Davidoff. Geneve. There is distant thunder over Jo’burg, the light is beginning to fade, and I am sitting outside on the covered porch, smoking the very last one of my dad’s stale cigars, taken from the drawer in the coffee table where my mother had left them untouched since his death on 28 April, 2008, three days before his 78th birthday. He hadn’t smoked in years.
My father loved Geneva, it represented something cosmopolitan to him, I think; sophisticated, smart, yet also historic, old-world; clean, modern, efficient, yet beautiful and stylish, as well. I remember he bought my mother tailored Swiss suits when he travelled abroad on business, when I was a child – I recall one, in particular, a chic, beautifully cut cerise outfit, with black trim or piping, if memory serves. Geneva, for my dad, was a window into a world he could not have imagined, when he was a lonely, single child, always being told what a failure, what a disappointment, he was. That was why, surely, he drummed it into me, when I was a little boy growing up: I could do anything; I could be anything I wanted.
Geneva meant that he had arrived, that he had broken free, that he had proved them all wrong.
And Davidoff cigars, purchased in Geneva, lit back home in our house in Cape Town, their fragrant smoke coiling upwards in the air, were a reminder of all that; a kind of reassurance, I imagine, and a source of satisfaction as well as pleasure. I look at the ring on this stale and bitter cigar: Davidoff, Geneve, and am not surprised, though I am wryly interested to observe, that I am smoking it. I have inhaled more of my father than I ever knew, or ever will know.
I have been too long – a dozen years – with my current employer, and the work has grown stale, even though I still see its value and respect its purpose. I am frankly tired of the institutional life; tired of managing others; weary of the dead hand that seems to weigh on the office at present. My father set up in business on his own in his thirties – I am 56, and I have discovered in myself, or rediscovered, perhaps, a deep yearning for independence, mobility, a desire to be my own master, and master of my time. I am surprised at the passion I feel, as if I have waited too long, as if there is time to be made up. Perhaps this has something to do, too, with the divorce: I am impatient to get going, after so many years trapped in the amber of separation.
What is it I want to be? What I want to do, at least in the short term, is clearer: I plan to set up as an independent consultant, working in the areas of organisational strategy, sustainable development, corporate citizenship, and education and skills development. My employer has offered a two-year contract, initially at 100% of my time, and scaling back to 50% over the next year. This will offer me a degree of financial security, not only to help me through the work transition, but also to ensure I can meet the onerous obligations of the divorce settlement as well as the substantial expense of repairing and renovating this house – not to mention my continuing financial support for my mother. Simply put, I cannot afford a dip in my cash flow, and without a contract I doubt if I could even consider making this leap into the unknown.
There is another side to this argument however, as Gail, one of my (very good, and very successful) consultant friends pointed out when we had dinner last week at George’s on 4th, one of my favourite eateries, just down the road in Parkhurst. Her advice was, don’t over-commit to your present employer; give yourself the space to take on other work and other clients. There’s lot’s of work out there, she assured me, adding, be brave, it will work out just fine!
Helena, my life coach, made a similar point when we were discussing my plans last year – if anything, she pushed harder for me to break my ‘dependency’, cut my ties sooner rather than later, not least, she suggested, so that Rob and I would be freer to decide where it was that we wanted to live and work – Cape Town, Toronto, or here in Johannesburg.
All good, but, as Robert Frost wrote, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep….
Rob said to me on the weekend that she envied me my clarity, about work and career, about my future plans which seem, to her, so thoroughly mapped out, when her own life, and own career, seem so uncertain and unresolved. Not only does she not know where she will be living, but she does not know what she wants to do. She is tired of the film business, tired of the stress and working herself to the bone on meaningless shows, but she has not been able to figure out what it is that she would like to do instead. This year we had planned, in South Africa, was meant to have given her time and the opportunity to think about these things, but instead she has had to cut short her stay, and head back to Canada to work on a burlesque show, because she needs the money. Once again, she said, she is bouncing back and forth, from one job to another.
I’m not so sure I have it nearly as sorted out as Rob imagines.
I have promised her, though, that when she comes back, we will talk about everything, about the elephant in the room, too, and figure it all out together.
But right now, the one promise I must keep, I guess, is the promise to myself, the promise born in my father’s belief that I could be anything I wanted. In fact, I had the sudden thought, yesterday, that the universe might be sending me a message – the obvious solution, I told Rob, to our two-country dilemma, is writing. If I can earn a living as a writer, it wouldn’t matter where I lived. I could live at the North Pole, if I liked.
Lynette, my old friend from the Transkei days, responded recently to one of my blogs, to remind me that my dream of writing a novel was a dream of 35 years, at least; go for it, buddy, she urged. Easier said than done, perhaps, but the thought does occur: can I use the next year or two of consulting, and the part-security of a contract, to set out, with planning, cunning, determination, to become a writer at last?