Friday, March 8, 2024

Ekphrastic Expositions


Ekphrasis? One explains things from one’s own point of view. We expound with emotion, with insight, with knowledge, and even with a pleasurable amount of guesswork. So too do we live in the canvas of our lives. So too do we build upon our perceptions. And the original work, the poem, the painting, the photograph that we expound upon, given the creative springboard that gives rise to our own voice, is as ancient an ekphrastic exposition of our minds as would be a gift from a Greek muse.

Ekphrasis? It’s the big words that can be off-putting. The very chiaroscuro of our elucidations can be too much of a juxtaposition, and without a ready mental formula to deduce what is being read, or heard, the brain gives up. The ears tune out. We get bored. Why not just be simple? Collectively, we feel little responsibility toward assimilating every new concept. It is the rare individual, here and there, who wishes to ‘know everything.’ There simply is too much. Yet inherent to the ‘dumbing down’ of society, as we eschew big words for little ones, and as we hook into Hemingwayesque pithy pronouncements, such as those anchored in the sea of an Old Man, over a predilection for Victorianesque prolific phrasing, such as those surrurating amongst the shifting sands of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, is that the vitality and richness of a living language stalls. Keep it simple. Do not ask me to look up a word. Make your references clear. Do not ask me to look up a Title. Make your references obvious. Do not ask me to read for too long, listen for too long, watch for too long, sit for too long, converse for too long, or think for too long; I just want to scroll at my phone. Its screen does not challenge me to stick to something, unless it interests me. I can flick through stuff. I can text without worry about correct grammar. My auto type will correct spellings, most Lee. So what if it makes miss steaks.

The argument for clear articulation is a double-edged sword. Ekphrasis, at best, explores one’s thinking under the Damoclean concept of evolving spiritually, responsibly. But in conspiring freely, our self-awareness by contrast becomes a consummate concentration, enslaving us to self-centricity, egoism, and independent connection. Huh? Yes, we can connect with others across the globe, but at large we get to say what we want, independently, even irresponsibly, and indubitably self-serving. Our every action, however, impinges on all, not just around us.

Chiaroscuro? Day and night have their smudging hours. The middle ground of left and right is where action yields to compromise, to complicity, to compassion. Integration, by degrees, becomes a fuller acceptance. How to accommodate that our own throne of responsibility, which is the human condition, is to be under that sword of Damocles, where every thought, and action, can be questioned, usurped, overturned? Very few things in our world are absolutely and totally and inalterably ‘right’. We are, as a species, too easily fragmented, dissociative, warmongering, and contentious to be lumped into a wholesome group, such as those with the collective brain of termites, or bees, or butterflies. Our metamorphosis is generally individualized, and random, and even a choice, or not. Yet still, mankind evolves more by accident than by design, however much an individual’s chosen cultural group, or not, may control our thinking. At issue is the meaning behind ‘mankind’s evolving.’ Unless we are entirely given to all of us simultaneously becoming loving and compassionate towards each other, as a species, we remain primitive, collectively speaking. And therein lies the rub; integration, fully, would have one accept ‘all’.

Ekphrasis, then, is a Greek word meaning, ‘exploring with a detailed description’. But it is not about the selfies we take with our cell phones, or where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what’s on our plate. It is rather about the degree of our sensibility of our responsibility toward The Whole. It is not about moralizing and controlling; it is about understanding. It is, after all, about one for all, and all for one.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Graduated Grades Theory


Hereby initiated, coined, theorized, full integration is not easy. There is no ultimate graduation. Individualized and abstract, the variegated shafts of the Grade Theory curriculum are neither predetermined, nor predestined. Attainments within any given Grade Level, and even from one Grade to another, are perhaps gradual, or perhaps in paradigmatic leaps. As such, insights and apprehensions are exciting, or subtle, or blends of both. And one may graduate from Grade Two to Grade Five, predominantly, or regress back down a single shaft to Grade One, at any age, or at any stage of one’s progress.

Put simply, a lifetime is seen in terms of passing through natural grades of maturation and comprehension, where predominant behavioral traits sustain one at any given Grade Level, while one may have perceptions and insights pertaining to all grade levels simultaneously. We may well attain levels of expertise in our differentiated curriculums, beyond our age group, that are observable, yet we can evidently still be out of our depth in foreign, unfamiliar, or challenging fields. Some will find such challenges invigorating. Others will baulk and retreat to their own comfort zones. Idiomatic, particularized, and empowering, we prefer the stance from which we may hold court, intellectually, spiritually, morally, physically, emotionally, and even politically.

