Pinke Magnolia

daughter and sister with a mild case of middle child syndrome. serial spooner. second hand shopper. falls in love easily. has a love of food, wine and coffee as if born european. lover of languages, and infatuated with devil's peak. finds herself most often on the dancefloor, in the kitchen or in townships.

by day: community developer | project manager | tedx curator

in the dark: singer | dreamer | changemaker
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The baby boom continues, and my mobile-making skills improve somewhat in the process. Thinking of making these little bells and birdies to order. Anyone in the world interested? Let’s talk.

Sometimes technology and it’s ability to optimize and make processes easier, simpler, faster, can actually take away the magic of certain things while trying to make it better.

Digital photography has revolutionized how we capture precious moments, and social media apps like instagram have turned most of us into pretty decent amateur photographers. But the one thing that digitalization of photography has done, is make us forget about the wonder and magic of old school photo albums.

We take an endless number of photographs, more than we ever did when development of film photos cost so much, and we never display them.

Well, we paste them all over Facebook, for the world to see, but don’t preserve them in our homes.

We travelled to Asia in December, and apart from about 14 select photos on Facebook and Instagram, none of our family or friends have been privy to the most detailed record of the exciting adventures we got up to while there.

But then every now and then the digital world goes and redeems itself somewhat, and in this instance I have to share the love for photo books. The new school photo albums, sans the photo corners and tissues paper sheets separating the pages, or peel back cellophane. Photo books are a way of ensuring that at least the most beautiful and interesting of your personal photographs are captured in a real life tangible item, as opposed to trapped within your digital camera or laptop. They’re a wonderful alternative to handing over your camera for a friend to flick through, and they bring back the loveliness of books.

I recently offered to put together a “brag book” for my folks of my younger sister’s wedding, and was so happy with the final product, 28 pages of memories I could hold in my hands, that I almost refused to send it home to Durban. And now I am just itching to capture the essence of Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong in my own, so that friends and family can share in a little bit of the eastern magic we were able to capture through the lens of our cameras and iPhones.

I suppose at the end of the day, (taking the liberty of alluding to a bible verse) Technology giveth, and Technology taketh away!

Maya Angelou died on Tuesday, at 86 years old. Her death reminded me of her beautiful poem “Phenomenal Woman”, which has a very special place in my heart, linked to the loss of a phenomenal woman a few years ago.

There is nothing I can add to justify it’s beauty and the type of woman to which it refers, I can only say this poem always has and always will speak directly to my soul.

Phenomenal woman.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Learning from Taoism.

Hi, I’m Lauren and I’m an ‘over-commiter’. Always have been. Always will.

Or maybe not.

In the last 6 months or so I started a new job, took up a place in a yearlong leadership programme, enrolled in a Master’s degree, and got engaged. I’ve always managed to somehow convince myself that any number of things can be done with enough energy and intention. And over the last 10 to 15 years of my life I managed. Hell, in my last job I was flying to and from JHB almost every week, completing a distance learning Honours degree, playing for a social soccer team in my spare time and I seemed to get by. Or at least I considered myself to be getting by. And that was just it. I was just getting by.

About 2 months ago I pulled my ligaments playing soccer like the amateur I am, one week before my sister’s wedding. Can you picture a bridesmaid on crutches. Yip – try making that look glam. I have never really had a real injury, and as minor as this sprained ankle was, I could not believe the psychological effect it had on me. And those around me. Man I was a pain.

Fortunately my mother was visiting from Durban, in the lead up to the wedding, and she and the f-bomb did a sterling job of prepping for a bachelorettes party on my behalf, being ordered around by the invalid on the couch waving a crutch around like a bloody sceptre.

And maybe I should have enjoyed it, being able to lie down all day and tell people what to do – but it made me feel utterly incapable and as if I was not contributing. I realised that I pride myself in being able to get a lot of shit done, and being confined to metal legs or the couch brought me to tears a number of times. Being capable and productive have come to hold such value in my life, that taking a forced break almost broke me. I wasn’t able to handle not feeling as though I was doing something.

The ankle has pretty much healed now, or at least I walk normally on it. I haven’t started playing soccer again because I am a wimp. But I have found myself in a different situation which begs me to question my insane need to be productive 24 hours a day.

