Our need for stories that move us

I dedicate this blog to the telling of stories that shatter stereotypes, open us up to each other and move us towards one another.

In 1994, when South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring, I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories. (Read the rest of this story)

Find here Four kinds of stories:

  1. Stories I tell about how I was moved by fellow South Africans
  2. Stories that you send me that moved you– Send me one now, if you are moved to do so. If it fits, I will post it. How I will know if it fits?
  3. Fairy tales and other made up stories that move me in some way (or don’t as the case may be)
  4. Commissioned stories that people have asked me to create for special occasions.

You may also book me to

Tell a story for your people at a special event

Teach your people about story and how to use them for personal or group transformation

Coach you to tell or use stories more effectively as leader or speaker

What to do when your country is hurting?

(The Blog’s dedication story)

In 1994 South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring…

… and I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories.

In January of that year, I was a third year at Stellenbosch University. I was the only woman in a class with 23 guys, I was the only person with low vision (6/60) in a world of people with 20/20 vision and I was the only white student in the black and coloured residence, Goldfields.

You see, since 1992 white residences had been opening their doors to ‘deserving’ and ‘academically promising’ black and coloured students, and the slow integration began. But the traffic was going only one way and I did not think this would work as way for us to heal our rifts. Sure, it was important for the privileges of the white community to be shared with everyone, but what of the value and riches of the black and coloured communities that would be left behind? Should these be disregarded? How could we build a nation, if everyone wanted the same things instead of sharing what everyone had, not just what the white minority had – and I don’t mean material wealth only. We need to understand each other and learn to appreciate each other and until this point, the appreciation was only going one way. That did not seem fair, nor workable as a means to democracy.

So, I applied for Goldfields.

Goldfields was unique in more ways than just being the res designated to black and coloured students. It was also built differently, situated differently and organised differently. It was built not as a multi storied hostel-like structure in the centre of town, but as self-contained, double story units with sic students on each floor sharing a small kitchen and seating area. Twelve or so units were built around a grassy yard where the boys would come to play sports and the girls could watch from their windows or cheer from the fringes of the field. It was set slightly out of the centre of town, but close enough to my faculty building so that I could walk it in 15 minutes. As an ‘older’ student, I thought it idyllic.

My first year roommate, hated it.

She wanted to be with her friends in the middle of student life in the middle of town in the white residences.

She also hated it because instead of us being served 3 meals a day like at the white res’s we were only served supper and had to provide breakfast and lunch for ourselves. This meant we had to share the fridge between six of us and food was never safe in it. The little money she had for food was often wasted when her food went off in our room, or got stolen from the fridge.

She hated it because varsity was tough for her. She came from a very rural setting in the Northern Cape and the adjustment to the ‘cityness’ of Stellenbosch and the whiteness of its entire system was hard for her to adjust to.

She also hated it because she got stuck with the only white student in the res, well-meaning, but clueless and a third year. It was the most unequal match ever. I was a local girl from Stellenbosch, having grown up there. My mom was 5 kilometres away, not 500. I knew the town, I knew the University, I was confident and, truth be told, arrogant in my great adventure as the white student in black res. She just wanted to survive varsity and now she had to deal with me.

I did everything wrong.

I thought that living with people different from me would change me and help me understand. On some level it did (I don’t flinch and become paranoid if I find myself surrounded by black and coloured people at e.g. a taxi rank – something few of my fellow white South Africans can pull off).

But

All I learned was to persist in my privileged white ways in spite of my surroundings.

So, the food gets stolen. I bring in a little fridge from home (thank God I managed to share it with her) and food is safe. When I visit my mom on the weekend and come back to find that she shared my bed too, with friends of her who found place in the white res, I am unable to just share and accept. I make a scene about people sharing my sheets and now I had to wash them (not because the girls were coloured, but because I wanted clean sheets when I get back from home). Of course I don’t communicate this well at all and the only message she gets is “don’t sleep in my bed, it gets dirty. She also wears my clothes without asking and I cringe. I understand tht sharing is the way people get to have more than what they would have if they only used what they themselves owne, but I want to be asked. And I do not understand the difference between people sharing food, (or taking it) and sharing clothes, or taking it. Sharing food is not okay,, but sharing clothes is – between whom?