Integration is not easily attained. Each model of mankind, however simplistic or complex, is perceived as a progress through levels of comprehension and attainment that determine one’s predominant proclivities, or behaviours. From Adler; within Graves; through Maslow; to Jung; we apprehend their integrative contentions, perhaps with sincere interest, but easily may forget the particulars of their curriculum, suggestions, or esoteric challenges. We generally are on our own pathway. Sometimes, we adhere to the group. Sometimes, we stick to our own beliefs. Sometimes we agree, disagree, vote, disavow, and absorb. Yet all along the months and years of one’s life, integration keeps challenging our humanity with its endlessness of more and more.

Being human, evidently, is a complex state. One is assailed by variability. Choices determine pathways, constraints, attainments, and patterns of behaviour. And behavioral patterns in turn become one’s predominant proclivities. Grade Theory is not about a naturally chronological maturation; it is about one’s endemic comprehension, absorption, integration, perception, and apprehension of the largely individualized curriculum inherent to one’s awareness. We take on the habits and customs of our forefathers, our tribe, our family, our friends, our school, our church, our political affiliations, our country’s cares, and our national identity. We can become racist, xenophobic, polarizing, and entrenched. Indeed, integration, full integration, absolute compassion, complete love, and utter understanding is not easily attained. Rather, we have glimpses and insights and momentary practices of them. We are, necessarily, self-protective, lest we find ourselves entirely dissipating into the morass of mankind, devoid of our own ego, smudged beyond our own boundaries, bereft of the curriculum vitae of our individual identity.

There are adults still in Grade Seven who realize Ph.D. aspects in themselves. There are post-doctorates who still need to perfect some Grade Three concepts. Being ontological does not make one epistemological. Meaning making is not always rational. To accept that each of us is highly differentiated in potential, yet sometimes may ‘naturally’ be graded and grouped, can be bristling to some. Yet to absorb, accept, include, and love everything and everybody, now there’s the rub. The Grade Theory, in conception, is hereby intended to help. Integration, after all, is all.

Friday, December 29, 2023

The Plight of Pranks


The belligerent banging at our cabin door penetrated my deep sleep. It was an anxious, agitated, ugly sound. Instantly, there’s a sea-dread in the dead of the night. Muffled shouts erupted in the corridor, and then the distinct, “Wake up! Get up. Get out,” urgency of it assailed me. Outside the porthole, it was pitch black. I was on the top bunk. My wife was below. And no sooner had I tossed aside the bedding, and leapt down, than my ankles were in cold water! A certain panic arose. We both scrambled to the door, and as we yanked it open, gushes of deepening water swirled and sloshed and gurgled into our space, quickly rising to our knees. The corridor lights showed the water to be an ugly rusted brown, and it reeked. I waded back into the cabin to pluck at our already floating suitcases, since they had been packed and now waited only for our early arrival at Southampton docks, but a ship’s officer barked: “Leave that! We’ll retrieve your luggage. Go! Go! All passengers, go up to the lounge!”

The lounge? That might’ve been my first indication that things were not too drastic. After all, we were not being called to the lifeboats. Yet still, the ship was listing, astoundingly, and the water grew yet more voluminous as we struggled up our short corridor, of about four cabins’ worth of noisy people to either side, to join up with the jostling passengers, almost all in pajamas and night gowns, crowding at the T junction to the main C deck starboard passageway. At the closed-up corner cabin a purser kept vaingloriously banging on its door, and shouting alarms, but then we all sloshed on past, heading for the stairs. Still, some of us had to duck our heads down from the malodorous spray of the overhead sprinklers. Several of them, it was apparent, were spewing out this putrid smelling water as quickly as possible.

We straggled into the lounge, all of us looking dishevelled, and somewhat distraught. The ship’s personnel found us blankets, and pillows, and organized hot beverages. “Your luggage will be waiting for you,” they promised. And then it struck me. My artwork! Twenty years’ worth of sketches and water-colours and even an oil painting or two, all rolled together and left standing in the cabin closet, alongside my suitcase, with my brand new pair of shoes waiting on the floor. I had to get that roll of paintings!

“You! Where do you think you’re going?” A ship’s officer called out. I baulked. "Just got to rescue my artwork, Sir,” I tried. His finger shook. “Oh no you’re not. No one goes downstairs until we’ve found out exactly what the problem is, and that everything is secure. You stay here!”

