In Defense of my Arts Degree

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in the Arts.

In my first year of studying this, I spoke briefly with this one guy at a social that I was forced to attend. The first question we were forced to ask each other was, quite unoriginally, what do you study?

His answer was Engineering.

Mine was Humanities.

He laughed. And then he said “Oh, so you’re one of the dumb ones.”

It was funny when I stalked his Facebook the other day to see that he now lives in the middle of nowhere and keeps posting Throwback Thursday pictures of when he was at university and still had friends.

It seemed a lot like the idea of being an Engineer and thinking that it would set you apart was all it ever was to him. The idea was to be the smart, eligible, inventive Engineer.

Doesn’t look like it makes him happy now.

I learnt a lot of things about people through studying Languages and Psychology and Philosophy.

It’s not that it infuriates me that some look down condescendingly on the Arts Degree. It’s that I don’t understand what you believe sets you at a higher level with your Science or Commerce or Accounting Degrees.

I respect the knowledge you have built. I respect how you can create and how you can make sense of a mess by using your brilliant mind, your mathematical skill and your analytical brain.

Maybe that’s why I gave a go at Engineering for a year. I also wanted to use Science and numbers to create and build systems that would make things easier through analysing and improving on existing theories and appliances and infrastructure.

Why, though, are my Arts-related abilities to create, analyse and build believed to be of a lesser calibre than yours?

I grew up in a family of achievers. There’s the one with the Masters Degree in Science. The one with the MBA.

The grandad with the Doctorate in Agriculture who basically orchestrated the invention of synchronised reproductive processes in farm animals so that all of them go into heat at the same time to provide farmers with a stable income and grocery stores with a stable supply of meat.

And then there’s me. With the Arts Degree.

At the university where I studied, they laughingly label this degree as the one you study when you’re trying to find a man. Because it’s apparently really easy and you’ll probably never find a job so best spend your time finding a husband to take care of you.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

Who let you climb on that pedestal? Because the pride darkening your judgment is making you forget that I have acquired the ability to analyse the insecurity that stepped you up there. And the facets of your societal surrounds that will eventually cause you to fall due to your disrespect of the supposed underdog.

There may come a time when you will meet an Arts graduate who has far surpassed your successes. They won’t necessarily be professionally or financially. If that is what life is about to you. Or maybe they will…

But they may just surpass your expectations through their understanding of life. Of what makes people choose the lives they do. What makes people respect the choices and paths and mistakes of others.

They will teach you about the dynamics of society and its need to prove itself to itself.

They will teach you about the art of expression.

They will teach you about culture.

They will teach you about societal structures and its evolution over time.

Communism.

Politics.

The liberation of modernism.

The crisis of experience.

The evolution of space.

The philosophy of Science.

Religion.

The art of logic and conversation.

The taboos around sex.

Man’s ability to love.

Man’s ability to hate.

They will open your mind to new focuses on religion and ways of life.

They will help you discover respect for atheists who love and live honourably without the thought of divine reward. You will understand their need to do good simply because they believe the world deserves it.

They will help you externalise that which is interior and put it out there in the world. Like downloading your knowledge and your consciousness onto paper.

They will teach you how to differentiate between what is beautiful and what is ugly. In a less shallow sense.

They will teach you how to use literature to teach.

To entertain.

To escape.

To switch off minds.

To change mindsets.

They will teach you that reading that novel really is you writing that novel. Creating pictures in your mind and people in your life that only disappear long after you’ve read that last page.

They will teach you how to tap into the human unconscious.

My professor once said that “Communication is an ORGAN!” It influences everything. Without it, we’re pretty much hanging on by a thread. We lose touch with other humans. We lose control. We lose order. We lose life. It carves culture and communication carves life.

Respect the Arts, my friend.

There’s a lot beneath the surface here.

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An adventure in the now

I don’t get jogging. I don’t get how putting that strain on your legs and your body and your lungs is fun. Let your lungs rip just doesn’t resonate with me. Sprinting I get. If I need to run from danger I will do the fast run. But no. I will never jog.

A place where people meet up for a jog would be a good place to hide something from me.

So I spent the past weekend drinking wine amongst vineyards in the Franschhoek Wine Valley. And while I was sipping on a glass of Grenache, and characteristically spilling it all over myself, I felt a tiny little surge of what people call happiness. Sitting in the sun. Drinking wine. Sharing thoughts with smart people. In a wannabe French town. In South Africa. Right here at home. And it was good.

But for years I’ve made myself believe that South Africa isn’t enough. It’s not enough to have a dayjob and it’s not enough to grow roots here and it’s not good enough to settle for something as simple. I should leave. I should explore. I should meet new people. I should speak new languages.