My new job is quieter than the old one. Quite a lot quieter. No travelling, hardly ever a need to take work home after hours, and I’m no longer expected to be on call almost all of the time. And I find myself wanting to complain about it. My body and mind are not used to the concept of “free time” after hours, and so when I am left without anything pressing or urgent to attend to, I start to question my productivity and value, in all spheres.

I brought this up with my leadership coach (one of the amazing perks of my Masters programme) and his response summed me up in one sentence “I get the impression you think doing ‘nothing’ is a bad thing”. Damn right. I can’t spend a rainy Saturday watching movies because I feel I should be doing something proactive, productive, valuable with my time. Saying no to outings and projects and social events is difficult for me, as I am always wanting to be busy. I am constantly wondering if I should be pushing myself further, if I am growing fast enough.

I don’t say no, and I don’t do ‘nothing’.

And then I was hit with some wisdom. Some brilliant wisdom contrasting the ideals of the west, with the philosophy of the east. My coach referred me to the philosophy of Tai chi and Taoism in which action comes from a place of inaction, or rest.

According to the ancient Chinese text written by Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching states: “Being and non-being give birth to each other, / Difficult and easy complete each other, / Long and short form each other, / High and low fulfill each other…”

In other words, nothing of substance can exist without the complement of non-substance, a tree cannot exist without the space that surrounds it – therefore nothing creates something. This is a philosophy therefore of balance, and the attraction of opposites. Of Yin and Yang. Where the yin side of emptiness and nothingness is as important as the yang side of movement and action.

This commitment to rest, nothingness and emptiness contrasts so strongly with the Western focus on the Yang – needing to do more, achieve more, be more successful. We appear to have devalued entirely the Yin in our daily lives, to the extent of living completely out of balance.

My coach forwarded me the following passage from a friend which further resounded with me:

We have a very unhealthy relationship to rest in this fast-paced, achievement oriented culture of ours. We seek permission to let go and stop all the rushing and doing, far too often. We feel guilty if we aren’t in the race hare-ing along, our to-do lists our masters and us their slaves, and most importantly there isn’t enough dialogue about the purpose of it. It is as important to take conscious periods of rest as it is to pay attention to what you’re eating.

The poet and philosopher David Whyte says that rest is:

"…a conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be."

In the same essay on rest he concludes that…

"to rest is not self-indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given."

What does this mean in practice for me? In the past rest has never been prioritised in my life, and on the most part I have always equated rest to laziness, stagnation or uselessness. And so at the outset it is important for me to reshape my understanding of rest, and to ensure I don’t misconstrue the philosophy of nothingness, Wu Wei, as laziness. Wu Wei is non-action, non-doing – a state of action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. It is a way of being in a world that constantly expects us to go, go, go. In practice for me, I think it means not fighting against periods that are less all-consuming and action focused, but use those times to reflect and respond naturally to the demands on my time, rather than resorting to a place of anxiety where I then strive to find other “useful” things with which to fill it.

Wu Wei is often associated with water and its yielding nature. An element that adapts itself to reality, rather than attempting to oppose, fight, argue or change reality. A practice of eliminating unnecessary action, and letting go of thoughts or actions that may hinder or block the spontaneous flow of events that take place naturally.

In our western, achievement and success oriented world, we constantly label, analyse, ponder WORRY, and fill our minds with so much thought and intellectual ideas that we no longer are able to clearly see what is there, how we feel, or what we need to do. In this ‘information age’ we are constantly bombarded with new thoughts, new ideas, new demands, that we very rarely take the time to reflect, empty out and start from a place of balance.

And so begins my journey on trying to develop a better relationship with rest. Not to give up on pursuing my goals, or being a productive, engaged individual, but to learning to say no where necessary, and to use my ‘spare’ time to reflect, recuperate, and find balance. I will probably also need to consciously commit to and prioritise times of rest, rather than just wait for them to come around. I have for so long actively pursued Yang, and now I think it may be time to start pursuing Yin in equal measure.

My little Corner of the Globe.

I work on the corner of two very busy streets; Wale and Long, of which the latter is probably the busiest street in the city. The stretch of Long Street hums consistently with human bodies, day and night, ebbing and flowing as the sun rises and sets.