Well, that’s how come, as I write, nearly 50 years later, I have so little of my formative work. But there were yet more dire consequences as a result of that sad evening aboard the last voyage of the Edinburgh Castle, on the 11th April, 1976. Indeed, we all might still go on learning from them.

As part of a Facebook group, called Union Castle Line Ex-Passengers, which I joined just last month, Pauline Hollis wrote: “I remember that well. The crew were throwing anything they could over the side. We saved a bag of the large Lego blocks. I seem to remember a stowaway and a breakdown somewhere between Cape Town and Southampton.”

Yes. In fact, back then Ian Pursch was the purser, and (his) Paula (not Ms. Hollis), was a junior purser too. They became friends of ours. We toured Scotland together. (My wife and I waited for them in London while they went on the last voyage, sans passengers, to the Edinburgh Castle’s sad grave.) But so too had someone else met her death on the last voyage of the Edinburgh. We learned that an old Scottish woman, the one in that corner cabin, hoping to make it back to her homeland after being in Africa all her life, had died of a heart attack. She never made it home. And as for the reason? Some partying prankster, on that final night of the long voyage, had held a match up to a sprinkler. And yes, when we docked at Southampton, the ship’s flag was at half-mast. One plays pranks, but there are consequences. And one sails, but all our journeys do come to their end.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

van Niekerk's Veracity


“I just wanted you to know I’m OK. I’m here, just letting you know,” he said last night, etched clear as a Zoom projection onto my white board in the university classroom. The other students, in their ranks up the rake of the auditorium seats, wondered how I might respond. John’s image, as a full-grown teenager with his black hair and chiselled chin, his strong brown eyes, and his swimmer’s fit physique, clad in a white shirt tucked into jeans, stood in front of a background of bright green trees.  Was he at the nearby Magnolia Dell? He was bunking, and we both knew it, but now he was contacting me, just to let me know that all was well. An intrusion on my visceral lecture about Dynamic Integration, I but briefly paused while I took in the alert senses of my students as to whatever I might say.

The thing is, the truth about one’s life gets tangled. We attempt to place happenstances precisely, but as we grow older the timelines overlap, and we can search for connections by which to slot in the particular events that demarcate our passage of time. Just when John had got up and left the classroom was not clear to me. (Is not clear to me.) Why I should be an old man, still lecturing, and he but a teenager, when he’d always been a constant friend in my own youth, was perhaps subconsciously understood, even while I was dreaming. Lucid dreaming, it is called. We know we’re dreaming. We can even direct our dreams. We can face into our fears. We can determine if we should give in to temptation. We can even be compassionate toward ourselves, and others, and we can awake with a sense of having washed away at our ‘dirty laundry’. There’s power in dreaming. We are not necessarily just ‘led by the nose’.

But the intrusion that John made into my classroom happened without my having beckoned it. Or did I not? Just yesterday I’d re-read the three-page story of John (on p. 303, of 50 Years On... Pretoria Boys High Class of 1970, Our Stories), and I felt sad that we had but one indistinct picture of him. Then too, I was reflecting on the great privilege of often being a guest at John’s parents’ house, in the prestigious neighbourhood of Waterkloof Ridge. Back in the late 60’s, a maid, a cook-boy (who was really a full-fledged man), and a chauffeur, as well as a constant gardener, complemented the house-hold staff. John appreciated them all. Laundry was always washed and ironed the same day. And the table was set for dinner guests, or luncheon guests, with crystal and... well, one gets the picture.

Thing is, almost 60 years later, just last night, I’d dreamed about John for the first time, (far as I can recall.) We never re-connected after High School. Conscription into the South African Army boiled my soul. I wanted nothing to do with my past. And whatever old school friends I had, I lost them all. But not in memory. My affection for friends stayed the same. It was just the detachment I threw around each of the people I’d befriended, so long ago, cordoning each off, like icons in the desktop of one’s computer screen, each with a program that goes unused, until one clicks it, (at times ineffectually,) open. (It’s a habit practiced, yet still too long.)

Well, John’s message has me deeply affected. It’s as if I’d been re-assured from another realm. Then again, quite aware of the synaptic gap that inhabits every one of our neuronal interactions, I’m much given to understanding the creative impulses inherent to the artistic, as well as the phenomenological bent, of those such as myself, who also are easily given toward making things ontological. ... Huh?

That’s part of the complexity of one’s thought processes, in dreaming. (Sometimes, even in daydreaming, complexity creeps in.) We make of our moments a kaleidoscope of meanings. And then we can conjure that which has some sort of sensibility to it all, for ourselves. Epistemology aside, we are, essentially, quite imaginative beings.

