated him with ridiculous speed, and for the last couple of weeks he slept happily on the sofa during the day and responded enthusiastically to attention with a gratifying lack of startle or slashing, and a growing tendency to head-butt the petter adorably in the ankle. Yesterday we stuck him into a box and took him off to see the Splendid Vet, an indignity to which he submitted with the utmost restraint and stoicism, thereby showing up our own feline tribe as a bunch of temperamental whingers.

One look from the vet, unfortunately, revealed that the black around his nose wasn't scabbing from the giant piratical slash across half his face; it was advanced squamous cell carcinoma, i.e. the same thing Golux has. The slash had also infected his eye and mouth. We didn't even go as far as FIV and FeLV testing; the vet's recommendation was to euthanase on the basis of the cancer alone, it being advanced enough that it would start affecting his quality of life almost immediately. Carlo and Karen having just gone through the nose cancer thing with one of their own cats, they have a very real understanding of the implications and agreed that it wouldn't be fair on them or the cat to try a necessarily temporary adoption. The same problem applies to allowing him to continue living with us: his presence in our house is becoming problematical, it's messing with the dynamic of the feline tribe, and honestly I can't bear to go through the whole lose-a-cat-to-cancer thing with one I've adopted basically for that purpose. It's going to be horrible enough with Golux. So, very sadly, we asked the vet to euthanase him yesterday evening.

I am trying very hard not to let this feel as though we betrayed him. He had a much better last month of existence with us looking after him than he would have had living a fugitive existence on the roof, and I think he was, in a rugged and slightly thuggish way, happy. Putting him down is saving him the very unpleasant experience of an aggressive cancer. We had a plan for him, we did all we could, and the dice fell against him. RIP Macavity. I hope he's happily stifling Pekes in a criminal feline paradise somewhere.

Subject line quote from "The Final Problem", Sherlock's suicide note written shortly before plunging over the Richenbach Falls with Moriarty. It seemed appropriate. For a given and rather convoluted value of "appropriate".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night I couldn't find the (seven hundred rand's worth) of excitingly contoured Apple doohickey which allow me to, gods willing and the moons in the right conjunction, connect my Ipad to the wayward vagaries of my Cherished Institution's lecture venue data projection facilities. It has become vital, as it does surprisingly frequently, to show my students PowerPoint slides of hot vampires, which they don't deserve because as a class they have the approximate responsiveness of a row of puddings, but still. Forty-five minutes of searching through various drawers and shelves revealed the following:
  1. The better part of a box of chocolate coated coffee beans which I'd completely forgotten about and which have gone all weird and pale.
  2. A collection of postcards from Carcasonne, which means I must have bought them on that trip in 2005 or so. I have no idea why. Possibly the SCA was implicated.
  3. Three pairs of 3-D glasses, which reminds me, I'm taking myself off to see Pacific Rim at Canal Walk on Tuesday night, let me know if you want to keep me company. 8pm show. Last chance, I've put this off until it's almost off circuit.
  4. A tight little coil of cellphone/computer connection thingy, still in its original wire ties, which on mature reflection I think belonged to that cellphone which got stolen, and which I always fondly imagined didn't actually have a computer connection cable. I must have stashed it in the drawer immediately upon opening the cellphone box, and promptly forgotten about it. Not being able to data transfer from that phone drove me crazy for years - it's a weird-shaped connection and I could never find one to fit. Finding it now is depressingly futile.
  5. My (small, cheap, nasty) MP3 player, which I haven't been able to find for months and could have sworn was stuck to the last TV they stole. At least this means I can play a broader selection of music in the car, I'm currently relying on my Boxing Day mix CDs and they're giving me whiplash, which is my own damned silly fault for randomly juxtaposing Franz Ferdinand with Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond with the Pixies.
  6. A ridiculously large stash of tasteless wrapping paper, most of which I have no memory of ever buying or using.
  7. Finally, after becoming increasingly enraged, the excitingly contoured R700 Apple doohickey, which I knew was in there and which I eventually found in the exact place I'd checked first without actually seeing it.
This merry little exercise in disorganisation and failed pattern recognition brought to you courtesy of a weekend which was also rife with stupid culinary errors, like cutting the pastry too small for the quiche pan, and forgetting to grease the muffin tins before sloshing in the batter. There's this thing depression does to me where it all turns inward and I am filled with self-loathing and a sense of my own uselessness. Desk drawers are chaotic and detritusy at the best of times. They really don't help.