But there is a particularly interesting time of the day on my little corner. In the few hours between 4pm (end of a working day for most capetonians) and the party hours when the street really starts to come alive, there is the most interesting and diverse mix of humans to be found. It’s when those who spend their daylight hours in the city bowl hand over the street to the night owls, those ready to escort Long street into the early hours of the morning.

When I moved to London from my life lived between Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Grahamstown I was overwhelmed by the representation of nationalities in the British capital. Having graduated from Rhodes University the extent of my international interaction stretched about as far as Zimbabwe. Working in London I spent my daily life with Germans, Australians, the polish and even a Lithuanian. And then I went home to an overcrowded sharehouse to eat dinner with Kiwis, Norwegians and the occasional Swede. Call me naive, stupid or ignorant- but before I moved to Cape Town in 2009, I did not realise that cities of such international diversity existed in my own country.

And while I could list the awesome foreign nationals I have met during my five years living in the mother city, a short 15 minutes observing my little ‘Wale meets Long’ corner would give you an intensified understanding of Cape Town’s fascinating mix of people.

Take the 10 meters of pavement outside the African Woman Craft Market. A Somalian gentleman runs a small tuckshop outside, while French speaking customers mill about on the pavement catching up with the car guards from DRC. A Rastafarian gent with trademark dreads and red/yellow/green beanie parks outside the market every day- opposite the equally consistent elderly South African stalwarts of the Church Street Antique market, with their china and brass wares.

Scan up and down the street and bet your bottom dollar you’ll spot some young good looking, very tanned backpackers hailing from America, Holland, Brazil or some country equally well bestowed with good looks. No matter what time of year the girls are likely to be in tiny denim shorts, thus fairly easy to spot among the more conservative work wear of the average South African.

And then you may find four or five pedestrians of very uniform looks, clothing and facial expression. Apart from height and gender variations, the Scandinavian/Dutch/German/British family are easy to identify; with their fairer complexions, matching backpacks, and (of course) very practical walking shoes. Most times they’re the ones negotiating crossing the street or dealing with a beggar as a family unit, trying hard not to offend or endanger anyone in the process.

A few metres to the South of Wale you’ll find one of the oldest mosques in the city, and Friday lunchtime this draws a large portion of the working Muslim population passed my little corner, and adds the wonderful sounds of the Mosque’s call to prayer to the soundscape of all the overheard accents.

When I leave my office every day, I relish the moments I will spend wrapped up in my little globe, representative of most of the contents of this world. I stand waiting to be collected, immersed in the continuous flow of human bodies up, down, and across that corner, and appreciate the global migration, movement and interaction of people it suggests. Those few moments remove me from the reality that is a working day, and make me feel as though I am in another country at another time. A traveller exploring somewhere entirely new, every day.

Illustration by Bruce Mackay, an incredibly talented Cape Town artist.

De Botton is undoubtedly one of my favourite writers who manages to profoundly examine human nature and present it to readers in a very tangible, manageable, and somewhat life-altering manner.

Although I have yet to get my hands on “Status Anxiety”, his book about the human desire to climb the social ladder, his TED Talk titled “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success” really resonated with me, and the experiences that I and many friends of my generation have grappled with in our twenties, especially those related to our careers and working lives.

His thoughts on meritocracy as a cause of chronic status anxiety and as a system which insists on success as a direct result of talent, energy and skill- somewhat ignoring circumstance and inter-generational poverty- resonates soundly with the work I do and conversations my peers and I regularly engage in. It appears to be a view of the privileged, protecting their status, to believe their success is the direct result of their own energy, hard work and skills. This however suggests that an equally talented, hard working and determined young woman from rural Transkei would reach the same levels of success as an executive of a large corporate firm as would the advantaged privately educated male whose been exposed to internships or semesters abroad, or has the economic freedom afforded by permanent electricity and water supply, a brand new car, and a bedroom of his own in which to study. These are many differences that are often ignored in the argument for a meritocratic system.

This discrepancy in basic services and opportunities forms the basis of many inequalities in South Africa, and the perpetual lack of such services in many communities ensures their residents remain at the bottom of the meritocratic ladder of success. It is difficult to strike a balance however; in between creating a more level playing field without removing the incentives which encourage and reward hard work and determination.

The TED Talk thus provides valuable lessons in how we start to interrogate and understand success, for our own sanity at least.

