It’s eleven o’clock at night as I write this, which might not seem late for many of you, but it is for me and my household. Struck with the familiar urge to create, my normal outlets of guitar, piano, or singing, are temporarily out of bounds in the quiet of the night and I find myself writing. It’s been a long time since I’ve written with the intention of sharing it with anyone, and my old friends, fear, self-doubt, and disillusionment are screaming for me to stop. But I’m still writing.
I’ve been pretty terrible at sharing my story over the past while. To be honest, everything has felt overwhelming. Work, music, personal life, all wonderful, all chaos. Tonight I lay on my bed with a million ideas rushing through my head, and a million and one reasons not to do them. I’ve fallen into safety pattern of listening to those reasons not to do them, and it’s been alright. I’ve been taking it easy on myself, letting myself not pick up the guitar or the pen, or go to the keyboard with the intention of writing something that isn’t code, something from the heart. But tonight has been different.
I played my first festival the other day, it’s called Splashy Fen and it’s one of the big festivals here in South Africa. I was excited to play my first festival, but I couldn’t possibly have expected the fundamental shift that it initiated in me.
The full story will have to wait though… It’s now half past eleven and my focus is deteriorating, (I’m a folk singer, not a late night DJ for crying out loud!) and I’m coming close do doing what I’ve done a lot of: saving this as a draft and forgetting about it… but I’m not going to do that, I’m going to press publish. This story isn’t finished yet, but I’ve got to get used to sharing small parts of big stories, because I’ve got some big stories to share with you…
I’ve always liked trains. I remember taking the train to Cape Town from Johannesburg on family holidays. I remember being ridiculously excited at the sight of fold up beds, but when you’re 7 years old a lot of things are exciting. Ten years later though, at 17 years old, I was still excited when I caught the train to Waterval Boven to go climbing with a friend. There’s just something very cool about trains. Maybe part of it is that you’ve picked your destination, but for the journey you’ve surrendered yourself to the train, its direction, its schedules and its strange characters. It’s scary and exciting to climb into something where you don’t see the driver.
In some senses I felt like that when I climbed onto the train at Johannesburg’s Park Station and waved my Dad goodbye. I had surrendered to the train’s determination to get to Cape Town, but I had also taken the first step towards taking my first actual step on my walk around the border of South Africa. I had committed and surrendered to my journey. As I sat in my compartment, I pondered the physicality of what I was about to do. I pondered the logistics. I pondered the finance. Then something happened that made me realise the humanity of what I was doing.
At the Krugersdorp station, a man walked into my compartment. I forget his name, but he explained that he used to work for the rail road and now he could travel for cheap in his retirement. He lit up a cigarette. I can’t stand the smell of smoke, but he seemed interesting and he was doing a half job of getting the smoke out of the window. He explained that in his retirement he worked as a freelance martial artist, round-house kicking druglords out of Hillbrow. He explained that he had learned Karate (A Japanese martial art) from the original masters in China. I let him continue with his fantasies, but they spiraled downwards into racism as he explained that he was part of an autopsy that proved that the brain of a black man was smaller than the brain of a white man. The more he felt comfortable with me as a listener, the more his negativity consumed him. He started to drink and got drunk quickly. The drunker he got, the less he cared about getting his smoke out of the window. He cared even less about moderating his views on race, gender equality and many other social issues that are close to my heart. By the time we got to sleep, the compartment stank of brandy and tobacco and I had lost most of my faith in humanity.
Early the next morning, I slipped out of the compartment into one that had opened up after some passengers had been dropped off in the night. A few hours later, I saw him standing at his stop. Part of me wanted to say, “goodbye” , and part of me wanted to say, “Fuck you.” I said neither. I watched him on the platform with his baggage on the ground, staring into nothingness. He said that he was visiting family, but on that platform he didn’t look happy or like he felt at home. He looked lost and trapped at the same time. At a glance he didn’t look bitter, but on closer inspection he seemed to curse the world in a way that made it clear that the world had cursed him first. I said nothing. I just watched him as the train rolled away. He didn’t notice anyone around him, and nobody around him paid him any attention. Whenever I remember him, I remember him standing on that platform. He was beautiful.