My vampire pudding fate awaits. Don't wait up. Oh, and subject line courtesy Belle & Sebastian. A random google for no adequately defined reason has made me realise how utterly dodgy "The Boy with the Arab Strap" is, anyway.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have three separate posts half-written, all offering possibly pretentious analysis of things - fanfic, feminism, what have you. Your eagle reader's eyes will have noted that, of course, I have not posted any of them. I have not posted much. Can I, will I, post at all? Apparently I can if I access the perfect confluence of empty stomach, fanfic-reading trance and insufficiency of caffeine which permits the flow of consciousness necessary to talk about depression. Bugger it, let's talk about depression.

The problem is that I don't usually talk about depression. I've been medicated it for around two years now, and while I have down periods mostly I function fairly well, am even reasonably contented at times. The leaden, shuffling grey of those few months of fatigue immediately after coming out of hospital has mostly passed. I'd rather believe that it's passed; if I'm occasionally unhappy, I haven't wanted to make a thing of it. I'd thought it was getting better. I have no idea why the monster should suddenly have chosen a few days of leave from work as the moment to spring out and drag me into the dark alley for a quick kicking about the head, but there you have it. I have spent the last four days stumbling through a sort of lead-weighted black cloud in which I do nothing, eat very little, god, I don't even drink tea, you know it's bad, hover on the edge of tears, achieve nothing whatsoever. I have interesting things I need to do, but I can't make myself do them. If prodded to movement by an actual obligation, like a meeting or a role-playing game, I go forth and imitate the action of a human being. I'm quite good at that. I even temporarily convince myself. It terrifies me, because it says that maybe the grey has been there for a while, concealed by distracting imitation, and the clear space has simply revealed it.

It's difficult to describe this state, because it deadens - why make the effort to understand or quantify it, it won't make any difference. Why am I sad? Is this grief, loss, pain, loneliness? What do I need to do to make it better? Who the hell knows? I think it would probably help a great deal if I could even put a name to it, but no, it's the classic Lovecraftian nameless dread. It feeds on itself. Not savagely, but with a slow, relentless mumbling of blunted teeth. It's a black hole. Everything is swallowed up. You're left with nothing to work with.

It'll pass. It has before. Something will shift, there will be a tilt and trickle in the brain chemistry and I'll slowly emerge into something like colour and life. I'm lucky; a lot of people have it a lot worse. But this is the worst it's been for me for a while, and this post is, I think, about anger as much as anything else. Fuck this. If I can't pin down what it is or how to fix it, at least I'll bloody well assert that it exists; I nail this fog to the wall in this small way, at least. At least feels like I'm doing something. Hi, it's me, I'm depressed. Bear with me.

(This post, incidentally, was initially friends-locked in the interests of my mother's mental health. She worries. I unlocked it when I'd emerged from the depression and told her about it. Subject line comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Carrion Comfort. It's less comforting to atheists).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My mother went back to the UK last night and I'm all depressed. Have some really ridiculously cute wols. Tuesday wols are consolatory, and trying to imagine what circumstances could possibly give rise to this tiny herd is pleasantly distracting. (Other sources of current angst now available in a friends-locked post near you).


This is another of those photos which has erupted all over Tumblr and is traceable back only to other Tumblr posts (Tumblr is turtles all the way down) or to Reddit, also unattributed. In this case it's probably a good thing, knowing the source would probably also explain the tiny herd and destroy the innocent enjoyment of my imaginings.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently the week needs cats being ridiculous. Snow leopards have really long, fluffy tails. I live for the day I can catch Hobbit doing this. (Pics circulating Tumblr at the moment, with the usual trail of reblogs all characterised by an utter lack of attribution - I've tracked down and linked the source for only one of them, the others apparently generated spontaneously on cute animal pic sites. If the internet has, in fact, reached critical cute animal pic mass to the point where the stuff leaps into being without human intervention, we're possibly screwed. Or at least doomed to a virtual experience in which all possible communications are gradually replaced by cute animal pics at a rate somewhat faster than the current status quo.)

