Waking up early to a sun that cannot yet break through the bank of weeping clouds; listening to the Knysna Louries chasing each other through the dripping trees against the swish-swish background sound of vehicles driving past on the wet road below our house; and welcoming the damp, while wishing for ‘real’ rain, I began to sift through an accumulation of papers that blink for attention on a shelf to the left of my desk. It is a good morning to sort through examination papers I no longer need, snippets of story ideas, the draft of a talk I plan to give – sometime – and to file others where they belong. It is a contemplative morning: quiet, dark, grey and damp. Solitude lends itself to thinking and so it was interesting to find an old photocopy of The Invitation amongst the pile of papers – no longer demanding my attention, for this gave me a solid reason to think about the joy my family brings, how fortunate I am, and what a wonderful world we live in when we really focus on what is positive. I share it with you in the hope that it will bring you a sense of peace and happy contemplation,

The Invitation by Oriah

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation



I recently wrote about the waning art of letter writing and return to it again for this is a subject that resonates with me: I enjoy writing letters. Real letters. Letters that give the recipient a flavour of what we have been doing, what is happening in this country, and that share opinions about cultural and social issues. My favourite form of letter-writing is by hand. I usually sit at the small stinkwood desk that used to belong to my grandmother and later my mother.

Holding a pen in my hand seems to provide a connection of some sort to the person I am addressing. More importantly, sitting at my desk focuses my attention on the act of writing. True, I look up now and then to watch birds as the pass the window or call from the tree tops; to observe the effect of the changing light on the landscape; or simply to gaze into the distance while my thoughts flow.

Letter-writing is a pleasurable activity for me. I have three, maybe four, faraway friends who also still use what has disparagingly come to be known as snail mail. One only writes by hand and another often adds a page or two of handwritten comments at the end of a typed letter – often a ‘one-size-fits-all.

I used to assume that most people resort to e-mail. I certainly type a lot of letters these days and attach them to e-mails – more often because I am unable to get postage stamps. Even these ones though are composed with care, the recipient always in my mind as though we are having a conversation. They are satisfying to compose and I look forward to receiving some interesting replies.

Articles and blogs I have read during recent weeks decrying the waning art of letter-writing and ‘old-fashioned’ face-to-face communication have confirmed that ‘most people’ do not resort to e-mail after all. Like SMSes/text messaging, e-mails have become passé, used for internal business communications and as a vehicle for would-be scammers.

We were discussing the role of Facebook the other evening. One brave soul commented that she had withdrawn from Facebook and faced a barrage of reasons from the others present why Facebook is such an important vehicle for communication these days. I remained silent for I have never joined that community. One person said “I rely on Facebook to remind me of birthdays” while another wondered aloud whether wishing all one’s ‘friends’ a happy birthday through that medium was as meaningful as sending a message via Whatsapp – or even e-mail – might be.

Articles about the benefits of taking a break from Facebook, switching off Twitter, and promoting family time without the ubiquitous cell phones abound. A recent article pointed out that modern society has become so dependent on social media that people feel they are losing out if they are not constantly ‘plugged in’. This reminded me of articles discussing the etiquette of watching television that were published once South Africans were at last able to have that broadcasting medium in their homes!

An apt phrase that is often repeated follows the lines of ‘don’t miss the actual beauty of the sunset because you are so busy Tweeting it.’

I leave you with this thought from Matthew Arnold:

Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done?


Apart from invitations to workshops and requests to confirm orders by supplying my personal details, Standard Bank has been quick off the mark asking me to confirm a payment of R8 789 to my account in addition to reminding me that I can claim R9 000 in UCount Rewards – even though I have never banked with them. Wonga Loans similarly have not yet realised that I am not interested in their low interest offers.

That cheap holiday in Thailand, Cambodia and China could be made possible if I accept the message from one Anna Elisabeth Hellstrøm drawing my attention to the fact that I have been granted a 1.5 million dollars as a gift – just like that!

I have also been offered US$3 200 million in a fixed/suspense (you have to love that) account to take on a God child from Cote d’ Ivoire. If that responsibility weighs too heavily on me I can always have fun with my 400% Welcome Bonus to play online casino games.

Oh, and Mr. Edger Hoover has been at it again.


You know what it is like: silence descends in a church or a hall, during a family gathering – any place where the proceedings have moved forward to pause for a solemn moment, be it to pay homage, show respect, await an announcement of some import … the hush is all encompassing – and you sneeze!

Sternutation seldom happens as a once-off interruption. It frequently causes faces to turn your way – some of those glaring looks sharply prick their way through the crowd and, in flinching from them, you sneeze again … and again!

Someone nearly always sneezes during a dramatic pause in a play, an opera, or a symphony concert. I have listened to a concert of sternutation at church services and public lectures. At some times of the year the situation is direr than at others – especially when there is a yellow haze of pollen about.

Crossword lovers would have come across this scientific term for ‘sneeze’ in cryptic clues.

I wonder what the term is for the inclination to want to giggle during solemn moments.


Of course you have heard of ARISTOCRACY, referring to a high ranking class in some societies who believe they are born to rule. They tend to enjoy certain ranks and privileges such as inherited titles or positions of power. These days even those societies which do not have an entrenched social class system have one imposed on them by economic advantage (or disadvantage).

This leads to me thinking about PLUTOCRACY, which refers to a government by the wealthy or an elite class who derive their power from wealth. In both cases wealth plays a part in terms of wielding power over those who have neither.

Now, Americans and South Africans – you could presumably name several other countries too – currently bear a very public cross in the form of their respective governments. In both countries the government leaders were legitimately voted in, leaving others feeling aghast and scratching their heads in a ‘what were they thinking’ kind of way.

As with all elections, once the celebrations of victory – or the commiseration of defeat – have subsided and the reality of the full-term of the elected government hits home, citizens of all persuasions have to live with the consequences. Media reports indicate that the Americans are saddled with a government by persons least qualified to do the job – I cannot speak for them – and in South Africa we have long been the butt of jokes that make us wonder if we have not drawn a government by the worst persons.

In both these countries the concept of democracy has turned us into a KAKISTOCRACY.

Now, now, South Africans … while this word bears a strong resemblance to the one commonly used to dismiss something out of hand or to describe a situation or feeling that is simply too awful for words [the root for that one is the Indo-European kakka-/kaka, meaning to defecate], the origin of this word is more refined and was coined by the English author, Thomas Love Peacock in his 1829 novella The Misfortunes of Elphin. You mean, you haven’t read it? It begins with the words, In the beginning of the sixth century, when Uther Pendragon held the nominal sovereignty of Britain over a number of petty kings, Gwythno Garanhir was king of Caredigion, and is a comic romance filled with wit and humour.

Kakistocracy comes from the Greek kakistos (meaning ‘worst’) plus the suffix -cracy (meaning ‘rule’ as in aristocracy and plutocracy mentioned above).

Now you have a word for it, you can describe your feelings about the government with a clear conscience in polite society.

I am grateful to for introducing me to this word.


I wonder if the word has got out that my car licence is due for renewal. I have been inundated with offers of licence discs. On the subject of travel, I have also had several more holiday offers, such as the ‘Take a beach break from R2 170’ to cheap holidays in Botswana and the Victoria Falls.


Source: Anne Allan – thank you!

Of course, if I can’t afford any of those I can always take a cash loan of up to R25 million. Wonga Loans have been rather keen to get me into debt this month. Mmm Loan wants me to contact them immediately and Standard Bank has (they say) successfully opened a profile for me – how kind.

Perhaps I should take up the offer of having my horoscope read for the Year of the Rooster or the one for $900 to play at a recently launched casino. Darn, another courier has been unable to deliver a parcel; Jones and Associates Law Firm require me to open a PDF to ensure they follow the necessary steps contained in the file; even the United Nations Economic and Social Council is trying to get hold of me!

Then dear old Edger Hoover has been at it again. He is a persistent fellow who frequently assures me that I am potentially privy to confidential information. I wonder what that could be …