And I’ve saved and saved and saved everything I earn. Everything. I wear clothes I bought three summers ago and I never go anywhere and I restrict my budgets because I’m saving a bunch of money for an escape. In my refusal of mediocrity. But then I realised that I haven’t really been living. I’ve been holding so tightly onto a goal for my future that I’m purposely pushing aside the short-term ones that would make me happy in the meantime.

And I blame all of it on jogging. My need to sprint to the end-line is making me fly by all the little experiences I could be having in the place I’m “adventuring” in now. It’ll be quite some time before my dreams of running really far away will realise. If they ever will.

Also, jogging is hard. It’s like you’re getting somewhere but you’re getting there really slowly. And it hurts, man. Jogging is not done quietly. And it takes a really long time to get used to it. Though I’m hoping my proverbial legs and lungs will forgive me by evoking the endorphins my soul has so desperately been craving. So in the meantime, it’s a mini-venture towards making what I have and where I am exciting and memorable.

Maybe it’s not always the far-off places and culture shocks or language barriers. Sometimes it’s just making music. Or reading books. Or maybe it’s just you and your mind and your thoughts and pushing them to the limits in the meantime.

Let’s be adventurers.

If they cannot be literal and geographical,

let them be intellectual, emotional, spiritual, interpersonal,

and my very favourite 

CREATIVE.

Because: onward.

lonely trees

There’s magic in Loneliness

I guess there’s a numbing sense of despair that comes with loneliness. It’s not that sad feeling you get like when you just finished a book and lost all the friends in it or go to the supermarket and find that your favourite fruit packer doesn’t work there anymore… It’s that deep cut to your being when you have epic news to share and you realise that there really isn’t someone specific you can think of to share it with. It cuts even a little closer to the soul when you’re surrounded by friends and family who care. But they just won’t really understand. They won’t really get it. They won’t really get you.

When I was little, I used to climb the tree in our backyard and sit on a branch singing all the songs I learnt in Sunday school. I thought I was singing to the birds. Like that princess in that movie. And I believed without any doubt that the little bird that came and sat on that branch that one day flew by for a bit because he heard me sing. A part of me remains optimistic over the probability.

But what I like to think back on is that I firmly believed I was at one with nature that day. That the universe heard me. We were connected. And even if I was only five years old, those songs and that bird changed everything. I never told anyone about the bird. The neighbour came by and told me my songs were beautiful. Which I’m sure they were. But what happened between me and that little bird would be mine. It would be me and nature alone to share it. A secret connection no-one would ever believe true.

And that is why I find the most powerful magic in what they call loneliness. It’s those little secrets you share with the universe that nobody can ridicule.

It’s you laughing at your own jokes. It’s you dancing on your own under twinkle lights. It’s you driving on the highway singing to your favourite songs. It’s you being you without trying. Without apology. Without fear. Without doubt. Without judgment.

Experiences don’t attain their credibility through sharing them with others. It’s you telling your stories to yourself and it manifesting itself in real life through the coy smile on your face.

And that is pretty frickin much everything.

After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning.
And company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts.
And presents aren’t promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans.
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure.
That you really are strong.
And you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn
With every goodbye you learn.

                                          -Maggie Oman

girl running in mountain

Why you should run away

What is normal?

what is normalThey also don’t really tell you that the only car you’ll be able to afford will never go faster than 100km/h. And that when you use the air-con, the whole thing kind of becomes a total embarrassment of a vehicle.

They also tell you that this won’t be forever. A couple of years and you’ll have more than you bargained for. Just fight through these few years. It’ll be worth it soon.

Or maybe normal is travelling the world and meeting new people. Learning new languages and letting the rush of spontaneity fill you with epiphanies and widen your frame of reference so that you can become more than what you’d have become sitting in one place.

We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea. And you’ve no desire to explore it? Is that normal?

But then they never really tell you about the smells in the streets of Thailand. And they don’t tell you about how rude people can be or about the lengths you have to go to to communicate with people who don’t speak your language. They also don’t tell you about the loneliness or the assholes or the frauds.

I always contradict myselfgirl running in mountain

When I was trying to be one of those people who travel a lot, I used to write often about fighting mediocrity. About running from the chains of routine and the unfulfilling poisons of a responsible life plan and towards the prospect of an impulsive choice leading to a magnificent life. And looking past the telescope of supposed prosperity handed down by the generations before us. About trying to discover a life that is more suited to our century. One that’s less about the house and the job and one that’s more about the soul and about keeping it sane.

But then there’s also that one time I wrote about how millennials think life is a ride and about how annoying it is that they think happiness is the only answer and how ridiculous it is that they fail to see the bigger picture or work hard to achieve significant things or realise that being responsible with your life and the future you’re paving is vital to achieving any form of happiness.