She brings back ‘huisbrood’ (home made bread from the Nammakwaland) when she comes back from vacation she offers me a piece. I know this bread is valuable to her, it is her umbilical chord. She desperately wants my approval and watches be eat it. It tastes of animal fat and it is dry. I don’t like it, but instead of lying, thanking her for her generosity tell her that I don’t like it and with that, I see her face fall. She wants me to approve and like her, but I reject her like every other white in the cosy apartheid system.

And yet,

When she tells me about her home and her school, the awkwardness is gone. I laugh at the antics of her and her friends. I am shocked at the lecherous behaviour of a fat school teacher and how they find ways to deal with it resiliently. We laugh like any two people discovering that they are both human.

I remember this moment of story-telling as the only time that the shit of my privilege and her uncertain struggles fall away.

I wish I can tell you there were hours of these moments. I remember only one.

I wish I knew then how to create more such moments.

I wish I was not the agent of her pain, but in many ways I was, bringing the hegemony and sustemic injustice into her room unable and possibly unwilling, to see its insidious, parasitic invasion of all that was dear to her. It would have been easier for her to have a coloured friend staying with her. IT would have been less painful if there were no white invader in her world when she needed comfort and companion ship.

Dearest roommate, I dedicate this blog to you.

To everything you taught me unwillingly and unwittingly, especially to the story moments we shared.

Dear Reader, may we share more of these and heal our hurts.

How I will know if a story you send me fits?

Quite frankly: if the story moves me, I will post it.

Especially if it also

  1. Challenges stereotypes,
  2. Builds connection between people, factions, groups   or between ideas
  3. Leaves me more hopeful than before reading it and
  4. Is well told.

I may also post a story from time to time that moves me to raging frustration or stone cold indifference, just to keep it interesting.

Send me your story here.

How do I find time for meaningful focused work in the midst of living and surviving?

You are invited to catch flying pigs with me on 25 Aug

quil and writingFor the past 10 years my husband, Gerhi, have been figuring out how to write the elusive novel and this year he is cracking the mystery. During the same time I have produced a PhD and published a number of research papers. Through all this we have raised our children and worked either on our own businesses or on teaching. We have tried and failed in so many ways; we have also found ways to succeed. What the sessions shares with you are the narrative heuristics that will allow you to improvise your own strategies for accomplishing your meaningful work.

Get the details on the Playing Mantis site

 

Mending hearts broken by the rat race

The heart of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE)

There is a war going on – a war for your heart and your soul, for mine. A bit melodramatic?

I wake up in the morning with an unreasonable fear lodged in my chest. What ifI loose? Loose what, I ask myself?

  • The battle against boredom and overwork.
  • The fight to stay fit and healthy when all I want is another doughnut and a good long sit in the sun.
  • The struggle against loneliness, as I long to be with my family but despise them for crowding my headspace.
  • The strife I feel when trying to get friends to come over – do I even have friends?And then the fear that they won’t enjoy it here; so why bother?
  • The war against entropy, in my money matters, my house, my garden, my paperwork, when at the same time I would rather turn a blind eye and read another novel.

I am not one of those people caught up in the rat race: I refuse! I have been there and bought into all its frenzy, and I didn’t get the big house and the two cars, the housekeeper and the swimming pool.

In fact,my rat race brought my family and me to the brink of bankruptcy as we ploughed all our resources into ‘making it’ and failed.

Now that both my husband and I have jobs in education – with a good enough income to survive, but not to get rich, or even get ahead – ­we are much happier and have much more time for our kids, each other, the garden, the house, the friends, and the paperwork.

BUT…

  • We long for action.
  • We yearn for significance.
  • We pine for the opportunity to express our innermost selves.
  • We wish with all our hearts that someone else would wash the dishes, do the garden, organise our papers.

We now have the time, but no motivation to do all the things on the list. So, and I will only speak for myself here, I sit around wishing for action, for someone to come visit, for some external impetus to get me off my buttto go, go, go! Of course the moment the impetus comes I resent it for stealing my peace and dictating my responses. When is sitting in the sun ‘being mindful’ mad when is it laziness? When is being present with my children healthy and when is it an excuse not to engage with something else?

How much more divided can I get?

