Rosa Lyster

Cape Town, South Africa

Tag: i seem to lack the spirit for it

Happy Birthday Guy Fawkes

  1. I don’t care about you.
  2. It’s almost sort of violent, the amount I don’t care about you. It’s overwhelming.
  3. This in itself is cause for examination etc. Why is that I don’t care about you at all, because it’s not as if I confine myself to only paying attention to important things.
  4. No sir.
  5. I found a six page poem I wrote about Secretariat, for example. That’s Secretariat the celebrity racehorse.
  6. You are objectively more important than Secretariat, and yet I find myself exhausted by this. Why are you more important? Why is there a Guy Fawkes Day, and yet no Secretariat Day.
  7. Why were you born such a long time ago?
  8. This might be the worst thing about you.
  9. Why also did you wear an irritating kind of hat, and have a painting of you kind of leaning over and looking like Rumpelstiltskin (who I also hate), and call yourself “Guido Fawkes” when you were “fighting for the Spanish.”
  10. What even is this.
  11.  Happy birthday though, I suppose.
  12. Sorry you got executed – that’s really terrible. However: the fact that you were executed is at least a strong indicator that some people thought you were mega important.
  13. Swings and roundabouts, basically.

Happy Birthday David Lynch

  1. When I was 18, this guy I had a mega crush on asked me if I’d seen Eraserhead.
  2. I said yes.
  3. This was just a total lie. Forgive me. I thought it would make me seem cooler.
  4. The next thing that happened is I forgot I lied, and walked around for many years believing myself to have seen the movie Eraserhead.
  5. I don’t even know what it’s about.
  6. Is it one of those films where it’s not really “about” anything, like it’s more sort of a meditation on hairstyles or electricity?
  7. The person who would know is my friend Caitie.
  8. You would love her – she is just exactly your type, and has never had to lie about watching a movie in order to seem cool.
  9.  I stayed at her house once and watched Mulholland Drive after everyone else had fallen asleep.
  10. This was a huge, huge mistake.
  11. I got so scared after that face bit that I couldn’t move even to turn off the TV, and I couldn’t close my eyes for very long in case The Face was waiting for me in my head.
  12. As you know, the face bit is like right at the beginning, so I had to just crunch up terrified on the sofa for hours and hours.
  13. It was quite the ordeal.
  14. Caitie, of course, found this to be the funniest thing ever. I bet you would as well.
  15. You guys should definitely be friends.
  16. I will never watch the movie Eraserhead.

winkies 2

More of a pretend than an essay

this week has been Excessive. it has been my birthday, and also many many many Cultural Events, and seeing my pals excel in their various fields, and I did two readings at the Book Lounge, and now I have nothing to say. All I have to say is that I am SPENT, so here is a review I wrote of Genna Gardini’s book launch:

Essay 39: Any game with a lot of rules

Most games are terrible. Any game where it is necessary to have a strategy. Any game where you must think more than one step ahead. Any game that is called Risk. Any game that is called Monopoly. A game where you find out what your career is going to be, and your career is going to be a nurse or a babysitter. A game that is an early 90s version of Trivial Pursuit, where many of the questions require an intimate knowledge of who hosted Telly Fun Quiz. A game of Thirty Seconds I once played where this girl swore up and down that she didn’t know what New Zealand was. She later relented and said that she had heard of New Zealand, yes, and that Robert Mugabe was the president. The Prime Minister, actually. This happened.

Any game with a lot of rules. Any game where the rules are either undefined or self-evident, which is to say self-evident to everyone but me. Any game that I am bad at, such as chess, checkers, all card games (except Snap and Cheat), poker especially, bridge (I have never played bridge, but I know I hate it), and backgammon. Dominoes in any form other than making patterns or lining them up so they fall over. I said Monopoly, but I will say it again.

