September 20, 2023

From Collector To Commonplace

Motivational Speaker in South Africa, Jacques de Villiers has commonplace books.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell

For as long as I can remember, I’ve collected stuff. It first started with Enid Blyton’s Noddy books around 1967. It exhausted my mother because she had to keep reading them to me.

Around 1973 (I was 10) I collected soft toys, particularly bunnies and bears. My stepfather was deeply troubled by this.

At 12, I was collecting photos of Paul Newman, and still had the bunnies and bears. This raised alarm bells with my stepfather. “Let’s toughen you up,” he said as we went to his favourite bar. I’m not sure if I should have been given a whiskey then, especially not at 9am. But, now that I think of it, I suppose that’s where my love of whiskey came from.

I grew out of Paul Newman and the bunnies. Not the bears so much … I still have my teddy bear from my first birthday, (he’s 59 years old).

That’s me at a year old, and the bear, of course.

My Biological Father

In high school I collected The Hardy Boys. I met my biological father around 14 for only the second time in my life. He asked, “So, what are you currently reading my boy?” I answered, “The Hardy Boys. The Missing Chums.” He was deeply troubled by this. I suppose it must have been terrifying for him to have an intellectually-bereft child.

He probably memorised the entire works of Kierkegaard at 14, the smug prat (not Kierkegaard, my father). Look, there’s no doubt he was smart … with his double doctor’s degrees from Zurich University, both sommer cum louder (I mean summa cum laude) and hanging out with Jung, and all. And, he got a music degree, and a bunch of other things from Stellenbosch University. He played the violin. With all that talent, he decided to become a pastor. There was hardly any money in it in those days (1955 – 1960), so he really must have believed in saving souls. If he was around today, he’d have made a fortune as a pastor, and I wouldn’t have to write for a few pennies every day. Damn you, dad.

High school (1977 – 1981)

I was at boarding school for the entirety of my high school journey. Between studies, sport and hiding away from the matriculants and masters, I didn’t have time to collect much. Come to think of it, I did collect some things: Hidings, beatings and insults. In those days, school had a real Lord of the Flies vibe about it. And, at least I was smart enough not to bring any bears and bunnies with me to boarding school. That could have been ugly.

PW & Sons (1982 – 1984)

I got out of high school relatively unscathed and probably only needed five years of therapy. But there was no time for that because I ended up working for PW & Sons for the next two years. And, that was a shit show. All I collected were bugs, bullets and bodies. And, one Dear John letter.

After I turned 21, I started taking an interest in eccentric, intelligent and eclectic things like women. They were fascinating to me then, and are still fascinating to me now. I was woefully unsuccessful as a collector in that regard.

So, I embraced intellectual pursuits. I’ll show that prat, I thought; not Kierkegaard, my father. Perhaps, I should have considered therapy then, daddy issues and all. At least I didn’t have an Oedipus Complex … I don’t think. Thanks for making that a thing, Sigmund.

I have a woeful social life, so I read a lot.

I collected books and read them all. Ironically, I never got into Kierkegaard. But I ate Jung, Plato, Homer, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Homer, Dumas, Greene, Fitzgerald, Hubbard, Breytenbach, Brink, Bosman, Coetzee, Krog, Stein and Smith for breakfast. No, not Wilbur Smith … Topsy Smith, author of Trompie en die Boksombende.

This is by far my most loved, and read book. It’s always nearby.

Commonplace Book

It turns out that I was a collector then, and one now. Over all these years I’ve jotted things that interested me from all the reading and experience into what is known as a commonplace book. It’s a place to jot down anything you find inspiring, thoughtful or interesting.

I’ve got a bunch of them. These days my musings are quite tame. I write a little about chess, a lot about my man-crush, Carlos Castaneda, some about Sufism, and my favourite subject: me! I think a lot about dying, and how to make the most of my time here. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this journey elegantly and eloquently, and failing royally. I worry that I’m a deadbeat dad. I’m still difficult, and despite that, I have some awesome friends who see a spark of something in me, and stay with me.

From Commonplace Book To Blog Post

I’m trying to write a book about my father. Turns out he wasn’t only a prat,  smart, and musically-inclined, but also a spy. Some of it is in this suitcase. I don’t think I have it in me to write it.


There’s some interesting things in this suitcase. Like letters to John Voster and his run in with Lang Hendrik van den Berg, Voster’s spy master.

But, what I do have in me is a modicum of talent to write blog posts. I’ve written over 12 million words since 1996, and some of them come in the form of books, speeches, articles and others in the form of blog posts.

And, this whole gemors above was leading up to this moment, below.

Sign Up To Get My Blog Posts

To receive my eccentric, eclectic, and sometimes interesting writings from my commonplace books, enter your email address under ‘Never Miss A Post’. It’s somewhere on the top right of this post.

There’s a tool called FeedBlitz that’s like voodoo for me. Evidently, if you put your email address into ‘Never Miss A Post’, then whenever I write a blog post, it magically appears in your inbox.

By the way, I write a lot about sales and marketing, my real passions in life. I’ve spent 20+ years of my life studying, speaking and writing about these subjects. This may be useful to you because it can actually help you make money.

How to navigate this life elegantly and eloquently is a tougher nut to crack. And, you’re smart enough to know that only you can figure it out, not someone who likes bunnies and bears.

So, if you think that’s cool, and you’d like to get more of my commonplace stuff, go and sign up.

I love you,


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