This is the war that is destroying my heart and soul.

Inside the race, I feel controlled, diminished and taken advantage of. Outside it I feel useless, insignificant and without value.

Where is the third side of this coin?

That is the essence of my quest through war-torn territories: the search for the third side of the coin – not just in this current struggle, but in all struggles that seem so two dimensional, so binary, so colourless:

Does this mean we should take up more colourful and complex struggles like the one between the students and the government with the Universities and the parents and the whole of South Africa’s history in between?  The same one that colours all organisational and leadership interactions, whether we know it or not: the struggle between those who have and who can and those who have not and can’t – along with all the colours of our rainbow nation getting involved in the mess?

I think so.

This is the heart of the SNE lens: between the strategic plan and embodied reality, you find the narrative, the story, which can integrate opposites, transform ambiguities, dance with contradictions. Between the head that plans and the hands that act, lies this treacherous landscape of the heart, the landscape of stories. Stories long to heal the broken heart. They yearn to bridge the chasms between warring opposites and mend the rifts between binary dichotomies.

Join me on this quest to mend broken hearts – especially those broken by the race for more money, opportunity and power.

Meet me at the next Pig Catching session to help process the grief of your broken heart.

Date:     7 OCt 2016
Time:    7am for 7:15 to 10am Pig Catching
10:30-12:30 Research conversation or maybe we simply continue with the session. NOTE: We will start at 7:15 sharp to make the most of our time.
Facilitator: Petro Janse van Vuuren
Cost: R250
Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale
Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
Refreshments: Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.
RSVP: by  Wed 5 Oct.

Other Pig Catching dates this year:
9 Dec
Please diarise!

Join our group on Facebook<http://playingmantis.us10.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=bd2144f97d4741293f68d899e&id=5904ae36ee&e=ef28aa4955>:

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.

About Pig Catching:

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

Storytelling for Leaders

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to move others and to convey meaning that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

Now discover the secrets of story for yourself and learn to use it to draw people together and to show them your take on the world.  Employ it to impact them on a core values level and create conditions for shift to happen.

Neuro-scientific research now substantiates the kind of experiential learning made possible when using stories as an effective model with a good ROI.

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders course teach you to

  • Employ stories as tools for inspiring followership and support for your ideas.
  • Create ‘aha-experiences’ that instigate authentic action in your team or your clients.
  • Package large amounts of information, complicated material and abstract ideas succinctly and clearly.
  • Use story as strategy to understand how people adapt to new information or behaviour.
  • Discover and hone your own personal story telling style and voice
  • Frame your personal experiences as stories with impact.
  • Use voice and gesture to communicate subtleties and deep meaning.

You will learn about the:

  • Seven elements of the well told story.
  • Six principles of impactful delivery.
  • Five kinds of resistance that stories help overcome.
  • Four tensions that engage the audience and draw them into the story
  • Three levels of character that ensure audience identification

What participants say:

Your unique way with stories and characters opened a fresh perspective on my own character and story. I was moved by the way in which the stories brought the participants straight to the heart of their search for meaning.-Dr Jeanette de Klerk, Office for Moral Leadership, University of Stellenbosch

I have learnt the building blocks to structure a presentation from presenting a problem to providing the solution. I also know how to involve the audience and to avoid common pitfalls of starting a presentation.-Richard Kunz – Lecturer at the University of Kwazulu Natal

Thank you so much for a wonderful session. Everyone I talked to enjoyed the workshop and found value in it. One of them wrote in an email:

“The session with Petro and the notes she gave were very valuable to me. They represent part of my own personal wish list. I am inspired by her simple steps and spent the time on the plane reflecting on what she said and how I could use the steps effectively in current projects. I also want to use them to write stories for my grandchildren. I am truly inspired.”

Thank you for your passion, creativity and authenticity. We enjoyed you. – Alinda Nortje, Executive Charperson, Free to Grow

Course details

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders consists of 6 half-day workshops that you can select from or combine in what-ever way that suits your time and budget constraints. Between sessions participants get the chance to try out their skills in the workplace and develop their craft over time so that they become competent and well-rehearsed story tellers.

We suggest that you begin with sessions 1 and 2 as a starting point and only add other sessions if it works for you. You can add a storytelling event as a goal to work towards if you wish.