As for what my response was: “Thanks, John. Good of you to let us know you’re Ok. Communication is everything.”  And he disappeared. And then, John’s classmates smiled.

So, it goes. Such are dreams. And I wonder, shall we ever ‘meet’ again?

(cover designed by Justin Neway)

50 Years On... Pretoria Boys High Class of 1970: Our Stories : Pretoria Boys High, The Class of 1970 at: Books

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Two To Tango

We, and them. Throughout history we’ve perpetuated it. The essential dichotomy is felt in the bones. Even when we overcome differences of race, of physiognomy, of language barriers, or even of social circles, it remains, however subtly, an 'us' versus 'them'. “We are not on the same page about this,” one person tells another. The implication is clear: my viewpoint is better than your viewpoint. We are not enmeshed in the necessary appreciation of the dual tensions it takes to do a tango. Too often, we hear entirely different music.

Life itself will do that to us, divide us, that is. From the earliest age we learn who is first, last, and somewhere in between. And as our sophistications grow into the apportionments of ourselves in the Venn diagrams of our circumstances, we become inured to the concept that we are right, they are wrong, and we go right, while they may take what’s left.

Politically, it becomes easier and easier to determine who is who. A great many of us more readily align with This, or with That. Religiously too. Even morally, we can become dis-ambiguous. And as for ethics? Well, the definitions of that concept fills volumes, so where is there a fine line to be drawn, over which one will not step? No, it is the traditions and the acculturations and the belief systems that we grow up into becoming, from child to adult, and seldom do we easily reach past the pastures of our forefathers. Seldom do we give up our identity. Seldom do we accept our sublimation into a greater whole. We are too much clung to our mortal coil, fearing we shall lose all identity if we no longer retain a ‘nationality.’ So it goes. On and on. Even much elongation of new generations will proudly say, “I’ve got the blood of a Zoroastrian in me;” especially if it be true.

And so Us versus Them continues. Thing is, it matters not at this time for particular distinctions. In our long history (even yet to be) we shall still call some, Romans, and some others, Greeks. So too do we readily call people by country, by school, by city, by family name, by ethnicity. We retain an identity. And we are 'us', while they are 'them'. So it goes.

Eventual integration is a myth. At best engendered in small groups, among individuals, it very much gets called into question (integration, that is) when the larger group sees itself more readily as an Us, versus a Them. (Anyone who has suffered marginalization knows the feeling.) 

So much is at stake when being ‘different.’

Thing is, how do you become entirely 'accepting'? That’s right, You. If not you, then who? We each are responsible for inculcating an ethos of integration that entirely absorbs the ideological differentiations extant amongst us, and allows us to inculcate instinctual compassion, sincere compassion, intuitive compassion, enlightened compassion, and persevering compassion, unconditionally. Really?

Yes, there is an appreciation of duality in the challenge. That is the point. Ideological egocentricities perpetuate the tensions in the historical making, present, future, or in our recent past too. We are each responsible for not only allowing it all ‘to be’, but also for nurturing it all ‘to become’. To become what, precisely? Well, it is certainly not the eradication of our statues, or even the changing of place names that shall alter us, each by each; it is the clarification of history's significance, such that we might learn from the mistakes of the past, truthfully, factually, considerately, and most especially, compassionately.

Are some things worth tearing down?

Indeed. “Tear down the wall” was a deeply symbolic event.

And so too does tearing down the wall between 'us' and 'them'. 

Trouble is, as just about everybody knows, it takes two to tango.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Comparative Considerations


‘Take nothing personally.’ At least, that’s what The Four Agreements invite. Also, ‘Do not compare yourself with others, for always there will be lesser and greater persons than yourself,’ says Desiderata; (which was at first purported to be a 14th century inscription in a hidden church wall, until someone discovered that the poet, Max Ehrmann, had written it, sometime in the first half of the 1900’s.) And then there’s my own observation about comparisons, called:

The Ten Pears

 A man sees ten pears in a bin at the store. ‘This one looks the best,’ he determines, and buys it.

A woman sees nine pears in the same store. ‘This is the best one for me, she avers,’ and buys it.

Another woman comes along to the pears. ‘Of the eight, this is the best,’ she smiles, and buys it.

A girl is next, sent by her mother. ‘Out of the seven, Mom will like this one the most,’ she’s sure.

A man sees six pears in the bin, and he carefully concludes that the one he takes ‘is best, indeed.’

Another man arrives, carefully examines the five, and picks the very best one for himself too.

An older woman, knowing fruit, sees four pears left. ‘Hm, here’s the best one for me,’ she thinks.

Another old man, seeing the three pears, thinks, ‘Ah! Now here’s the very best of the three!’

A very busy young man sees just two pears. ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, ... nope! This is the better one!’

At last, the lone pear sits there, until someone, wanting a pear, sees it. ‘Lucky me. I found a pear!’


Thing is, for each pear in the bin, someone found it to be the best, each time.

So... indeed, we compare by contrast, certainly, but at each stage of  our participation in evaluation we have only the ones before us by which to choose. As such, my having received the honour of being among ‘the world’s best oil-painters’ hardly really needs be taken personally. After all, yes, 72 countries participated, but only the artists who happened to send in their works to be evaluated were among those chosen. And then too, in all the categories (like fruit in a grocery store,) how many were ‘pairs.’ Well, enough entries for my ‘third place’ not even to be isolated, but paired, ‘tied’, with another artist, Eugene Kuperman, (whose ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ (shown below) strikes me as superbly profound, not only in its execution, but in its symbolism too.)

We who write books, who make music, who paint paintings, who do theatrical shows, who make movies, who act and dance and teach and lead and serve, in whatever capacity, are doing what we can with every one of our products directed at being accepted by someone else. Yes, someone ‘other’ may find this product better than that (even among my own works I’d place rankings); but the thing is that each thing that we do is paired with our energy, our intuition, our instinct, our talent, our state of mind, our physical health, and our innate ability at a given time. And time itself, we know, can affect even the very best of pears; (ha!, ask any fruit fly.)

Take nothing personally. Do not compare. But certainly, it is appreciated that one likes my fruit.

Now then, anyone up for getting 'the perfect pair' of my novels? See them at:

And see ALL the art at:

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Don and Death (YOU are in here)

“If you’re waiting for that famous last moment, before someone dies, to say the things you should be saying all your life, well, you better have great timing,” Morrie Swartz said to Mitch Albom, in  a line from the play, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ It’s phrasing to sink into the soul. We find it so hard to say the things we feel, sometimes. We can sense the threshold of the maudlin, the sentimental, the gushing, and even the thread of interdependency in our words of love and care to someone else. It’s sometimes hard to let go. It’s sometimes hard not to let go. And so, with friends and family and acquaintances, we perpetuate the usual acculturations we’ve been taught. For a lot of us, less is more. For another lot of us, more and more creates a sense of it all meaning less. Words matter. Feelings matter. How best to convey ‘the right thing to say’ at the many moments of life, let alone at someone else’s ‘end’.

Don just died this morning at 8:30. ...Very peaceful and so glad it’s over for all of us. ... our doctor was just here, and all is taken care of,” wrote his wife.

It is so sad a note to receive, and yet so real. Who among us has never received news of death? And who among us has not wished we might have said something to the person we loved, cared for, thought about? For some of us, we’ve had a chance. We were told about the possibility of imminent death. We were given opportunity to write, to visit, to speak. And at other times, with the sad news of someone’s death, we were taken by surprise. We did not know that the person was ill, was in trouble, was in a state of distress so dire that death would overtake them. And we had no chance to tell them how we felt. It would’ve been ‘nice’ to relay our feelings. It would’ve been ‘good’ to let them know about our appreciation, if only....

In the passage of our lives, at any age, there are the boxes we are given to ‘tick’. Have we been kind, considerate, thoughtful, compassionate? Have we been generous, given time, given friendship, given care? Have we shared our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts, our souls? Have we been honest, truthful, careful, and inclusive? Have we allowed them ‘to be’? And then again, is that tick list all about our self, or is it about another? Have they been those things to us? All of those things? And in the end, that ‘end’, which of those things in the tick list might we not apply? Surely the person hearing them might feel guilty for not exhibiting all those elements towards oneself. So too, might we not feel guilty for not demonstrating those same qualities toward them!

“Every day, have a little bird that sits on your shoulder, that asks, is today the day? Am I being the person I want to be?” advised Morrie. Well, in that ‘wanting’ lies much of awareness and insight and action.

My friend, Don, has a long history with me. His boxes are ticked. His life had great import. His love meant a great deal. Our communication, sporadic, intermittent, intense, and meaningful, was imbued with the essence of respect for the other, appreciation for the journey, and care for the other’s interests.

Another longtime friend, at the news of Don’s death, wrote succinctly: “You will miss your friend.”

Such is the truth of living.