I think his name was Martin, we’ll call him that for the sake of this post anyway. Martin started to make me see that my trip wasn’t about how many kilometres I would walk in a day or how much I could carry in my cart. It wasn’t even about walking around the border of South Africa. It was about people. Martin was in my face and I could ignore neither the cigarette smoke, the drunkenness nor the racism. None of that seemed like him though. I got the impression that he was kind and gentle, but he was saying these really aggressive things. I started to wonder what went wrong, how did we turn kind people into the tolerators, enforcers and leaders of systems like Appartheid?
It took me a while to shift from my KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to the people around me. Once I did that, I noticed how concerned the world was with its KPIs. While I was worried about how many kilometres I could walk in the day, everyone else was concerned with how much money they could make that day. Both of those concerns distracted us from the people around us.
I often wonder how Martin would have turned out if the world wasn’t so concerned about money and power. There was a gentleness to him, but that had been exploited by a government that appealed to his gentle nature by making him afraid of the blacks and the communists. It had been exploited by companies who lead by fear of unemployment. Finally, it had been corrupted and twisted by a world that doesn’t value gentleness because you can’t tax it. I could be wrong, maybe he would have turned out old and bitter in any world, but I don’t think so.
I still get caught up in my KPIs, how much money I make, how many posts I write, how many people read those posts… But I’m getting better at lifting my head and looking around me, getting out of my own stories and listening to others. We have amazing people in this world, and they’re worth listening to and caring for. Even those that you might not think are amazing have the potential to be. They may never achieve that potential, but we still owe it to them to recognise it. Perhaps more importantly though, we owe it to ourselves to recognise it, both in others and in ourselves. It’s this potential for kindness and gentleness that serves as a common thread in all humanity. Maybe if we spent less time worrying about our KPIs and more time caring about people, we’d create a society where people like Martin grow into kind, gentle, happy people, no matter their past.
A few weeks ago, my laptop was stolen. This was a real bummer because it had a lot of the pre-production work for my upcoming EP and that EP has ground to a halt until I can carry on working on it. So, I’m going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new laptop and to give you a chance to get some unique perks that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else!
What is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a way for artists, entrepreneurs, activists and more, to ask for funding for a project directly from their audience. In exchange for donations, funders get unique ‘perks’ that are often only available for the crowdfunding campaign. The platform that I am going to use is Indiegogo. You can check them out to get a better idea of how it all works.
How Much Money Do You Want to Raise?
I’d like to get a laptop that I can use to run high-end audio applications, as well as basic video editing. I’ve already raised some cash with a small campaign that I ran on my Facebook Page, but I’m looking to raise $1000 with this campaign.
When Will The Campaign Start?
I’d like to start the campaign on the 1st of December, but I need your help! Read the next paragraph to see how you can help me decide on what perks to offer!
What Do You Need From Your Listeners Now?
What I need is for you to think of a unique perk that you’d like to see in the campaign and for you to leave it in the comments on this post. First prize would be for you to think of a price that you’d be happy to pay for that perk as well! To get you started, I’ve got some ideas of my own for the campaign, let me know what you think:
$10 – A Digital High Five!
I’ll record a video of myself giving you a virtual high-five and put it up on my YouTube Channel. This way, whenever you need a high-five, you can go watch the video!
$50 – A Typed Copy of the Lyrics For Your Favourite Quietly Concerned Song
I’ll type out the lyrics of your favourite song of mine on my Smith-Corona Clipper Typewriter. Very hip, I know…
$100 – A Private Skype Show
No matter where you are in the world, I’ll play a private show for you over Skype! If you live in Johannesburg, South Africa, I’ll play at your house! Heck, if you live in New York I’ll play at your house! As long as you fly me there…
So, that’s a basic outline of what’s going on. I hope that you’re as excited as I am! Please leave your ideas or any questions in the comments!
I knew that I wanted to walk around the border of South Africa, and I had the cash to do it. Now I needed to figure out how I was going to manage the logistics. Particularly, I needed to figure out how to carry enough supplies to keep going. I looked around at what other long distance walkers were doing, particularly Karl Bushby. Many of them were pulling carts, including Karl, so I decided that that was a good way to go. Pulling a cart would mean that I would be confined to roads, but it would mean that I could carry a heavy SLR Camera, my guitar, some books, a tent, all of which sounded like things I couldn’t go without. Two things I was without though, were design skills and welding skills. So I turned to two friends to help me out.