In each of the 6 sessions you will

  • Gain a theoretical understanding of story principles
  • Watch and analyse a youtube clip of corporate storytelling examples.
  • Learn practical story telling techniques
  • Tell and assess a story of your own
  • Assess and learn from the stories of other participants

The six modules

Module Theoretical principle Practical technique
1 Seven elements of the welltold story How to shape a story
2 Six principles of impactful delivery Using your voice and body
3 Five types of resistance Audience interaction
4 Four tensions that drive action Pause and pace
5 Three levels of character Using the stage
6 Story sharing event Integrating your skills

The Lion’s Bride

One day a very handsome young man comes to a certain kraal and asks the parents if he could marry their daughter. They don’t like him, saying that they don’t know where he comes from. But the daughter is so taken by his beauty and strength and she pleads with such passion that they give in and allow them to wed.

After the wedding, she leaves with her new husband – his name was Kambunde to go to his house. As they come near the new kraal, she hears a terrible roaring and she sees that the inhabitants there are lions. Her husband turns out to be a lion too and she turns around to run away, but he shouts: “Come!”. She cries bitterly, but enters the village by his side. The lion’s sisters come to console her saying that, as the Lion’s Bride, she will always have more meat to eat than what the people could ever give her. But she continues to cry and she still wants to run away.

Now, because she is always sad and never high of spirits, Kambunde grows angry and weary of her and he takes her away to a cave. He carries her across a river and over rocks and boulders to a narrow valley in the mountains. As they get there, the woman sees piles of dry bones and skeletal remains strewn everywhere. Now she is very scared, but Kambunde says: “Don’t be afraid. These are just the bones left here by the hyenas after feeding.” And Kambunde leaves her there.

All by herself, she explores the cave and far into the darkness at the very back she finds a skeleton – an old woman. The skeleton speaks to her: How did you come to be here, poor child? I am Kambunde’s grandmother. They treated me just like they are treating you now.” The woman begins to shiver and weep. “Oh, Granndmother, please help me”.

“Yes, I’ll help you” she says. “Take this flea. Sit on it and say: ‘Hurry, hurry my dear elephant’. But you may not doubt for one moment what you are saying and you may not laugh under any circumstances.” The young woman promises to do exactly as instructed. She sits on the flea and it carries her off like an elephant.

But as they ride out of the narrow valley where the cave is, the hyenas come out laughing incessantly: “You will never get out of here, hehehehe!” She can’t help herself and she too starts laughing. Instantly, she finds herself back inside the cave.

The old woman is angry, but the younger woman cries and pleads with her so that she feels sorry for her and gives her another flea. She sits on it and say again: “Hurry, hurry my dear elephant” and the flea carries her away. Again the hyenas come out just as she gets to the edge of the valley and again they laugh unceasingly. Again the foolish young woman cannot help herself and she bursts out laughing. Again the enchantment is broken and she returns to the cave.

This time the old woman is very sad. “I only had three fleas and this is my last one. If you laugh again, you will be lost forever”. This time the young woman clenched her jaw and bit her toungue so that she doesn’t laugh. The hyenas cajole and try their best, but she stays serious.

A little while later, Kambunde comes to the cave and he calls: “Come out wife. I can’t see you. It is your husband Kambunde calling you” but there is no answer. Then he gets angry and he turns to the grandmother: “you probably gave her one of your fleas didn’t you?” The old woman gets angry too: “There are no fleas here, only dead bones.”

Kambunde cals the other lions and they quickly pick up the trail left by the fleeing woman. As they come closer hot on her heels, she calls again: “Hurry, hurry my dear elephant”. The elephant grows larger and creates a big river behind them.  The lions are washed away by the flood – all except Kambunde. He makes it to the other side.

Just as he is about to catch up to them, the elephant creates another river, even bigger than the previous one and the lion is left stranded on the other side. He cannot cross.

In the meantime, the elephant arrives with the woman on his back at the home of her parents. He remains a real elephant and he us given many watermelons as a reward.

