David Chislett is a South African published author who’s also a poet, voice artist, MC, and a public speaker motivating businesses to “Unleash [Their] Inner Rockstar.” His short story collection, A Body Remembered, is available on Amazon. David is my guest today, and here's his rite-of-passage story.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of occasion to look back in some awe over what has taken place in the last five years. I’ve closed a PR company, published five books, embarked on two new careers as a training facilitator and a key note speaker and am now planning a major incursion into the international market. And it all stems from one decision—to write; to focus on that dream after all this time.
From David Chislett jnr to David Chislett snr
I remember as clear as day a conversation I had with my best friend in standard three, one Bruno Heese. We were both pretty alienated little kids at eleven. He was super bright; I was mature beyond my years thanks to four older siblings. We wrote a lot of poetry, went for long walks, listened to obscure music and wondered what sort of men we’d grow up to be. He was adamant he’d go onto huge corporate and business success. I said at the time that I too would be hugely successful, but that I’d do it from outside the structures. At eleven I already thought like that. WTF? Where did THAT come from?
In any event, Bruno now lives in America somewhere and is hugely successful and has been for some time—A B Business Science from UCT got him nicely on his way. I’ve meandered along through a good many byways before getting to this juncture in my life, informed, I believe, by the decision that was implicit in that eleven-year-old’s thoughts: I will do it from outside the structures of society.
Punk Rock and Poetry
When I was twenty-four, I discovered punk rock. It was 1985 and post-punk was HUGE and we reversed-engineered our way back to The Dead Kennedy’s and The Sex Pistols from Bauhaus and Siouxie and the Banshees. I was still writing poetry, which took a turn for the sociopolitical, and we were not political - we were nicely brainwashed suburbanites. But we were anti-authoritarian and we did everything in our limited power to act, think and define ourselves that way. Sure, I was in the school play, I debated and I ended up getting colours for athletics and playing A-team rugby, but we considered ourselves 'detached from the structure'. Another decision!
When my family moved to Port Elizabeth (a coastal city in the Eastern Cape), I fell in with another old primary school friend: Julian Kievit. He who can play anything musical. Despairing of my ability to ever learn how to play guitar, he taught me bass, we wrote some songs from my poetry and started a band or two. I finally sorta learned to play some guitar chords and we were all good to go. Again, alienated from the mainstream by our choices, we revelled in the otherness this gave us. Then we both got conscripted.
Books, Bands and Booze
By the time I got out of military service, I’d learned some powerful lessons: in order to survive, do not attract undue attention - never come first, never come last and believe that you can do whatever you want. Become invisible and do what you want to do. It got me through basic training and one year in Bloemfontein as a medical orderly driver. It also got me through University. I did what was needed and passed. I also played in a punk band, drank like a fish, run the 400m hurdles for WITS University like a man possessed and decided to become an academic.
I got a bursary from the English department to do my honours in English. On my first day of film studies, the lecturer (I think it was Stan Peskin) took one look at my punk hairdo, torn jeans and tattoo and said, “Chislett? What the fuck are you doing here?” And that was the start of the downhill slope for me.
Anarchy In The UK
Six months later I was in London, working for a TV post-production facility and seeing every punk and alternative band I had ever loved. I was also learning that as a middle class kid from the suburbs of Johannesburg I was neither as hard nor as weird as I’ve been schooled to think. Again, I was anonymous. I revelled in it, drifting around that big old city becoming someone new. Practicing invisibility. But when the chance to return to SA to start my own business in the music industry came around, I was very quick to return.
From there to hear and back again
In many ways, those were the experiences that moulded me into the man I am now. It took some time for me to stick my head out my rabbit hole, admit to my ambitions and work powerfully towards them. I had to get to a crossroad where I needed to make that one decision: ‘haal uit en wys,’ (show what you’ve got) or be forever filled with regrets.
My oldest brother Andrew once asked what I would you regret more: Getting into trouble for what you just did, (I’d been sent off the field for punching another kid in a rugby match) or regret not having done what I needed to do? You can guess the answer to that one. And I have lived my life by that light ever since. It has meant no wife, no house in Parkhurst, no luxury car and no predictable income or immediate wealth. It has also meant world travel, an ensemble cast of wild talented, crazy and amazing friends and books. Books that I now know will never stop coming.
It has also led, inexorably, to this point in time where I am packing up nine years of life in Johannesburg, five years in the same block of flats and eyeing out the horizon, looking for the next thing to do. But this time I am focussed, energetic and decisive. It really is amazing what one decision can do.
As a writer and personal coach, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a story about what change means to you (or to one of your story characters), contact me to make a guest contribution to this insightful series of stories.