April 8, 2016

Shock & Absorption

I’m having the week from hell. It all started on Monday when my flat got broken into. They stole everything valuable: laptop, music system, watches, my kettle. Yes, even my KETTLE (it was a pretty sexy kettle though I must say). And then, come Wednesday, when things surely couldn’t have gotten any worse, my car was broken into too. So of course my knee‐jerk reaction to this ordeal was initially exclaiming: “are you fucking serious?!” about seven to nine times and subsequently Googling what kind of alcohol could one spike a cup of tea with to take the edge off.

This comes at a weird time. I’m 23 and doing my Honours at UCT. I studied my undergrad at a private institution so needless to say I have no idea what I’m doing half the time, it’s just wonderful for my self‐esteem. So many people throw words around like ‘discourse’ and ‘trajectory’ it’s like word vomit confetti. But that’s another story altogether.

I recently watched an episode of the new season of Girls, and although I tell myself it’s for the sake of my education (I study Film & Television) this was purely for enjoyment’s sake (and procrastination’s sake). The story followed the harrowing retelling of Kitty Genovese’s murder in 1964 Queens, New York. The New York City woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment building, her screams for help falling on the deaf ears of bystanders failing to intervene. The retelling of this narrative in the Girls episode brought up the issue of apathy and how prevalent it still is today – in fact, how prevalent it’s always been. I think that – in light of my week – apathy is actually even more prevalent today than it has ever been.

So of course over the course of the last few days I’ve been somewhat of a melancholy muppet, moping around asking for sympathy – even better yet – empathy from those around me. However, what I have received is a mixed bag of results shall we say. Greeted by the police officers must be my favourite. They all seem to have an uncanny ability to make you feel like the criminal, as you shuffle around in your flat retelling the story looking like you could do some damage to a chocolate brownie but that’s about it. Over the course of the day following the break‐in, others from the flat block would come and see how I was doing and although I don’t want to take anything away from the people who were genuinely amazing the general story is something we all know too well. It’s this typical South African rhetoric now, the “oh, this bad thing happened to you, but I have a friend who just last week got broken into and held up and they cleaned him out completely, so, you’re lucky ‐ at least you weren’t here” kind of story. Be honest, doesn’t this happen all the time when you’re telling someone about something bad that’s happened to you? This does the trick. What they’re trying to do is give you a little something called perspective. Which is great, perspective is my friend and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it but ultimately what these instances can also do is make your occurrence seem therefore irrelevant. And ultimately what you then begin to do is suppress the anger and sadness because, “it could’ve been worse”. I’m coining this new ‘South Africanism’, it’s called Shock and Absorption. Absorbing the shock you feel because, it’s really not that relevant (or so people keep insinuating). This isn’t so much a rant about the crime in South Africa as it is for me to generally vent about my bad luck. This is what we do though, as South Africans. We adopt apathy as our puppet master. It informs our entire lives. We do this, we absorb shock because we're desensitised by crime, (yes, this old chestnut), but, it is true. No two ways about it. 

I can’t tell you how many times I screamed ‘fuck’ into a pillow. This week. The absolute cracker was that I had a pretty chunky essay due for the same week my flat was broken into and my laptop stolen with all three‐quarter of the essay done. The same apathetic, insensitive delightfulness greeted me with this one too. When telling someone from my class that I’d managed to get a short extension because of the situation, I was bombarded with the abrasive and rather snooty response of “well you should always back everything up, on a hardrive, on the cloud, or whatever, but ja, I aaaaaalways back eeeeeverything up”. First of all, I’m proud of you. You seem to have a handle over life that I could only dream of. Second, I’m a Pisces who writes poetry – do you think I fucking back anything up?! The other was “hope you’re insured”. Yep, I’m 23, a student and I eat two minute noodles because it’s all fun and fantastic and completely my choice to do so. In light of all of this (and then some) I think I’m going to need therapy, which is a touchy subject at the moment too (what isn’t, right?) In a nutshell, I’ve been trying to get hold of a psychologist I used to see years ago when my parents were getting divorced. I used to phone to make an appointment every two days but to no avail, I was only ever answered by the automated answering machine recording. So, I decided to find another therapist. The task seemed easy enough. Wrong. The whole “we’ll call you back” and they never do scenario ensued. I was getting a bit of a complex at this point. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is when you’re actively trying to seek help but therapists never call you back? On a scale of one to Xanax, it’s pretty up there. I need to talk to someone because I don’t want this world, this country, or this city to turn me into a cynic. An apathetic cynic. I’ve got too many feelings for that. I don’t want to be the Jess I was when my mom came through to Cape Town after the burglary to cheer me up with some lunch – my boyfriend offered me a seat facing the window onto the street to which I replied glumly: “No, not a fuck, I hate the world now”. That Jess is tres miserable and I’m generally more of a write‐poems‐about‐love‐in‐a‐ garden kind of gal myself. I’m scared our collective apathy will turn us into shells of our former selves that are basically just insincere as hell. Take John Keats for example. The legendary English romantic poet penned his seminal piece When I Have Fears in 1818, which means he was just 23 when he wrote that. The words are so unbelievably sincere and heartfelt (give it a read if you haven’t already). What I’m tying to say is that this can’t be an age thing or hopefully not even a generational thing. That, we have the ability to really try to combat apathy on all levels: whether it be at home, with friends, family, the government, you name it. All we have are our words and our actions, let’s use them with sincerity. But for now, I’ll just be writing some poetry in a garden somewhere, call me if you know of a good therapist I’ve got some shock to un‐absorb.   

January 26, 2016

The air was as thin as a sheet and the grass as thick as wool. The oxygen tasted like an invisible glacier and I could see past the hilltops, further the gravel road, for ten thousand meaningful miles. 


December 15, 2014


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