The only games worth a damn are Pictionary, Ex Libris, and Winking Murderer. This is one of the few certainties I possess. I am sitting now thinking about how fun Winking Murderer is, and my heart is beating all fast. I will play Winking Murderer with you right now, as long as you are not a very little kid. Little kids slow things down, and plus they tend to blink a lot in general. On the other hand, a little kid is the best possible partner for Pictionary. They have the right kind of free-spirited approach, and they already know that they are shit at drawing so are less likely to get frustrated when you don’t guess what they’re trying to depict. The worst person to play Pictionary with is an adult who fancies themselves as a good drawer. They get so peevish when you don’t guess. I once played Pictionary with someone’s dad, an art director. He was trying to draw “jazz”, I think, and he just kept doing all these guys in hats, and cats all over the place, and pounding his ball point pen into the paper so that he ripped the page, and circles round and round the cats, and arrows pointing to the hats like are you some kind of moron, and then drawing the sun over and over again and crossing it out. We could not understand. He got so emotional that he threw the pen across the room and did not speak to anyone for several hours. We found out later that the crossed-out suns were because jazz only happens at night.

Although this was, on balance, a stressful occasion, it was still a good time. Pictionary is an amazing way to see how someone else’s brain works. If I was drawing jazz, for instance, maybe I would draw at least one person playing a musical instrument. I am a bad drawer, but all you would really need to do is just draw a stick person holding a saxophone, and even I can do that. If my cousin Sue was there, I would just draw her dog, because he is called Jazz and that would be nice for him. I would try to adapt, is what I am trying to say.

The art director dad, however, had one idea in his mind and by god he was going to make it happen. These kinds of insights are valuable. Ex Libris is not as much of a Rorschach test, or not in the same way, but it’s still excellent. The rules, if you don’t know them, are that you get a whole lot of books together, one book for every person playing. Try to get as wide a range as possible. Do not worry about quality. Ex Libris is not the place to raise your high brow. The best round of it I have ever played involved a South African detective book called SNAKE, published in the 70s.

The point of the game is to make up a plausible first or last sentence of a book. Say the book is SNAKE. You write down your realistic-seeming first sentence, like “The curtain fluttered, although there was no breeze.” Everyone else does theirs, and then you hand it to my friend Ben, who is in charge of this round. Ben reads out all the made-up sentences, and mixed in there is the real one. Everyone votes, and if people choose your made-up sentence, then you win.

I love Ex Libris for all the reasons you might expect: books, taking turns, all my friends are there. I also love it because I am weirdly good at it. It is the only game I have a reasonable chance of winning. I will be straight with you and tell you that I win at it a lot.

This is because I am a good mimic. I have a pretty advanced ear for style, if that is a thing, and it’s not at all difficult for me to copy it convincingly. I can write you a paragraph that seems to be from a bad 70s detective novel, and you will probably think it’s real. This is why I am the queen of Ex Libris.

This is also one explanation for why I love the books that I do. The books I love are the ones that would defeat me at Ex Libris, the ones whose style I cannot I cannot break down and understand. I could write you an extremely convincing Margaret Atwood first sentence, for example, but I could never do an Alice Munro. This is not to say that Alice Munro is objectively better than Margaret Atwood (she is, she is, she so clearly is), but rather that Alice Munro is a beautiful mystery to me in some way, and that is how I like it. I like books that I could never write. The closer someone’s style or subject matter is to my own, the more bored and depressed I get.

This might be a variation on that theme called Self-Loathing, but I don’t think so. Instead, I think it’s because the more I write, the more I see how unlikely and how difficult originality is. I don’t think it can be taught. I think it’s just there, sitting in some people’s heads, and I think that I can spot it a mile away.


Essay 33: Potential, Potential, Potential

I used to know someone who thought I was very smart. It was, he made clear, the big deal about me. I was so clever, I had so much potential, I was remarkable for my age. It is possible that he was a little bit in love with me. I was very young, and I thought he was just the bee’s knees.

He would raise his eyebrows at things I said. He made a series of weird remarks about the clarity of my soul. My friends were sure that he wanted to sleep with me. I was sure that they were all the worst kind of sexist pigs, sexist bitches, for saying that. How could they think that he wanted to sleep with me when all he was doing was telling me over and over again how smart I was? It was so typical of this terrible world, really, that an old man couldn’t tell a 23 year old girl how brilliant she was without some dreary old naysayer, some mom, suggesting that there might be something else going on there. It didn’t occur to me that I was wrong.

