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[OPINION] Brain cancer, boredom and being

I’ve started to sketch. I’ve always been mildly artistic. I tinker on the piano like someone who does not have opposable thumbs, and I play the guitar so badly that I might as well strum with my elbow. My dad bought me a beautiful mandolin from Turkey once; I’m better at looking at it than playing it – I have a postdoctoral degree in staring at it. Basically, on a scale of one to talented, I would probably rate myself not so much as lukewarm, but more a gross sink with dirty dishwater and softened breadcrumbs floating about that are probably going to clog the drain.

My brother and I coined the term called creative aggression. We diagnosed ourselves with it some time back so that we could have a definitive term to use to describe that aching, irritating, teeth grinding feeling you get when you sit at a piano, or play the saxophone (he does, really well) and you try to stick your inspiration to the notes, but instead it makes you want to kick a puppy because you can’t get anything right.

I am a chronic creative aggression sufferer but it’s cyclical, and recently, I have been suffering from a serious bout of this very serious, mind (if not life – depending on whether you suffer from depression as well – I do) -threatening illness. Someone pull out the tiny violin for this superficial melodrama – and please make sure you play it better than I could.

My cousin has brain cancer. She’s 25. She has a two-year-old daughter. It’s not curable and you can’t treat it with chemotherapy. The only thing worth trying would be something called proton therapy. This is a fairly new innovation in cancer treatment, available only in Prague and Florida.

I am 32. I draw for free. It costs me nothing. And I do it to treat my creative aggression. My boredom. I wake up in the morning, I take about 6 to 7 pills to get me through the day, and in between working at a pretty good job, I put pen to paper and compose dark, out of proportion images with a naïve emo feel that represent my existential crisis. It’s free therapy.

Proton therapy is not free, rates start at about $135,000, that’s almost R2 million – medical aid won’t cover this at home, it certainly will not cover it internationally. This amount excludes pre-treatment costs, post care, medication, accommodation, travel and living expenses. Even so, she could lose her eyesight, her memory. Not unlike other cancers, she could lose her life.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes, “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated? If one feels that there is nothing ‘we’ can do -- but who is that ‘we’? -- and nothing ‘they’ can do either -- and who are ‘they’ -- then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.”

Feeling this way about work, or creativity or what to eat for lunch is a bit different from feeling this way about a cancerous tumour though. When you have the information you have on this sort of thing, you have to act on it. Set up a blog, crowd fund… try.

There is no unselfish good deed – I heard that somewhere once. It’s true. Helping out is probably going to make me feel like a really good person. There isn’t a single human that does something good without recognising how humanitarian they’re going to feel for doing it.

The world is still droning on about the shock and horror of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s loss, Marius Fransman etc. I am now deaf to the noise, but not indifferent. It does incite reaction. Interest is not one of them. Eye rolling of epic proportions is, along with fist clenching and wanting to yell at Twitter: “Drink hemlock or go into exile” (thank you Socrates).

These are irrational and ignorant responses. I get it. The discourse is important. Societal norms need to be challenged. Corruption sucks. All those who have the “pleasure” of democracy must fight for their rights (to party – as in political). On any given day, I am one of these people, in a recognisably irrelevant way – something I wish more people would realise. We are not special and unique snowflakes, we are the all-encompassing crap of the world – Fight Club knows what’s up. And on that note, in my opinion, there has never been a better time to take advantage of the practice of anarchy.

In the same book, Sontag also writes: “Someone who is permanently surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.”

So my creative aggression and boredom might be a blessing in disguise then? Maybe, ironically, they are responsible for some degree of moral or psychological adulthood? There’s always hope. Just like with proton therapy.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.