Why Facebook is not like Tantric sex

I was out on the weekend with some friends and one of them was telling us about his experience at a tantric sex workshop. My only association with tantric sex is that it’s a place of great honesty. I know tantrica man who, when asked in such workshop what he fantasised about, sweetly responded that he thought about his wife, who was also there. This threw her into such a rage that she called him a liar right there and stormed out. Sometimes flattery doesn’t succeed.

But this workshop wasn’t about intimate fantasies but overt things: genital massages. It’s hard to lie about such matters, especially when the subject is a male.

‘It was a double massage,’ my friend explained, ‘the instructor tenderly stroked his hair while a woman massaged his penis.’

‘Were there a lot of people there?’

‘A good-sized crowd.’

‘And the guy, he didn’t mind?’

‘No, he seemed to find it… uplifting.’

‘Did you all have to stand back at the end?’

‘No, no,’ my friend told us patiently, ‘it’s not about that. It’s about working with your desire. The course convenor kept asking the guy being massaged to rate how turned on he was. He was a four, then a five, then up to a six and then down to a four. It swung wildly.’

‘Not a 5.3?’ said some wit.

‘It’s about the reabsorption of energy and desire…’

I switched off at this point. The phrase ‘ancient wisdom’ popped into my head. That phrase remined me of my grandmother. She believed you could tell people’s personalities by looking at their faces. Though  she also believed my brother stole her curtains, so she  wasn’t always the most reliable judge. (He denies that he stole her curtains, but he did say they were very nice.)

But I have to say, against my better judgement, that for writers, Facebook is a bit like a premature orgasm in tantric sex:  a missed opportunity to build desire upwards. One has an idea, a thought, and the first thing one does is share it on some social media platform. There is no build-up. No quiet reflection. Worst of all, once the idea is out there, the urge dissipates. You’re spent.

Perhaps we need a special tantric sex workshop for writers.

On Ambivalence

  1. I’ve always struggled with ambivalence. I’m constantly saying things like: ‘Yes, but…’, ‘On the other hand…’.
  2. The world rewards clear thinkers: people who know what they want and how to get there. Ambivalent people tend to be fairly passive, because they are indecisive and so they may feel it is better not to make a decision at all.
  3. In the past, I hardly ever broke up with people. I think ambivalent people struggle to end relationships, although I had less trouble beginning them.
  4. I’m feeling ambivalent about this book I’m reading. I’m loathe to continue with it, but I can’t put it aside either. Currently, I’m mostly using it to kill mosquitoes at night. There are corpses – small black blobs with spidery legs – on the back cover of the book.
  5. I think I’m ambivalent because the serious problems, like death and suffering, can’t be solved. If you can’t solve the big problems, does it make any sense to solve the smaller ones?

That’s actually a good thing

We were in an uncharacteristically good mood after lunch at an Indian restaurant today, so we decided to continue the good times by viewing a flat right opposite Jacob’s school.

‘Just think of the time we’ll save,’ I said to Greg, as we drove to the show flat. ‘No more shlepping in traffic.’

He seemed to be reflecting on this. Finally he said, ‘You know what would be a great name for a real estate porn movie?’


Cock up and Go.’

I sighed. We arrived at the same time as a late middle-aged German couple. We were, after all, in competition for a resource, so we tried to lighten the atmosphere by joking about an intercom in the lift that said, ‘IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY, SPEAK SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY.’ We all imitated calm, steady emergency-talk until we reached the fifth floor.

The agent was effusive but perplexed about how to divide her time between the two couples. How could she follow the money?  Was it the couple with the kid in the school across the road? Or the more affluent and elderly foreign-sounding pair? She flitted between us, doing hard sell.

‘Are most of the residents elderly?’ asked Greg. It was an old-fashioned flat with internal windows, rooms within rooms.  Right in the centre of the house was a tiny box of a compartment.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but that’s actually a good thing. It means people keep leaving and new people then arrive.’

‘Who is the current owner?’ I asked.

‘A couple that went to a frail-care centre.’

There was a pause in the conversation. The German woman shrugged. ‘I’ve got another flat on the first floor,’ said the agent.  ‘Deceased estate.’

We all traipsed back into the lift and down we went. Unlike the top floor flat, which had been unfurnished, this flat was stuck in a time warp from the 1950s, except that the wallpaper seemed older. 1960s apartment

‘What do you think?’ I asked as we left the building.

‘Each place depressed me in a different way. The empty flat: nothing means anything. The flat from the fifties: you put down roots, then it passes you by.’

Later, we told Jacob we’d looked at a flat. ‘It’s just opposite your school,’ I told him.  ‘You can see the school gate from the window.’

‘Please don’t make me live there,’ he said.

Envy and loss

This piece (Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One) has caused a lot of controversy about whether writers are born or made. I don’t have an answer to that question. Is a plumber born or made? It could be that no one is born with a predetermined talent for plumbing, but then why would it be different for writers?

If I don’t know what makes a person a writer, I do know what made me a reader. I remember my best friend, aged four, climbing on her dad’s lap with a book and reading it to him. The idea that one could read a book had never occurred to me before! This is a worrying thought, because it must have meant that nobody ever read to me. I went home that day, driven by envy, opened a book and tried to read it.

Naturally I couldn’t, so my brother, aged about 12, taught me. His methods were simple, if brutal. He showed me the letters and their corresponding sounds before presenting words to me. If I couldn’t read a word, he hit me.  More precisely, he boxed me on the shoulder joint. Luckily, I learnt fairly quickly. letterland

A little while after that, my parents decided they needed a holiday and so off they went to Italy or Greece or the UK (in the terminology of 1980s South Africa: ‘overseas’). I was dumped with my best friend for three weeks – an eternity when you’re six – and I cried each night. Every few days my mother would phone me; she sounded like she was very far away, and possibly underwater. My friend gave me a book to read. I have no recollection of the story or the characters, but I remember that the book looked impressive with its hardback cover, its many pages. I’d carry it around with me, tenderly placing a bookmark in the last spot read.

So I’d say envy and loss were the spurs to my reading. I can’t say I’m sorry it happened that way, because those are very powerful stimulants, and I still love reading.


Dogs and Josh

Tammy is the dog on the left. She loved eating, swimming and her constant companion, Luna.

About ten years ago, during the height of a crazy property frenzy (remember those Rich Dad, Poor Dad books?), we looked at a house in Newlands. The garage had multiple wine racks that indicated that the current owner’s interest in wine went beyond a hobby. In the small front garden were two little dogs: Tammy and Luna.

‘Why are they selling?’ I asked the German property agent, who elongated the end of my name so that its sounded like ‘Lisuuh’.

‘They’re emigrating to Colombia.’ So perhaps it wasn’t just wine that interested them.

Later I said to Greg, ‘We need a competitive advantage. We’ll never get this house. Let’s offer to take the dogs.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ he said.

‘No, come on. Who else will offer that?’

We often joke that the house cost us nothing, but those dogs were helluva expensive.

Today we had to put down Tammy. Greg carried her in his arms to the vet, who gave her an injection with green liquid in it. She looked at Greg until her eyes lost their focus, and he patted her for a while after the vet had left the room.

The three-year-old wanted to know whether we would get Tammy’s bones. ‘Only her ashes,’ I told him.

‘And what are those made of?’ he asked.

‘Ask your father.’

‘But who will take care of her now that she’s dead?’

We’ll get the ashes in a week and bury them in the garden. Yesterday (we knew we would have to put her down this morning) we went to the Company’s Garden for a walk and some sun. The three-year-old, in his batman outfit, went to the Natural History museum with his father and brother. Afterwards he burst into tears.

‘I left my cape there,’ he said. ‘It’s lost forever.’

‘No, no,’ I said. ‘We can buy another one at the hawker’s next to Cavendish Square. That’s where we got the last one.’

‘You’ll never find another one like that. They don’t have any more.’ He wept all the way home.