Kambunde finally manages to cross the river and he sneaks into the yard through the gate of the cattle enclosure. The woman sees him and runs along the wooden fence where all the tools are kept. She stubs her toe against an old hand plough and her blood drips onto the ground. All of a sudden the hand plough disappears and in its place stands an old woman: “Don’t worry my child, I am here to help you,” she says. In an instant the old woman turns into a large tree so that Kambunde is unable to pass. There was smoke and flames and Kambunde burnsto ashes.

Finally the young woman is safe and she and her family can continue living in peace. This all happened long ago and the story remains.

 

 

Clever Elsie – a story about what happens when you over think things and under act…

A Brothers Grimm Fairy tale.

I love this story because it rattles me every time – or shall I say ‘rings my bells’.

There was once a man who had a daughter who was called Clever Elsie. And when she had grown up her father said: ’We will get her married.’ ’Yes,’ said the mother, ’if only someone would come who would have her.’

At length a man came from a distance and wooed her, who was called Hans; but he stipulated that Clever Elsie should be really smart. ’Oh,’ said the father, ’she has plenty of good sense’; and the mother said: ’Oh, she can see the wind coming up the street, and hear the flies coughing.’ ’Well,’ said Hans, ’if she is not really smart, I won’t have her.’ When they were sitting at dinner and had eaten, the mother said: ’Elsie, go into the cellar and fetch some beer.’ Then Clever Elsie took the pitcher from the wall, went into the cellar, and tapped the lid briskly as she went, so that the time might not appear long. When she was below she fetched herself a chair, and set it before the barrel so that she had no need to stoop, and did not hurt her back or do herself any unexpected injury. Then she placed the can before her, and turned the tap, and while the beer was running she would not let her eyes be idle, but looked up at the wall, and after much peering here and there, saw a pick-axe exactly above her, which the masons had accidentally left there.

Then Clever Elsie began to weep and said: ’If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and we send him into the cellar here to draw beer, then the pick-axe will fall on his head and kill him.’ Then she sat and wept and screamed with all the strength of her body, over the misfortune which lay before her. Those upstairs waited for the drink, but Clever Elsie still did not come. Then the woman said to the servant: ’Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie is.’ The maid went and found her sitting in front of the barrel, screaming loudly. ’Elsie why do you weep?’ asked the maid. ’Ah,’ she answered, ’have I not reason to weep? If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pick-axe will perhaps fall on his head, and kill him.’ Then said the maid: ’What a clever Elsie we have!’ and sat down beside her and began loudly to weep over the misfortune. After a while, as the maid did not come back, and those upstairs were thirsty for the beer, the man said to the boy: ’Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie and the girl are.’ The boy went down, and there sat Clever Elsie and the girl both weeping together. Then he asked: ’Why are you weeping?’ ’Ah,’ said Elsie, ’have I not reason to weep? If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pick-axe will fall on his head and kill him.’ Then said the boy: ’What a clever Elsie we have!’ and sat down by her, and likewise began to howl loudly. Upstairs they waited for the boy, but as he still did not return, the man said to the woman: ’Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie is!’ The woman went down, and found all three in the midst of their lamentations, and inquired what was the cause; then Elsie told her also that her future child was to be killed by the pick-axe, when it grew big and had to draw beer, and the pick-axe fell down. Then said the mother likewise: ’What a clever Elsie we have!’ and sat down and wept with them. The man upstairs waited a short time, but as his wife did not come back and his thirst grew ever greater, he said: ’I must go into the cellar myself and see where Elsie is.’ But when he got into the cellar, and they were all sitting together crying, and he heard the reason, and that Elsie’s child was the cause, and the Elsie might perhaps bring one into the world some day, and that he might be killed by the pick-axe, if he should happen to be sitting beneath it, drawing beer just at the very time when it fell down, he cried: ’Oh, what a clever Elsie!’ and sat down, and likewise wept with them.

The bridegroom stayed upstairs alone for along time; then as no one would come back he thought: ’They must be waiting for me below: I too must go there and see what they are about.’ When he got down, the five of them were sitting screaming and lamenting quite piteously, each out- doing the other. ’What misfortune has happened then?’ asked he. ’Ah, dear Hans,’ said Elsie, ’if we marry each other and have a child, and he is big, and we perhaps send him here to draw something to drink, then the pick-axe which has been left up there might dash his brains out if it were to fall down, so have we not reason to weep?’ ’Come,’ said Hans, ’more understanding than that is not needed for my household, as you are such a clever Elsie, I will have you,’ and seized her hand, took her upstairs with him, and married her.

After Hans had had her some time, he said: ’Wife, I am going out to work and earn some money for us; go into the field and cut the corn that we may have some bread.’ ’Yes, dear Hans, I will do that.’ After Hans had gone away, she cooked herself some good broth and took it into the field with her. When she came to the field she said to herself: ’What shall I do; shall I cut first, or shall I eat first? Oh, I will eat first.’ Then she drank her cup of broth and when she was fully satisfied, she once more said: ’What shall I do? Shall I cut first, or shall I sleep first? I will sleep first.’ Then she lay down among the corn and fell asleep.

Hans had been at home for a long time, but Elsie did not come; then said he: ’What a clever Elsie I have; she is so industrious that she does not even come home to eat.’

But when evening came and she still stayed away, Hans went out to see what she had cut, but nothing was cut, and she was lying among the corn asleep. Then Hans hastened home and brought a fowler’s net with little bells and hung it round about her, and she still went on sleeping. Then he ran home, shut the house-door, and sat down in his chair and worked.

At length, when it was quite dark, Clever Elsie awoke and when she got up there was a jingling all round about her, and the bells rang at each step which she took. Then she was alarmed, and became uncertain whether she really was Clever Elsie or not, and said: ’Is it I, or is it not I?’ But she knew not what answer to make to this, and stood for a time in doubt; at length she thought: ’I will go home and ask if it be I, or if it be not I, they will be sure to know.’

She ran to the door of her own house, but it was shut; then she knocked at the window and cried: ’Hans, is Elsie within?’ ’Yes,’ answered Hans, ’she is within.’ Hereupon she was terrified, and said: ’Ah, heavens! Then it is not I,’ and went to another door; but when the people heard the jingling of the bells they would not open it, and she could get in nowhere. Then she ran out of the village, and no one has seen her since.

The Rose

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There was once a poor woman who had two children. The youngest had to go every day into the forest to fetch wood. Once when she had gone a long way to seek it, a little child, who was quite strong, came and helped her industriously to pick up the wood and carry it home, and then before a moment had passed the strange child disappeared. The child told her mother this, but at first she would not believe it. At length she brought a rose home, and told her mother that the beautiful child had given her this rose, and had told her that when it was in full bloom, he would return. The mother put the rose in water. One morning her child could not get out of bed. The mother went to the bed and found her dead, but she lay looking very happy. On the same morning, the rose was in full bloom.

The Threshold Guardian

About this story

I created this story for my own company, Playing Mantis Coaching and Facilitation Development. The brief to myself was to write a story that could introduce the theme of threshold guardians for coaches and facilitators. The workshop was aimed at helping them externalise and deal with obstacles in the way of their professional development.

The Threshold Guardian

As I near the door, he looks up, greets me with enthusiasm and that dazzling smile of his. Do I detect a hint of naked mockery in the glint in his eye? Is it just an odd reflection in those glasses that he wears with such distinction? He faces me with his immaculate suit always perfectly tailored, not a spec of dust on it and his equally immaculate hair cut. In his hands he holds a smart device with the most popular project management app flashing its notifications and announcing the latest updates.

“Ready to try again I see Miss Kirsten – after all these years he still does not recognise either my marriage or my degree. “Dr. Janse van Vuuren” I correct him, but he just smiles at me knowingly. They don’t count in his book. For him the only thing that counts are the details of the task: any task.

A written text: are all the typos removed, all the references correct and all the formatting consistent? A household task: Does everything look like it did before I engaged with it – the counters like new, the floor squeaky clean, everything sparkling and germ free? Everything in their place – even things that have no place. An organisational task: Are all stakeholders on board, up to date, informed, happy and ready to say ‘yes’? Are the schedules worked out, up to date and are they being adapted and kept so as things develop? Administrative task: have all the papers been filed, all the names listed and dates filled in, all the contact details completed, all the events responded to all the emails sent? A marketing task: has it been spell checked, visually designed, linkedinned, facebooked, tweeted and all comments retweeted, liked and otherwise acknowledged?

I drop my head, but not before I notice the curve of his perfect mouth.

“Is your blog up to date? Every entry SEO’ed and keyword maximised? Are the children happy, well behaved, socially active, physically active, up to speed academically, socially, physically and health wise? No coughs, no runny noses, no tooth decay, no rashes, no tantrums,no crying, no talking back? Do they know that they are loved? Is the husband happy, working hard, helping in the house, getting enough love, being listened to enough? Are you sleeping enough? exercising enough, meditating enough? Eating properly? Spending enough time with family and friends? Getting to church often enough? Visiting your ageing parents often enough? Contacting far away friends and family enough? Are your finances healthy? debts being paid, bills being settled, savings growing, taxes up to date, budget balancing? Do you look professional? Hair suit your face shape? Clothes suit your skin colour and body-type? Toe nails and finger nails looked after? Make up neat? Clothes ironed and clean and fashionable?”

“Well, it’s just…“ I see his strong jaw line suggesting confidence.

“Are you still authentic, being yourself and able to shrug off the little rejections of live? Are you able to compete just with yourself and nobody else? Do you know you are good enough? Do you know that you are cared for and loved? Do you have faith? Do you believe that there is good in everyone? Do you love your neighbour as yourself and do unto others what you would them do unto you? Do you laugh enough? Are you happy? Well… ARE YOU?”

I lower my eyes and catch his masculine scent, he smells of determination.

“No? Sorry honey, next time then. And he turns his attention to the device in his hand with a shake of the head. You do not have the right kind of energy to enter here. Your karma does not align with what is needed here. You do not have the right intention, the right attitude, the right background, the right beliefs. You do not have the instinct for surviving here, or the talent for making the right decisions here.”

“No, but…” I sense the slender taught muscles of a lean body under the perfect tailored suit, ready for action.

He looks up: “Yes, I know that everyone on this side of the gate cannot tick all these boxes either, but they never tried to enter from the same place as you are trying to. They came through a different door, a door not available to you because there is no route from where you are to any of the other doors. You are where you are and you cannot get through this door from there unless you tick these boxes. You cannot tick the boxes, so you cannot come through. It was not meant for you.”

The suit, the hair, the mouth, the jaw, the scent, the body stands there smiling, not turning away.

And so I must tear myself from him in recognition of my defeat —  again — another failure to my record. Hoping I could find a different door but I never do. Always I return to this door draw to it by that smile, that  suit, that  hair, the mouth, the jaw, his scent, his body, my failure.

 

*           *           *

 

But not today. Today I do not turn to leave. Today I stand quite still. What if the door of my yearning could be turned into the door for his escape?  What if I do not accept his tick boxes as criteria for my success? What if there was, in fact only one criterion, one measurement – how long I can remain in his presence without squirming, without taking action of any kind…?

I stand fast and smile with a mocking glint in my own eye, or is it just the reflection of those glasses that he wears with such distinction? My eyes travel from his hair cut to his eyes and from this angle there seems to be no glint. I continue the slow appraisal, appreciating the dazzling smile of that perfectly curved mouth. Slowly I trace with my gaze the line of the jaw and I purposefully withhold my touch. He does not talk, but with confidence and precision he takes a step closer.

I catch the scent of his breath and the fragrance of him. I delight in it, but I do not move, my breathing slowing down. I feel the warmth of that body so ready for action, for conquest and still I stand letting my eyes travel back up to meet his and I hold them.  He breaks eye contact first and leans in closer his mouth brushing my temple ever so slightly as he whispers: “You do not comply.”  “Oh? According to whose measurement? As far as I am concerned I am succeeding with flying colours.” I say clearly, though perhaps somewhat breathlessly.

“Your boxes need ticking.”

My words come out measured and decisively one after the other. “I have but one box to tick, sir, and you don’t get to do it.”

We stand like that for another moment or so and then he drops his head to rest his forehead on my shoulder. He swallows hard and he seems to find it hard to tear himself away.

“You win” he says and turns his body aside to let me pass.

As I do so I notice that his collar is skew, his tie is loose and his shirt is becoming untucked. Sweat is running from his brow and his hair looks disheveled. His smart device is dead without any power. He was in a fight it seems.

How long have I stood my ground?

Long enough.

Tick.