Greg Borman is a good friend of mine who I met through rock climbing. I’ve often hashed out new ideas with him as he has a great way of supporting crazy ideas with down-to-earth advice. In fact, he’s still my go to guy when I need advice. Older than me enough for him to have the edge on me in terms of life experience, but close enough to my age that we still think the same way and talk about the same things. He’s also an avid comic book reader and collector, which is great because he has a deep sense of adventure and justice! He’s an engineer, so I asked him to help me out with the design. Greg came up with a great design that could carry everything that I needed to carry, but also fold down and be easily transported.
I then needed someone to help me with assembling the cart, and I approached Charl Phyfer. Charl is a key grip in the Johannesburg film industry and he can build pretty much anything! I remember being on set one day when I was apprenticing with him. The dolly that we were using packed up and wouldn’t operate on flat ground without tracks like it was supposed to. The design of the dolly was pretty new, a German design that Charl was testing out for use in South Africa (it takes a lot for anything to be Africa proof). Charl phoned the German engineer, Hanspeter (I remember the name clearly because it’s very German!), and explaining what was wrong and how he planned to fix it. “Nein! Nein! You cannot do that!” I heard Hanspeter protesting loudly over the phone as Charl explained that he was going to strip the dolly and fix it in his garage at home. “The mechanism is very sensitive, ” Hanspeter continued, “and you need special tools!”
I think the signal dropped or Charl hung up or something, but whatever happened, Charl ignored Hanspeter’s determined opinion that you couldn’t fix a finely tuned piece of German engineering in a home garage. That Sunday, I helped Charl strip the dolly and fix the intricate gearing system that had broken. All through the process, Charl explained everything that he was doing, passing on his knowledge in a way that impressed me so much that I tried to forget the time that he threw a large wooden box and hit me in the head when he was in a bad mood on set one day (key grips are known to have a fowl temper)!
With Greg’s great design, and Charl’s skill, I met Charl in his garage one day with all the materials that we needed. Charl cut, braced and welded, and while I was assisting, it was really all Charl and Greg going on there. At one point, we stopped. Tired, we looked at the cart, half built. It was one of those moments where everyone knows that they’re tired and they need a break, but where we would have lingered for about a minute or two to catch our breath, Charl and I stood still and silent for about 5 or 10 minutes. I think I was realising how big an undertaking this was and letting that realisation sink in. Then Charl said something I would never forget:
“What’s holding us back? The fear of success?”
That promptly catapulted us back into action, and in no time after that, the cart was built.
The fear of success… I didn’t think that it existed, but when Charl asked that question I realised that it’s a very real fear. When I look at the past few years and think about why I haven’t pursued something to the extent that I dream of pursuing it, I realise that a large part of why I don’t do things is out of the fear of success. What if I become the greatest trail runner of all time and it’s not enough? What if I sign a major record label and tour the world, but I’m still not happy? Even worse though, is the fear that I do everything that I need to do to pursue my dreams, and I still don’t get there. I don’t think that I’m alone in being scared to make my dreams a reality.
Often we enjoy a dream so much, that we don’t want to make it a reality. Making it real would mean that it wouldn’t be perfect anymore because – let’s face it – there a few real things that are perfect. What I’m trying to do now is to shift my dreams. This may sound like a sell out, but hear me out. If you dream of being the best trail runner in the world, you’re only going to enjoy trail running if I’m the best. The truth of the matter though, is that you need to spend a lot of time running in training where there’s no race, and you’ll probably spend a lot of time getting beaten by better runners along the way until you’re strong enough to win. Even if you do all the training, you might not have the genetics to be the best trail runner in the world. If the dream is to be the best, then all that time just running and losing doesn’t sound very fun. However, if the dream is to run, then you’re living the dream every time you go for a run. When you train, you’re running. When you lose, you’re learning from better runners.
Another way to describe this way of thinking is living without goals, a concept that one of my favourite bloggers explains really well in this post.
Next week I’ll tell you about my train ride to Cape Town to start my walk.