Maybe I’m confused because I’m constantly torn between what people tell me should happen and what I’d prefer to happen for my life. So much so that I don’t even know if I want either anymore.

But then a couple of days ago, this weird Norwegian kid with a forearm tattoo that says “sweetboat” stumbled upon my path and ripped all of those pre- and misconceptions from my brain. He’s been travelling the world hitchhiking and drinking Jäger and probably also making really bad choices.

He told me about the little mining village in Russia where they don’t really mine anymore but the people still live there. They just spend most of their time drinking. It’s also about 500km from any other civilisation. It sounds like my kind of place this Russian village of alcoholic freedom that I shockingly have not yet visited.

He also told me about the time he was in a Ukrainian bar and happy hour wasn’t called happy hour but rather brain-dead hour. Because of the bottomless vodka shots.

But the thing with him is that it doesn’t seem like he gives a shit about what anyone thinks of what he’s doing. Or where he’s going. His plan isn’t set and it’s not conventional and he couldn’t be bothered even a little bit. It’s one week at a time. And the happiness radiates from his pale face.

It’s not about what they want

What it sort of came down to then is that life’s not about telling people what to do and what not to do. Or prescribing some foolproof plan that will lead to the ultimate happiness. Working an 8 – 5 job is not everyone’s ideal. Travelling the world is also not for everyone.

“Adventure” doesn’t mean the same thing to all different kinds of people.

But what I do know is that for me, it is important to remember that this is all yours. This life. It’s not your mother’s or your friend’s or your neighbour’s. It’s yours. It’s also your own definition of adventure that counts. And it’s you chasing that adventure that matters.

So run away from their prejudgment. We need to distance ourselves from this “but what will they say” bullshit. Stop asking for permission on everything. Decide what works for you. If it’s staying in one place building on an investment, then that’s yours. If it’s running around the world escaping your comfort then that’s yours.

There’s a lot of bad in everything. There’s also a lot of good in anything. And there’s a lot to gain from both of those.

But for the love of whoever you are, do it for you. Because you’re the main person who will cringe with regret looking back on a life planned out for you by someone else.

Run dammit.

Run towards yourself.

Freedom field

Ride the wake

There are these times in life when you become overwhelmed by a feeling of near-happiness.

You don’t want to call it happiness because you’re not sure it really is happiness.

And if it is, you’re too scared to admit it because there’s always that chance that you’ll jinx everything.

But you know it in your soul.

Your toes are swifter and your hands feel more.

The things you grasp at seem more surreal somehow because they carry more significance now.

The books you read mean more to you.

You appreciate the song you’ve got stuck in your head somehow.

The people you see every day become less the people you see every day and more like interesting souls that somehow share a part of themselves with you.

And welcome you to share a part of yourself with them.

And they get your jokes and you make them smile and their laughter becomes infectious.

And for the first time since you last remembered, you’re waking up in the morning knowing things instead of trying to forget things.

Anticipating things instead of fighting your regret over things.

Excited.

Inspired.

Moved by what you’re capable of.

Driven by what you’ve been dreaming of.

And that.

That is why people don’t give up on themselves.

That is why we don’t let go.

That is why we fight.

And cry.

And die. For what we love.

Because love for life isn’t a fad.

It’s not a trend.

It is everything.

It is in you.

It is in the person next to you.

It is in whoever you thought you were yesterday.

Stop wasting it away.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Stop blaming everyone.

Stop waiting around.

Stop settling.

Turn and face yourself.

Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself what’s up.

Tell yourself how this will pan out.

And then ride that precious wake straight into the bliss of oblivion because fuck what people think.

This is yours.

It’s all you now.

tired

300 Days in Digital

I was 9 years old when Google was first invented. I’d say it changed everything but that’d be an understatement.

For the past year, I’ve spent my days trying to understand and trick and master the beast that is Google. I now know what an algorithm is, what ORM means, how obvious your internet stalking really is, and why people in digital marketing never take lunch and always have Red Bull can towers on their desks.

I also know what a nerdgasm is.

I’ve spent, as a guestimation, 300 days driving to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic for up to 2 hours a day. I’ve sifted through all genres of music I could possibly find and have now resorted to listening to the Harry Potter soundtrack on repeat to distract myself from the pains of traffic.

Every day, depending on the temperament of Cape Townian weather, I drive into blasting view of Table Mountain and it still excites me to move into view of this natural wonder knowing that I actually sort of live here.

table mountain

I’ve climbed that devil and I’ve sworn at it and it never ceases to be incredible. But for more reasons than one, it is time for change and it is time to move on.

Things I’ve learnt over the past 300 days:

You are not your profession

Some days I feel upset with myself that I didn’t become something like a Doctor or an Engineer or a Teacher. Because then I wouldn’t have to explain my job and why I do it. Everyone would be like, oh cool, a Doctor? Nice.