If you haven’t heard of negging, it’s when a person gives with one hand and takes with the other. This is done with an eye to future sexing. Negging is when, for example, you are in the club and you see a girl. She is standing there chatting to her pals. You go up to her and stand on the fringes of the group. No one thinks this is weird or embarrassing. You nod along for a bit, and then you look at the girl’s friends and say, like “Wow, do you ladies ever get a word in edgewise? It seems like she never stops talking,” thus indicating to her that you are not interested. Thus making her feel the bitter sting of being just like everyone else. Negging is when you make her think that her looks have no power over you. The idea is that you “lower her social value in relation to yours” and she has no choice then but to give you the first of many blowjobs. This is all freely available on the internet. Anyone can read this.

There are lots of men who swear by negging. The internet heaves with them, all of them on forums writing “I am right, negging works, tell a girl she looks like your little sister and it’s BLOWJOB TIME, PAL. It WORKS.” A normal person looks at all this crazy bullshit and wants to dismiss it out of hand. Any normal person, surely, wants to believe that it’s a myth. I so, so wish it was.  I have never been negged in the club, but I have been subject to a sustained campaign of negging by the man who thought I was very smart, and I am telling you that it works. It made me feel like shit, but it also made me think I was in love with him.

His version of negging was to tell me that I was so, so smart, so much potential, but that it was always going to remain as potential. I was always going to be the girl that wasted her giant brain, because she couldn’t do any work. She couldn’t get it done. See how good that is? Smart, but a fuck up. Brilliant, but who cares?

It works. It made me think all kinds of stupid shit, like for example that he was the only person who understood me.  Like maybe we should just get married.

It took about five years for me to realise what was going on, there. I got sick of it all at once, just bored with all this stuff about my beautiful dying brain. A person with a more robust self-esteem would have got the shits with it much earlier. Still.

It took another two years for me to stop being angry. It was so long ago, and as it turns out, I am grateful to him. He was such an old creeper, and I ended up disliking him in a way that made it possible for me to dismiss everything he said. The whole business of whether or not I was smart just went out the window. He made it so I never, ever wanted to think about it again. As it turns out, this was a gift. I haven’t thought I was smart in years. I haven’t worried about my potential once. It just does not come up for me, anymore. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and all it took was one old creeper.


Essay 31: Bigger than the Beatles

Primal scream therapy is when you hark back to your shitty childhood and just scream it all out. The way it is supposed to work is that the patient re-experiences past Pain (the word is usually capitalised in the literature) in a safe and healing environment, expressing fully the feelings relating to the Pain, and thereby resolving the Pain. I don’t know. It is supposed to be the full-on cathartic experience.

I write “is” when really it should be “was”: no one does primal scream therapy anymore. It was huge in the seventies, all these tormented upper middle-class people bent over double in therapy sessions, their chunky silver medallions banging against their shins, screaming their absolute heads off. Everyone was doing it. John Lennon was, briefly and very publically, a believer. He said at one point that the therapy was “more important to [me] than the Beatles”. You know that song Mother? Stop what you are doing and listen to Mother right now. Isn’t it insane? Isn’t it the best? Listen to him howling away at the end there. That’s primal scream therapy. John Lennon wrote it after he’d been living for four months at the Primal Institute in California. Four months! He sounds like a man who has worked through a thing or two.

Primal scream therapy has been savagely and fulsomely discredited. Mainstream psychology washed its hands of it a long time ago: too weird, too obviously based on total bullshit, too much a man in a turtleneck and a waistcoat telling you what is up. Also: in 1973, there was a “birth simulator” introduced at the Primal Institute: “a 10-foot-long adjustable pressure vinyl tube. The patient was covered with a slick substance to simulate birth.” That about did it, in terms of primal therapy’s credibility. Grown-up people pretending to get born out a vinyl tube. That about put the final nail in the coffin. But I don’t know. Birth simulators aside, surely all that screaming must have done something? It surely must have had some value. Patients would have walked out of their sessions feeling all watery and light, at the very least. I’m not saying it’s anything other than pure, high nonsense. Of course it is. All I am saying is that I can see why people got into it. Rolling around on the floor, having a good scream. I bet it felt excellent.

I went to normal therapy twice a week for a year and felt nothing. Not even watery and light. I can’t remember a single thing we talked about, or a single way I felt, and really I am not sure I would recognise my therapist if I bumped into her in the supermarket. It wasn’t a “bad experience” or anything. It just didn’t work, if that is a thing you’re allowed to say.  It didn’t work, and the other problem was that it was extremely, extremely expensive. My god. I could have spent all that money on clothes, and been so happy, if that is a thing you’re allowed to say.