There is a particular excerpt from “Status Anxiety” that I think is important for South Africans to mull over as we approach our National Elections. It talks to an acceptable level of basic services delivered as a result from a belief in the preciousness of every human being.

"There are countries in which the communal provision of housing, transport, education and health care is so inferior that inhabitants will naturally seek to escape involvement with the masses by barricading themselves behind solid walls. The desire for high status is never stronger than in situations where ‘ordinary’ life fails to answer a median need for dignity or comfort.

Then there are communities—far fewer in number and typically imbued with a strong (often Protestant) Christian heritage—whose public realms exude respect in their principles and architecture, and whose citizens are therefore under less compulsion to retreat into a private domain. Indeed, we may find that some of our ambitions for personal glory fade when the public spaces and facilities to which we enjoy access are themselves glorious to behold; in such a context, ordinary citizenship may come to seem an adequate goal. In Switzerland’s largest city, for instance, the need to own a car in order to avoid sharing a bus or train with strangers loses some of the urgency it has in Los Angeles or London, thanks to Zurich’s superlative train network, which is clean, safe, warm and edifying in its punctuality and technical prowess. There is little reason to travel in an automotive cocoon when, for a fare of only a few francs, an efficient, stately tramway will provide transport from point A to point B at a level of comfort an emperor might have envied.

One insight to be drawn from Christianity and applied to communal ethics is that, insofar as we can recover a sense of the preciousness of every human being and, even more important, legislate for spaces and manner that embody such a reverence in their makeup, then the notion of the ordinary will shed its darker associations, and, correspondingly, the desires to triumph and to be insulated will weaken, to the psychological benefit of all.”
― Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety

Our politicians and leaders have lost this reverence for individual South Africans, and somehow we need to find ways of holding them accountable. Making sure to vote on 7 May is one such way in which we can leverage our right as citizens to hold them accountable. Do so for the “psychological benefit of all”.

I got me another brother…

And the promise of a third in the pipeline.

A lot has transpired in the last half a year. I changed jobs. The boyfriend and I travelled to Asia, and returned as betrothed f-bombs. My younger sister and first brother (in-law) celebrated their 1st wedding anniversary. The Sunbeam Tiger became roadworthy. My mother went back to work, while juggling the job of planning the build of their new house. We got cats. My older sister got engaged. And just very recently we celebrated the marriage of said older sister to the man I now get to call brother number two.

Engagements, weddings and marriage present such a wonderful opportunity to be reminded of the joy, love and utter craziness of families. And in the case of Leigh and Steve, the just plain craziness of their friends too! (Flashbacks to karaoke and free-falling impressions by Nadine and Crew!)

They become ways of ensuring family reunions that might never have been realised happen, and witnessing our loved ones getting married also reminds us of the partnerships that have had great influence on our own lives. And they present opportunities for older couples to share their own wisdom with us young’uns.

There was no doubt of course, based on the personalities of Leigh and Steve alone, that this wedding would also be one big party. And their love for wine didn’t hurt either. In preparation for the day Steve personally selected 180 bottles of bubbly, red and white, just in case people were REALLY thirsty. It turns out everyone tried very hard to help finish them off, but while making good progress, especially towards the end of the evening, the mere 100 of us present just couldn’t manage the task! (Thanks especially goes to Kelly for plying us all with Jager and Tequila throughout the evening which hindered the wine consumption somewhat!).

My father said in his speech that evening that Leigh is a person of passion. And when she is passionate about something, she commits to it with everything she has and puts all of her waking energy into it, with ridiculously successful results. Her efforts towards planning and decorating a wedding within 6 short months was evident in all the little thoughtful DIY details she had planned for the day.

But beyond that, the passion my father referred to is not just about her work successes, or her incredible attention to detail, but about her commitment to her partner. Leigh is sure to try her absolute damn hardest to make every moment of her marriage a success. Steve, in the wise words of my father (and if I’m not mistaken – the pastor too!), make sure to keep that passion alive! Whatever it takes, wine, weekends away, date nights, more wine (diamonds?), nights in - sharing meals, stories and your weakest and strongest moments together. Here’s wishing the two of you a phenomenal, exciting shared adventure ahead, and welcome to the fandam Step Hen. I am sure you will survive just fine in this crazy collection of individuals that I call my own.

All the pics and a lovely slideshow video from the talented Bond Freyer can be seen here: