The Only Living Green-Haired Girl in Cape Town
This morning I woke up feeling quite optimistic. I hadn’t gotten to it all week, but I knew that today I was going to successfully write a new post that I was sure would be filled with the wit and quirkiness and useful insight to hopefully make me sound a little smarter than I am. I walked along the beach with a spring in my step to find a coffee shop and gather my thoughts. Somehow in my search for the serene I found myself being followed by a construction site for a wall being built along the water. (By the way, if you ever needed more concrete evidence that climate change is real, this is it). I settled in, drank my coffee in the refreshing, salty air and tried to phase out the drilling, which started to feel as though it were drilling into my brain.
I made the mistake of refreshing my email. Confronted with bills to pay, subs for shows next month, and pages upon pages of US visa contracts to read, my mind shriveled into a tiny, useless dried pea. Any hint of inspiration I had previously felt rapidly left the scene and the dull pain that I recognize as stress started up below my right shoulder blade. On a day like this where my mind seems to be on the brink of freak-out (which is how most twenty-somethings feel this close to Christmas), the wrong email can pull me down into the depths of hell. I start fantasizing about letting this shit burn, saying fuck it, pulling a Bon Iver and driving to a snowy cabin in the woods to write acoustic songs and grow a beard. The thought of being back in Brooklyn next week, after a month spent in Cape Town, brings about the all-too-familiar feeling of the walls closing in as I’m forced to face the messiness of real life. I walk home and this place seems to be laughing at me when a car drives by blasting Empire State of Mind. “New York, these streets will make you feel brand new, the lights will inspire you.” Bitch. Please. Not today.
So whether it’s in times of inspiration and optimism or sadness and self-deprecation, here are my thoughts on being torn between two places.
Being in the quiet of the beachy suburbs I have found myself lying awake at night mulling over how I feel somewhat removed from the place I sadly refer to less and less as “home." Most of my friends I grew up with here, who I shared stories of first kisses with, who I went to prom with, who’s shoulders I’ve cried on through my parents’ divorce and that time in middle school when a boy stole my diary and read it to all his friends, have naturally become more distant to me with each passing year I’m away. My love for them has never faltered, but I find myself asking where the road had split for us. I know it’s probably not as black and white as it seems, but they all seem so happy, so sure, so secure. They’re in love and married and talking about their future children. They’re neighbors with each other and their sisters are going to move in soon. They go to quiz nights on Tuesdays and yoga on Sundays and find time to go on vacation with their parents. They’re kind and giving to others and always make time for me. But, I feel like someone who is watching a movie or reading a book about other people. A stranger who stumbled onto a scene. And while it mostly suits me to play the part of the mysterious (though how mysterious can one really be when you write a personal blog?), green-haired artist living in New York, it’s moments like these where I’m starting to feel something that doesn’t feel quite right — a feeling I’m not entirely sure how to describe… isolation, confusion, a tinge of sadness, jealousy, being left out? To be honest, I spend most of my time thinking about myself and my career. Being back in Cape Town for the first time in over 18 months, I'm spending a lot of my time with family and friends, time I know I owe them but which is difficult to give as I’m at the pinnacle of my selfishness as a young adult. It’s probably no one’s fault but my own that I’ve grown apart from my childhood brothers and sisters.
Whether it’s jokes about how my father must be an alien and I must’ve gotten my green hair from his side, or my US visa label of “alien of extraordinary ability”, it alls starts to feel a little bit weird and isolating over time. I get inside the elevator in my mother’s apartment building and people stare at me like I'm an alien. They ask me where I’m from and I say “here”. I sit alone peacefully outside the local bar listening to music and random people approach me and ask where I’m from, and again, I say “here”. Let me tell you ladies, nothing will make you feel as weird as having a 15-year-old hit on you and then his father, separately. Like I’m some kind of zoo animal that each person can take turns peering at. I go to the grocery store and people ask me where I grew up, remarking on my half-America half-South African accent. I tell them, “I’m from here.”
A couple nights ago I went to see a show at a prominent Cape Town music venue I had played with my band back high school. Back then, if you could play this venue your band was the shit and everyone was forced to recognize that. Setting foot inside the venue with a couple friends, we’re all hit with the same bout of nostalgia. The place smells of the cigarettes people are smoking inside (some things never change) and familiar faces from ten years ago approach us. Did I grow taller, physically bigger? This place seems tiny. The stage is tiny. The bar is tiny. The same bar that used to make me feel anxious as I approached it as an underage 17-year-old, hoping to God they won’t card me if my heels were high enough and I had enough makeup on. The dance floor is littered with emo-looking teens and I turn to my friend and say, “what the fuck are these children doing here?” only to realize that when we frequented this place, we were children. A new addition to the club are the tables (seriously, fucking tables?) set up off to the side that are occupied by those our age — the “old people”, I guess. My friends and I pound shots and go straight up to the front of the stage. The band is great, but the vibe in here is shit. This place no longer has the magical charm it had back then. There are cheap flyers on the walls depicting upcoming shows for bands I used to stand in line to watch in high school, upcoming shows at the same venues I saw them play years ago. I recognize there’s some sort of metaphor or life lesson here, but I’m too busy grabbing another drink and singing along to Diamond Thug to care about thinking too hard right now. My friends and I dance and joke around and laugh anyway. I guess you can take the girl out of Cape Town but you can’t take Cape Town out of the girl. Some things never change.
I went to a bridal shower on the beach last week (double-bridal shower, because two brides; the more brides, the better, I say. Also this is wedding #2, not to be confused with the wedding from the last post). I was sitting next to one of the bride’s fathers who is an American-as-it-gets Southerner from Mississippi. “Are you going to play the national anthem at the wedding?” he asks in his Southern drawl, and I’m not entirely sure if he’s joking or not. “I think the South African anthem would be a bit long to play at a wedding ceremony”, I laugh, before realizing he definitely meant the American anthem. He immigrated and has been living in Cape Town for over 24 years, yet he still thought of the American anthem first. I tell him that I could give it a go in a Hendrix kind of way, an answer which he seems pleased with as he cracks a sincere smile. We both turn our backs to the rocks and look out at the Atlantic ocean while those around us talk away and share cheese and crackers. He starts peacefully and solemnly crooning “oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” and I take in the moment. I am still while I listen to him sing the whole anthem. In those few minutes I know that we are both experiencing the same, significant feeling that may fade over the years, but that will never quite disappear.