I left therapy for no good reason – I was just bored, as well as increasingly aware that a moment of catharsis was not going to show up anytime soon. Therapists have told me that this isn’t how it works. Therapy isn’t like that. Most people don’t get the big breakthrough, where they roll around on the floor and get born out a tube and go home and write Mother. I know that. I’m not an eight year old. Wouldn’t it be lovely, though? I for one would welcome it.


Essay 27: The Edge of the Herd

I’m going to London next week. It’s been five years since I was there, which seems wrong, but is nevertheless true. Five years. I can’t stop saying it to myself. How can it be five years since I have seen so many of my pals? It makes me sick. My godson, when I left London, was two weeks old. He was a little baby with sweet fluffy ears. Now he is a proper kid, with habits and opinions and a small brother. Before he was born, his mum and me shared a peanut butter and honey sandwich on the grass at the women’s pond on Hampstead Heath, and read a Heat magazine, and I remember that like it was two days ago. Don’t tell me it’s been half a decade.

This is not a lament about the terrible passing of the years, though. Or not only that (it is bullshit though – the passage of time; it is a bad joke told by my enemy). This is more a question of probabilities. It just seems unlikely that this is all so definitively In The Past. Surely not, when I can effortlessly recall everything that happened. I can remember what I ate, even. I can’t remember what I ate yesterday. I remember what I felt like, and what I wore, and the expression I made when I looked in the mirror. It’s not right. Five years should have some respect. I remember what books I took out the library, and in what order. It’s oppressive. I remember the exact depth to which my heart sank, as well as what shoes I was wearing, as well as the bus I was on, when I realised a certain person was never going to love me back. Those eight months, in that city, are more vivid than they have any right to be.

It’s tiring, all this, especially for a person who believes that emotions are better left repressed. When I was about 15, my mum delivered one of her stunningly accurate character assessments. This is something she is known for, I think. If not, she should be. I have almost no insight into myself, and so it has been jolly useful over the years to have a mum who just comes out and tells me what I am like. I imagine that it must be gratifying for her, as well, to have a child who is just knocked the hell out by things she says. On my 30th birthday, she gave a speech at my party in which she mentioned that I did not like, as a rule, to be labelled or categorised. I could hardly say my own speech, I was so floored by the clarity of her judgment. She told me, when I was fifteen, that I bottled things up in an unhealthy way, and that I couldn’t do it forever. The first thing I thought when she said it was This woman is some kind of psychic. I think I might have actually stepped back and clutched my head, like in The Matrix. The second thing I thought was Why, though? Why can’t I just bottle things up forever. I quite like it. I like to repress things as if they never happened. This neatly takes care of almost every horrible thing I’ve ever done, every stupid thing I’ve ever said, every time I have felt my heart sink into my impractical shoes or rise up and spread out along my collarbones like a vine. It does not, however, take care of eight months when I was 25 years old. I still have all that. There is apparently no getting rid of it.

I’m fine with this. I was so miserable, mostly, and so tormented it actually altered my posture. You could see from the back of my neck that I was having a bad time. But I was also myself, just pure distilled Rosa Frances Lyster, to a degree not reached before or since. It was really something. In London, I had none of the weapons that usually protect us from ourselves: no job, no family, no partner. Just me, then.

There is a quite unforgettable scene in Planet Earth. You know the one I mean. Not the little bird wearing pants or having feathers that look like eyes and making a noise of a typewriter. Not the “Caves” one where the ground is blanketed with cockroaches, like heaving with cockroaches. It’s the bit with the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica. They are getting ready for winter, and how they do that is they all huddle together in a circle. The little weak ones go in the middle, and the stronger good ones go on the outside, for protection, and the really shit ones get slowly edged out over four months or so, in the snow and the wind.  The edging out is not deliberate, I don’t think. It happens so, so slowly. It’s just that there is no space. It’s just that there’s only space for the sweet little ones, and the good tall strong ones. No one else. No other kind of penguin is suitable. It’s continuously dark, David Attenborough says, and temperatures drop to -70 degrees. Surely, he says, no greater ordeal is faced by any animal. Poor penguins.

I have watched Planet Earth a hundred times. Before I went to London, I sat through the penguin scene with no trouble. Poor penguins, I always thought. Poor old guys. This robust heartlessness deserted me shortly after I arrived. In London, I couldn’t watch the penguin scene without crying. Without sobbing, let us face it. It wasn’t that I felt sad for them, although I did. It was a problem of over-identification. I felt as if I actually was a penguin. One of the rubbish ones, obviously, getting edged out in tiny, tiny increments. Nothing personal, of course. No one was edging me out on purpose, but it was happening all the same.

Five years later, and I am not one of those penguins anymore. I’m fine. These things stay with you, though, and that is as it should be.


Essay 25: The Sinister Shape in the Water

I’ve been trying to write fiction again.  I’ve been trying so hard to write fiction again that I paused for a long time after I wrote that first sentence and thought about its possibilities. “I’ve been trying to write fiction again” is not a bad beginning, for a story. It’s not great, but I have seen worse. Consider it: maybe the person who is trying to write fiction is a woman who has just quit her job at a university. Maybe she used to write and then she had some kind of Turn, like she looked at the blank page and saw only wiggly lines and heard the roar of the sea in her ears. She heard a distinct electrical humming, as of powerlines passing right through her living room. The living room has polished oak floors and on the wall is a painting by her father. It is of her mother, the upper part of her face obscured, sitting with her feet in a dirty swimming pool. There is a sinister shape in the green water, hands reaching out to the mother’s legs. Are they hands though? Or are they more flippers? The woman who cannot write is not sure. She has stared at the picture many times, and still cannot make out the meaning or import of the sinister shape. She can’t ask her mother or her father because they are both dead. Maybe this is the reason she can no longer write. This is surely why packed up her little exam pad, little pen, and got an admin job in the ecomonics department of a university. And now she is quitting, because the roaring has returned to her ears, or else she has come into an inheritance of some kind, or a combination of same. There is an evil but sexy sister. Her involvement in what happens next is not clear just yet, because I have no idea what happens next.

I don’t mean this in the way that some writers of fiction do, where they are happy to let their characters take over and dictate the course of the novel. I mean that I can’t do it. I would be thrilled to “let” my characters take over, if such a thing were possible. It is not. I don’t have that kind of a brain. Also, I am not in the opposing camp. If one side is Forster and “characters run away with you”, the other side is Nabokov and “my characters are galley slaves.” Again, this sounds great to me. I would be so, so happy to be the vicious captain of a ship called This Is What A Plot Looks Like. There’s all my characters below decks, sweating and straining away like in Asterix. There’s me, striding up and down the deck, holding a diet soda in each hand. I would love that. But this option is closed off to me as well.

I have no idea what happens next to the woman who cannot write, and I don’t care. I would never read that story. I hate it so much already, and it doesn’t even exist. I hate the evil but sexy sister, and I hate the painting on the wall. I hate the painting even though I cannot picture it. I have worked myself up into a state of high, pure irritation this week. I have tried to write one story, and then I have tried to write another one. I tried to combine the two. It doesn’t work. Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.

I try not to let this eat me up. I try to benefit and learn from this deeply chastening experience. I look to the woman who cannot write for inspiration, even though I hate her. Truly, I wish her ill. I hope her sister steals all her money. I hope her dad died of rage from looking at her stupid face. Still. The woman who cannot write would not give up so easily. She would keep trying, sitting on the polished oak floors with the light streaming through the windows, and the painting on the wall that I hate so much. She would sit there and wait, and sit, and something would happen eventually.


Happy Birthday Clara Bow

  1. I have never sat through a whole silent movie.
  2. I seem to lack the spirit for it.
  3. Exception: we watched a lot of Charlie Chaplin when I was small, and I liked that a lot. The main reason I liked it though is because my parents had a poster from “The Kid” in the passage, and I thought that the child in the picture was me.
  4. Every time I walked past it I thought There I am. There’s me and Charlo.
  5. I was only four, but still, this seems extremely weird.
  6. Chaplin_The_Kid_edit
  7. Putting Charlo aside, I have never sat through a whole silent film.
  8. My friend Cath swears that Buster Keaton movies are genuinely funny, but I’m worried I wouldn’t even laugh once.
  9. When that movie “The Actress” came out, the main thing I thought was “This is certainly not for me.”
  10. “Why don’t they just put talking in.”
  11. Although I cannot see the point of silent films, I can understand your appeal completely – you have a truly excellent face.
  12. You seem like a real hoot as well.
  13. clara bow