You have my word.

Words have power: that must count for something.

Let me tell you a little something about laughter:

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Sometimes it’s all you’ve got; it’s all you’ve got to open your mouth and let out a sound. You can’t hold it but you can have it and that’s all the reason it’s so beautiful. It is not any kind of weight to carry like the sadness and the fear your hold. Those weigh heavy. Laughter is light, and it is light. Laughter is life and often it’s the start of a love that won’t die.

Laughter is more than that though. I remember the first time I saw my love laugh – there’s something about sharing that kind of moment: both of you for those few seconds open up. Laughter connects people. Laughter is more than a smile – although a smile needs credit in its own way. Laughter is sound, and sight and soul – there are few other things as intimate.

Apparently, every fifteen minutes you laugh you add a day to your life. Now I don’t know how true that is but clearly there is some benefit. Something of a truth and something of a cliché states that laughter is good medicine. Let me say that I know this well; I take medicine and it helps but it doesn’t have the same kick as a laugh.

Here’s something you might not expect, you can laugh for sorrow too. Sad laughter is a different kind of sound – it’s a bit like a wild animal that’s been snared. It’s violent and happens when least expected. It is not a gentle laugh, nor is it an excited party laugh. It is harsh, and it hurts. More than that, people who hear it don’t know what to do. Is it a warning cry? Do they laugh too?

But let’s not dwell. Laughter is universal; it’s more than a language. It’s a bit like music in that sometimes you can’t explain it… it just is. Laughter is the sound of not giving up. It feels like applause in your mouth telling you that you can do it – that you’re going to make it – that you’re doing well. Laughter has a ripple effect, like you pay happiness forward without having to do a thing except open your mouth and let out a sound.

Don’t leave me. Or am I better off alone?

It goes without saying that times are hard – there is a rarely a reality that sits closer to the tip of our tongues than this. South Africa is by no means exempt from this reality either – if anything, the day-to-day truth of this is evident from the poorest to the richest. Yes, even the rich face tragedy in the trying air of this country.

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I love South Africa – through and through. It is beautiful; it is colourful. Despite the challenges, we are strong. We know a good thing when we see it and we smile. We are fierce. We have not given up. As much as it is “easy” to look for a way out – a better neighbourhood, more security, moving to another country – it is so easy to take a step back and admire what we actually have.

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For a moment, remove the proverbial stones in shoe and breathe in the glory of this great land. Forget the blackouts, the etolls, the “security” swimming pools, the theft, the apathy. Forget it all and rather think of freedom. Think of our ocean of cultures, and races, and languages, and South Africanisms. Think of the minimal natural disasters, think of the hand-in-hand way of life overcoming dire poverty and ruin. Think of family – not only immediate, but your friends, the man selling newspapers at the robot each morning, the strangers who become part of the pack around a braai (with a Black Label and some biltong).

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I am not denying that we have some work to do, but what a great time to be alive in a country that is far from boring – for better or for worse. South Africa will teach you many things, namely, how to survive… how to survive and make a difference at the same time. Maybe it’s a cup of sugar to the woman across the street, maybe it’s giving someone a ride home, maybe it’s buying a bar of soap for the small community sleeping under a shop’s balcony. This is who we are.

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All this to say that Freshly Ground just dropped this amazing song called “Don’t Leave Me” – the perfect plea for a country. South Africa, you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going anywhere.

Readers, I hope you’ll stay too.

Dear Caitlyn Jenner | Quite honestly

Dear Caitlyn Jenner

Quite honestly, I didn’t recognise you at first glance as I scrolled past the cover of Vanity Fair on my newsfeed yesterday. I have followed your news-drawing story each day – from the triumphs and progress, to the hard days and the tears and the tough choices. Quite honestly, I don’t know if I would have the same courage as you.

You are beautiful. Quite honestly, there will be those who disagree not because you aren’t beautiful but because they don’t understand and that is their own shortcoming. As much as you need them to extend compassion to you, know that they too need your compassion. Quite honestly, I’m fists up and rearing to go this morning as, one by one, people in the office are discovering who you are. Not who you were, who you are. One such discovery was met this morning with: “Wat die vok is verkeerd met hom?” In English, that translates to: “What the fuck is wrong with him?”

Quite honestly, you ignorant imbecile, two things you should be blatantly aware of: firstly, there is nothing “wrong with him”. Secondly, it’s “her”. Quite honestly, Caitlyn, I think I would have been fired had I voiced the explicit opinion I hold so I held my tongue and I am sorry for that. A face skewed by so much disdain should only be met with a fist. That kind of judgement has no business in preserving life – trans or not. We are human.

Quite honestly, I can’t imagine everything that you have gone through – exacerbated by the extensive media coverage. Did that make it easier as you had no choice but to confront every bit of change head on? What kinds of questions did they ask? Did you always give an answer? People can be mean – myself included – and on behalf of humans, I wish you all strength.

All this to remind you that you are beautiful, even when you have bad hair days. This is by no means the end but quite honestly, I think you know that. Beauty is not just defined by external, this is another thing you know. After all, you have been true to yourself and that is most beautiful of all. Do not let them take that away from you. Quite honestly, they will try and you should be prepared to fight. There’s an army standing behind you.

You have opened up a way for people to talk about things they don’t understand, things they don’t support but want to know more about, things they’ve never heard of before, things they can choose to stand up for. Quite honestly, maybe that’s the most courageous thing of all. Yes, you’re the talking point of a lot of conversations but dare I say, quite honestly, that the conversations are more important; you will not always be in every headline, but you have done us the great favour of making it easier to have other conversations, to approach other headlines. This is the legacy that you leave.

Dearest Caitlyn, do not apologise. Do not back down nor make excuses. Do not hide away. Do not doubt yourself. Whether you like it or not, some people will make their own brave decisions because of you. That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also the easiest thing to accept because you have already accepted yourself.

I take my proverbial hat off to you.

S.

The challenges with not knowing what you wanna be when you grow up

I am twenty-four-years-old and, dare I say, none the wiser than I was at four-years-old. The “when you grow up” concept is a tricky, overly-flexible concept that has, without question, been warped into a myriad of recognisable and (some) unrecognisable shapes. Pinterest will tell you that you should want to be happy, or content or fulfilled “when you grow up” and yet when we are posed with this question for the first time – standing in our pre-primary classroom called “Fireflies” or “The Green Group” or “Silly Stars” or something else elementary, meant only to appeal to the alliteration-alert ears of those under the age of five… when we are posed with this question, we shoot out with “fireman!” or “a fairy princess!” or “a teacher”.

A few years closer to those (now known as) career ideals (as if that’s all they are) and we’re told that our answer has been wrong all along. Well, maybe not wrong, but definitely not right either. I’m enough of a case in point to demonstrate how (too) often this is the reality.

Growing up I wanted to be (give or take a few thousand) about 1 million different things. Sometimes my “life goals” oscillated between two distinct points, other times I was convinced I could split my relatively-composed self into five different parts to perform five different integral and influential roles in this great big world. The older I became I systematically crossed things off that I knew I would never amount to, which wasn’t always a bad thing. Quite honestly, if I were ever dubbed a genetic scientist, I imagine I would only succeed in causing my cat to grow another limb (lab mishaps and all that…). Similarly, I could never be a doctor; imagine how awkward it would be if once the patient on my theatre table had been sliced open and just as I was about to operate I passed out – obviously stabbing the closest nurse because I was holding a scalpel at the ready at the time of my, somewhat embarrassing, encounter. To a lesser degree, some skin infections give me the heebie-jeebies so, no. A doctor was never on the list.

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I wanted to be a teacher, and to some degree I have fulfilled this role but in the traditional “classroom” sense. Incompetence and ignorance cannot be cured by throwing whiteboard erasers at heads, and hard rock music has not yet been likened to having the same mentally stimulating effects as classical music. Pity that is.

I wanted to be a civil engineer; dismantling all useful appliances was always a hobby (after which they were soon no longer useful) and to this day, I claim that I learned something every time I took something apart. I built a rather elaborate race car track entirely out of paper once too – it had loops and levels and pillars and ramps and everything! That’s paper though, and toy cars don’t have living people in them. Engineering requires mathematics (apparently) and after a dismal 3% in a maths test nearing the end of my school sentence, it was confirmed that I shouldn’t be responsible for structures that other people would be using.

While “dressing up” as a kid was still acceptable I transitioned from being a cowboy to a police officer at least six times a day. Some weeks I was a famous BMX trickster, a world-renowned cricketer, a hippy that only ate from the earth, a carpenter, a soccer player, a wrestler, a professional roller blader. All that just to learn that it is essential for a child to dream. Yes, if they don’t dream they may avoid some disappointment, but life is full of disappointments whether you dream or not. So what’s there to lose?

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I was told once – by no one significantly important in the grander scheme of things as far as “big issues” like politics and solving the world hunger crisis goes – that you cannot trust a man without dreams. From so many angles this makes so much sense. If a man wants nothing for himself – if he has no ideals, doesn’t strive for excellence in any sense – then he will not want anything for another. He will not uphold any ideal for someone else and that is perhaps the greatest disappointment of all – settling for what is, settling for the not-necessarily-better than yesterday.

This collection of thoughts is turning out to be longer than I imagined but I feel that it’s necessary to write what I write. Let me say that the fireman- or the fairy princess- or the cowboy- or the doctor-dreams are not for nought. They represent the values that children – as small and sometimes innocent as they are – have come to recognise. So perhaps they can’t label “happiness” because they don’t know how to say it; perhaps they can’t label “courage” or “strength” or “intelligent” but they do know the other words and the people that represent them.

After all this, I think children know what they want. They are not yet tainted; they have not yet been told what to think. And maybe “bravery” doesn’t translate to being a firefighter in the end, but to being a motivational speaker. Maybe “successful” doesn’t translate to being a lawyer, but to being an understanding, compassionate teacher. Maybe “intelligent” doesn’t translate to engineer or politician, but to being a profoundly influential businessman. Maybe “happy” doesn’t amount to being very rich, but to being a gentle stay-at-home mom.

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Don’t question what children say when they tell you what they want to be when they grow up. Simply listen; watch them as they teach their teddies the basics of geography, as they build castles in the sand, as they fire their toy guns at friends and birds and dogs and trees and cars… they are aiming for something. They might hit something if you let them. They will face enough opposition without your dissent. Let them be what they want to be when they grow up.

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