In Argentina, I’m told, everyone has one.They visit them weekly, slotting them into their schedules like a trip to the supermarket or the bathroom. The Argentinians view the visit as a mundane necessity, as crucial to their wellbeing as a bowel movement.And frankly, like constipation, an emotional blockage can lead to more than a little discomfort. As a result, Argentina apparently has more psychologists per capita than any other nation in the world.
Lord knows Argentina has had a lot of psychic damage to contend with, what with Andrew Lloyd Webber and the ever-present missing people, so I can totally see the point of a weekly mental cleansing. But, being South African, I am deeply influenced by our own stripe of peculiar Calvinist and Zulu magical thinking. In our case it is a question of, ‘If we don’t talk about it, it isn’t there.’ Consequently, it becomes incredibly difficult to move about with all the elephants lingering in everyone’s rooms. Never mind the veritable troops of elephants stomping about on the national stage.
Which is why, of the millions upon millions of words spewed out and chewed over for the duration of the tragic Oscar Pistorius sideshow, a show with an unprecedented ability to tap into our national psyche, one observation struck me most. It was written by Dr Leonard Carr, who happens to be my shrink. Unlike the Argentinian shrink-visiting population, I only visit Leonard every few years for about a minute at a time.Which is probably not ideal. Trust me, I could do with a little systemic flushing much more frequently. But I am lazy that way, and sincerely averse to self-analysis.
Anyway, what Leonard, who is one of those preternaturally sage types with a huge brood of children and is thus eminently practical and free with advice (incidentally, a chief reason why I like him so much), said was something like this: Oscar had three psychological crutches that propped up his personality – his blades, his prosthetic legs and his gun. When he put on his prosthesis it was like putting on his heroic personality – he literally became his story. He instantly became his version of his best self. When he cocked his gun he took on the mantle of South African manhood.
Probably one of the most traumatic moments in his awful unravelling and fall from grace was when he stood bare on his stumps, in shorts and a T-shirt, unmanned and without his prosthesis. He was suddenly a little boy. A vulnerable little boy plagued by big black bogeymen and an absent father who sits in eternal judgement. His macho, gun-slinging vibe, which once wrapped his persona in a safety net of cowboy high jinks and gangster ‘I can do anything’ cool, masked this empty place. A devastating place where a young woman was sacrificed to the elephant in the Oscar room.
We all have our crutches.The talismanic objects, guises and disguises that allow us to feel safe in the personality we project to the world. For me it is my heels, my clothes and my brain. I feel safe and contained when I am sporting a cute new outfit while projecting smarts and lightness of being. See what I did there, Leonard? Major self-analysis.
Our crutches work. Until they don’t. Perhaps that is why all those New York hipsters have decided to forgo fashion and dress like Jerry Seinfeld. Because, hey, it is super-tiresome and pretentious to look like a peacock. Looking like a nebbish is preferable. One of those terribly smart New York trend agencies coined the term #normcore to describe the awful tendency to don a Birkenstock. Whatever. I, for one, am totally reconciled to my crutches. I will take a heel over a Birkie every time. But perhaps the lesson in all this grubby awfulness and bitter tragedy is that it is best to make like the Argentinians and do some soulsearching before you find yourself standing in your bedroom at three in the morning, wondering what the hell happened.
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