Every conversation kind of starts with “I work in digital marketing but it’s not like the marketing you think it’s more about Google stuff.” And then they think you’re really smart because you said work and Google in the same sentence.

But if everything was designed solely to serve its intelligence, things would be pretty bleak around here. So you have your degree and you have your job and that’s amazing. And you work hard and you enjoy it and you feel happy.

To me, though, there needs to be a definitive mid-ground here. A characteristic of your life or of yourself for you to escape to. Not because things are hard or because times are tough. But because somewhere between the emails and the conference calls and the continuous strategising, there needs to be a YOU.

A Lelanie who is an individual. Not the Lelanie who is the developer or the Lelanie who is the strategist or the Lelanie who is the analytics chick. There needs to be the Lelanie who is the girl who tells the dirty jokes. Or the Lelanie who’s learning to play the banjo. Because the Lelanie who is the analytics chick isn’t meant to define her. It’s meant to be a little part of the whole that is her as individual. You are more than your job. Don’t be Lelanie the analytics chick. Be Lelanie – the girl who gets invited to parties.

Your parents are not always right

Everyone keeps saying that you should listen to them and that they are wiser than you and that they have all the answers. But in the end they’re also just people. Who are sometimes also confused and angry at life and want you to not make the same mistakes they did.

If I listened to my parents a year ago, I’d never have started working in digital marketing. There wouldn’t have been that “memorable” adventure of having a tequila brand as a client and I’d also never have been given a brilliant analysis of how my ability to retain relationships is similar to the bounce rate of the Terms & Conditions page on a Japanese porn site.

tequila2This by no means constitutes being ungrateful for their lifelong efforts or disrespecting their opinions and advice. Those are always welcome. But I am the one who will essentially carry the consequences of my decisions. I am the one who needs to live with it.

Your mistakes do not define you

Man. I’ve done some stupid ass shit. I really am not always very smart. And I really am not always a good person. You may see me smiling in the corner, but deep down in my soul somewhere there is a bitch who ruins lives. But after a lot of wine and a lot of binge-writing, you reach a point where you are able look past your mistakes and move into a place where waking up and going to work is less a chore and more something you look forward to.

What we do is we try and build something nice around the black hole. We start from the bottom and we build our way up to something we can be proud of. And we never make those past mistakes again.

In the end

You work through the night and you swear at your computer a lot and you’ll probably start smoking just to deal.

Many digital marketers end up dreaming about conversion rates and landing page optimisation and these things tend to drive you to drunk Facebooking. It’s tough and it’s a 24-7 job and it will inevitably, at some point, crush your fragile spirit.

tired

And it would’ve been totally worth it.

1 in 7 billion

The Millennial Curse

I hate being a millennial. I hate having been branded as a millennial. And I hate other millennials.

Three insufferable beliefs of the typical millennial:

I am special

1 in 7 billionNo you’re not. You’re just another ant in the underground kingdom. It’s like that quote someone came up with that one time:
I just want to be unique like everyone else.
Maybe your mother wanted you to believe that you’re the exception. Mine certainly did. Maybe she even told you that you’re an indigo child. But let’s be real… Even though you probably still live with your mother and she’s constantly encouraging your belief in how special you are, she is one of few people in life who will ever believe it as much as you do.

Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Because that’s what life is. You work hard and you play amongst the masses and you make the most of it.

I deserve it

You probably do. This does not mean that you’re entitled to special treatment though. You have to go above and beyond to get noticed. You have to work your ass off to get a promotion. And you have to do this for years and years and then maybe… MAYBE… you will get what you deserve.

But moping away in the corner because your boss is treating you the same way he does other employees is not the answer – if you’re working in a corporate environment you’ll be at the bottom of the food chain for quite some time. Deal with it.

All I want is to be happy

Having seven different jobs in one year because none of them “made you happy” is ridiculous in the eyes of most employers. Some of them are all for playing the field and being a job-whore, but most – especially the significant ones – will look at your CV (if they even get that far) and chuck it aside because you lack loyalty.

Companies are not too keen on training interns or juniors just to have them leave a month later. They spend money training you. They invest a lot of effort and resources in you. You dining and dashing is a total injustice to yourself. Your patched CV could be a shot in the foot and you’ll have to spend the bulk of your late 20s & early 30s trying to rectify the happiness-seeking ways of your early-20s self.

Holding on to articles about millennials written by other millennials (irony) who are unable to suck up the natural course of working life might make you feel better for now. But peace, love and happiness is an outdated ideal initiated by people who lived through A WAR.

You’re becoming a statistic. Stop it.

Regret is never an easy emotion to rectify.