I am suffering from Cat in another form. Not Golux: we have decided not to have the operation, and she's as well as can be expected with a sore nose which she occasionally swipes a paw over accidentally while grooming, causing a yowl of pain and surprise. Our cat problem is Macavity, who has recently stepped up the heartrending nature of his appeals to be adopted, which means if you come into the living room in the morning he won't leap off the sofa and run away, he'll leap off the sofa, stop, cower and eye you intensely while mewing pitifully. At this rate, if we give him any encouragement at all he'll soon be at a point where we can catch and box him. Does anyone want a cat? Ginger, tom, somewhat battle-scarred, desperate for love, has entirely given up on the nasty spraying habits, and doesn't actually beat up our cats. We'll spring for the neutering. In default of any other option I'm afraid it's going to be the SPCA for him, or, if they're in the cat-inundated state I think they probably are, a quick and terminal trip to our vet to save Macavity the stress and the SPCA the money. I wish the consciousness of being realistic was enough to outweigh the guilt at being heartless.

Subject line dreadful pun is verbatim from Lewis Carroll, the Mouse's poem for Alice, the emblematic poem in the shape of the tail. Carroll's puns are particularly shameless. Possibly the "condemn you to death" bit is also ringing in my ears with undue force.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

This is Golux, one of the two kittens we acquired about six months after moving into our current house, which is now nearly 15 years ago. (This is a suspiciously good photo which, although it originates on my camera, I darkly suspect was taken by Steve). While the Evil Landlord and I technically co-own Golux and her sibling Todal, in fact Golux is pretty much my cat and Todal the EL's, if bed distribution and Todal's fondness for gargoyling on the EL's shoulder means anything at all. You will note Golux's somewhat adorable pink nose, one of the endearing possible features of a tabby-and-white.

That nose is an adorable bastard. Our African sun is not kind to pink skin lacking in pigment, and Golux suffers the inevitable problems of pink-nosed or pink-eared cats in this climate: she burns. Which means she's subject to skin cancer. (Some people try to sunblock their animals, but our vet is of the opinion that it makes absolutely no difference at all as the cats lick it straight off). We first identified the little pre-cancerous spots about seven years ago, during one of her annual check-ups, and our amazing vet instituted a process which has effectively kept the cancer at bay for the whole seven years. Every time the spots appear, which is at approximately 12 to 18-month intervals, I bring her in for a series of histofreeze treatments - he anaesthetises her and burns them off with liquid nitrogen, using a niftly little specialised gun thing which achieves pinpoint accuracy. While she hates being boxed once a week for four weeks and her nose is always a bit raw afterwards, this beats the merry hell out of the alternative, which is full-blown tumours and a nosectomy, i.e slicing the nose off entirely.

We have now reached the natural end of the possibilities for this process. The periods between freezes have been getting shorter, and this year the spots were back within a couple of months of the last freeze. When I took her in to the vet last week, he had to admit that there further freezing wouldn't work, the tumours were advancing too quickly. We have, really, only two alternatives: a nosectomy, or to stop treating her and accept that we'd probably have to put her down within about a year.

This is a horrible decision which is absolutely and beautifully balanced between two unpleasant alternatives. The nosectomy is traumatic and ugly and would give her at least three weeks of discomfort, however well we manage the pain; it also only has a 60-70% chance of catching all the cancer, which might have already started working back into the brain. Our vet says the nose skins over quite well and after the first trauma most cats deal with it very well. But she's an old cat, 15 years old, and while she seems to be otherwise perfectly healthy, she probably doesn't have more than a few years left anyway. If we decide to simply stop treating it she'll probably live with the tumours without discomfort for a while, it's only right at the end that they start being painful, but when they reach that point all we can do is to have her put down. The vet reckons she probably won't survive the next dose of summer sun.

I honestly don't know what to do. In a sense we've won already, as much as it's possible to win: she's had seven years of very happy existence she would not have had if we hadn't managed this so well. Every year we can stave the tumours off has been a gift. But the EL and I cannot decide if it's worth the trauma of the nosectomy given (a) her age, and (b) its chance of success: whether the operation and mutilation would be more or less awful for her than the full-blown tumours, and whether the probable extra few years of life are worth all that. I think I'm leaning very slightly away from the nosectomy, but I don't know if that's about her experience or about my own squeamishness.

A brief "aargh" suffices, I think. But your positive kitty-ward thoughts would be appreciated.

Subject line is a quote from the Golux in Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks, from which, of course, both cats' names are taken. The Golux is an eccentric, frequently invisible, gentle, offbeat little character who helps the Prince win his Princess. The Todal is a blob of glup, an agent of the devil sent to punish evil-doers for doing less evil than they should. Both cats fit their names rather too well, I think. [ profile] wolverine_nun was right, we'd have stored up less trouble for ourselves if we'd named Todal Creampuff instead.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My poor little Mermaid finally died. The Mermaid was, lest this sound unduly surreal, the white CitiGolf I've been driving for the last eight years or so, who earned her sobriquet from the mystic and largely inexplicable inscription on her number plate. Perhaps as a result of this she evinced an uncanny attraction to water over the time I drove her, not always with the best results given the traditional workings of the infernal combustion engine. She always had a tendency to run her cooling system dry and overheat, and over the years I've had the radiator replaced entirely, had insane quantities of water removed from the distributor cap after an unusually deep puddle experience, had water poured into my boots via the front panel as a result of rain becoming cached under the bonnet, and had the bodywork reconditioned because of the exuberant leaks which tended to manifest in jolly Cape Town storms. She finally expired a few days ago, completely in character, when the leaky head gasket I've been pussyfooting around all year got to the point where it let water into the system, and she started driving in a jerky, hiccuppy sort of way which definitely Boded. Poor Mermaid. Always yearning for the ocean in a doomed and futile sort of fashion.

So last night the nice man from Ray's magical auto-mechanic place came round, and after confirming my diagnosis ("I really shouldn't be driving her, should I?" "") bought her off me on the turn, pressing oodles of cash into my slightly fluttering hands, detached me from the registration papers and a receipt, and drove her, hiccuping gently, away, bound for a complete re-conditioning and resale at his capable hands. I hadn't expected it so quickly, and had to do an extremely speedy purge of the interior of all the random guff which piles up over time. (The yield: gorilla lock, mermaid charm from rear-view mirror, bottle of sunscreen, bottle of engine oil for babying the leaky head with, eight shopping bags, an exploded map book, my now entirely useless campus parking disk, a coke bottle full of water for babying the leaky cooling system with, a metric buttload of random paper bits those poor sods handout at traffic lights, five nursery plastic sheets for carrying plants on, a flourishing crop of mould in the boot, and that umbrella I thought I'd lost last winter, thus continuing the watery theme).

Watching her toddle off, I felt completely bereft. A car driven over time becomes a personality, both an organism for whose continued well-being one is responsible and a trusted compatriot who bears one's chattels and one's lazy form tirelessly about the show. Her possibly dodgy Dagon-worshipping traits aside, the Mermaid has served me faithfully; she's ported me around the city, up the campus hill daily, over the Neck repeatedly into Hout Bay to visit my father, on tarred roads and dirt, in hail and pelting winter rain and February heatwaves and those amazing Cape Town winds which try to playfully blow you off the freeway. She hasn't done much distance stuff, but has successfully ambled out to Arniston a couple of times. She had a game little heater but no air-con, the world's most terrible gearbox, and a faulty passenger-door interior handle which used to randomly entrap passengers to no discernible pattern, causing amusing levels of panicked scrabbling. (I always chose to interpret it as a sign of affection, a reluctance to relinquish the cherished passenger, but I doubt they felt it). She didn't have the personality of my Biscuit Tin, but I was fond of her, and used mutate "Mermaid" into "Merrymaid" at odd moments, and drive around singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

I feel as though I've carelessly allowed something fragile and complicated with whom I have a relationship of trust to slip out of my control. Did I damage her carelessly? Will she be OK? Will her next owner look after her properly? Shouldn't I have vetted them, like you do for dogs? Do I over-invest in inanimate objects?

So I'm carless again, and slightly tearful. Various confluences of the Cosmic Wossnames have determined that I'm trying to find myself a Toyota Yaris, if only because it narrows the field to manageable levels which stave off panic attack, and in defiance of the fact that it's a silly name. The Jo, with ineffable kindliness and self-sacrifice, has volunteered to haul me around to various auto dealers on Friday, and to pat my hand gently as I try to grapple with the technicalities of test-drives and finance and what have you. There's a sheaf of car ad printouts on my desk and a page of annoyed scrawls which determine, after horrible hold music has caused the ear-wax to melt and dribble out of my ears, that it's not going to be worth going through my bank, as they hedge their loans about with sharp stakes and unpalatable restrictions. As a result of the indefinitely-delayed adulthood occasioned by indefinite grad studenthood, this is the first time I've had to do this. I'm in a state of wibble.

However, this does mean that the state of fatigued uselessness which has dogged me for the last year and a half, may finally be lifting. The things I needed to do by the end of this year included a new car, a driver's licence and a new agent for the French house. I have a learner's, a car plan which will by gum by a car in jig time, and a contract from the new agent in my inbox. Two and a half out of three ain't bad.


Page generated Wednesday, 24 April 2019 07:55 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit