3 Day Quote Challenge – 2

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Not all who wander are lost

For the second day of the challenge for which Mrs T nominated me, this J. R. R. Tolkien quote comes to mind. A line in a poem in the first volume of Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings,  it refers to the Rangers who although often considered vagabonds are actually protectors and bulwarks against evil in Middle Earth.

For me it speaks of hope, a reminder that despite times and seasons in which life conspires to rock my faith and unresolved questions bubble to the surface, I am not lost. Just wondering, pondering and finding my way home in the end.

The Year in Reading

After many years of having thoroughly enjoyed the annual parade of opinions of books over at The Millions, I decided to have a go myself this year. Far from being a celebration of a year in which I read deeply and widely, it is a light reflection on all the things I managed to read this year. Enjoy!

Of the myriad of things I most deeply wanted to achieve this year, two loomed large in the personal development domain; to read more and write more, which was why I entered the year clutching my copy of Patty Dann‘s The Butterfly Hours close to my chest. In my head, writing more  – and by extension, better – required tools for tuning my craft, which was why this book, with its promise of personal memoir married to prompts, seemed the perfect fit. It helped that all nineteen reviews on Amazon were 5*. I did enjoy the book, albeit more an an example of easy reading memoir than a collection of prompts. I suspect that had a lot more to do with me than the book.  If it is any consolation, I returned to it several times over the course of the year, it along with Dinty Moore‘s Crafting The Personal Essay being fine examples of the sort of creative non-fiction I would like to churn out.

Next up was Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, which I finally finished at this third time of asking. On my two previous attempts, I had found myself bogged down in the tedious beginning, but ploughing through this time brought me to the delights of the end. What I never quite managed to suss out was just how autobiographical the novel was, given that like the Sais Taiye has dual Nigerian and Ghanian roots and is also a twin. So thoroughly did I enjoy this that I went hunting for her seminal essay from 2005, Bye Bye Babar. Well worth the read, if I say so myself.

The grudging, reluctant engagement with books which dogged my interactions with both books was something I found recurred over the course of the year. The list of unfinished books is extensive with Andrea Lucado’s English Lessons and Adam Gopnik’s At The Strangers’ Gate  being the more notable.  The books I did finish fell mainly into four main categories; ones I read as guides for my #100DaysOfCreating project (Felix Feneon’s Novels in Three Lines and Robert Smartwood’s Hint Fiction), annual anthologies which have become regular fixtures on my reading list (such as the Jonathan Franzen edited 2016 edition of The Best American Essays), personal essay collections (such as David SedarisLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things) and books inspired by media I consumed during the course of the year (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes a useful counterpoint to binge watching all five seasons of Elementary, and Walk On – Steve Stockman’s attempt at providing insights into the faith that underpins U2’s oeuvre).

I had a late spurt of three books to thank for reaching fifteen books this year. All three were really good reads:  Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson’s We Have No Idea (a reminder that for all we know about quarks, leptons, and the material universe, the vast majority of what is around us is unknown), Dame Elizabeth Anionwu’s Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union (a deeply personal story of growing up mixed race in the United Kingdom of the 50’s and 60’s and eventually connecting with her Nigerian heritage) and Diego Torres‘s The Special One: The Secret World of Jose Mourinho (a no-holds barred look at the behind the scenes behaviour of Mourinho, particularly his Real Madrid sojourn and how super agent Jorge Mendes towered over his transfer dealings).

All told reading more widely  – and more consistently – has to be one of the objectives for the new year. Braced for the challenge.

Nine Fridays of Summer: Of Heat Waves, Vienna and A Perfect Month of Sorts

02_Travel

In what can only be incontrovertible evidence of Sod’s law, the air-conditioning at work chooses the worst week possible to break down in; a week of unseasonably warm August weather. Loads of meetings to attend, lunch time walks and endless cups of water help ensure that I don’t end up too listless; not that broken air-conditioning ranks high on the list of life threatening things humans have to deal with, or should be an excuse for reduced productivity.

Thankfully, that First World ordeal is mitigated by the fact that it is a 3.5 day work week for me; a half day tacked on to this week’s summer Friday meaning that by lunch time Thursday I am putting finishing touches to all the things I have been chased on during the week in preparation for heading out into the sunshine. What follows shortly is a brisk walk back home to grab my bag and then a quick dash to the airport for my flight to London. Not until I am settled into my seat, flying away to London, does the tiredness hit me, the low similar to what I imagine users of psychoactive substances must feel after the effects wear out.

London, I find, is not much better- heat wise at least; the hour and thirty minutes I spend to get to my hotel on the DLR and then the Underground the perfect illustration of all that is bad about heat waves – people in varying stages of undress, a heightened sense of smell and the feeling of being tightly packed.  When I think my ordeal has ended, I find I have somehow mixed Hounslow Central up with Heathrow Central, which adds another forty five minutes to my commute from airport to hotel. The front desk manager at the hotel does a magnificent job of defusing my frustrations, her wry smile when she announces I have not being the first to make that same mistake on the day notwithstanding. Food, sleep and a quick phone call are all I manage before sleep sucks me in.

The next morning passes in a blur, the highlights being making the airport shuttle bus with seconds to spare, whizzing through security and ending up on the flight to Vienna with only a few minutes to spare, very much by the skin of my teeth.

***

01_Run

This has been as close to a perfect month as I have had all year. Thanks to continued pressure focused attention from the friends who keep me accountable, I managed to run three times each week this month, pushing the envelope each Sunday until by the last Sunday I was up to 5 km. Besides now being able to (barely) fit into my size 34 jeans which I was on the verge of giving away, the beautiful sunrises I catch each morning that I run make it all worthwhile.

The  intent is to keep these  runs going, slowly making up the distances until I am at 5 km for each run. 10 km three times a week has been mooted by said friends as a target for year end, I think that is more a next not-quite-a-milestone-birthday target though. Fingers crossed. The most important thing is to keep walking running I guess.

In books and reading, I finally managed to finish Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before as well as starting off on Faithfully Feminist, an anthology of essays on being feminist whilst maintaining spiritual practice within the context of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I am only four essays in, but I suspect there will be a lot to both agree with and disagree with for me. The upside I guess is that I am reading, again.

***

00_Vienna

As I write this, I am looking out from my hotel window onto the sun bathed train station across the road and an old church a name for which a search on google and google maps failed to turn up. In a round about way, this is the culmination of four years of pondering; Vienna as a destination first being mentioned to me by an Opera-loving, Birmingham-bred English man who I happened to share office space with offshore for two weeks in 2012.

It is still too early to form any strong opinions but I am already beginning to get a vague understanding for why Vienna is considered one of the more liveable cities out there. The rest of today is to rest and fine-tune my plans for the weekend.

After today, there is only one more Summer Friday left. Oh bummer!

– – –
Currently listening to the Gil Joe single – Mayo 

#8 – On Marrying

Stumbled upon via the WordPress discovery feature, The True Story of a Seven Year Marriage:

Before you can make high towers, it’s best to build a good strong base. It comes from laughter, empathy, forgiveness, accepting the other person’s struggle, and knowing yourself. But sometimes without knowing it, you build too high and too fast. Things get shaky and start to wobble. There is always a way to rebuild if you’re willing. Always new and different blocks to try, always time to take a few steps back and build the bottom stronger.

A bit dated (from 2013) but loads of hard hitting home truths.

The Writer Is….

…Neither saint nor Tzadik nor prophet standing at the gate; he’s just another sinner who has somewhat sharper awareness and uses slightly more precise language to describe inconceivable reality of our world. He doesn’t invent a single feeling or thought – all of them existed long before him… He’s here, at our side, buried up to his neck in mud and filth.

The Seven Good Years: A Memoir, Etgar Keret

 

Human, Too

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In his seminal essay Why I Blog, Andrew Sullivan reflects on the subject of blogging; it’s similarity to – and shared etymology with – a ship’s log, its rise in step with the proliferation of the web technologies which have made it possible, and the unique niche it fills in the online space. Its overarching and enduring quality, he surmises, is due in part to two things; the informal, almost instantaneous nature of blogging as a reaction to news and events, and the intense, if sometimes unforgiving, interaction between blogger and reader that blogs enable. The conclusions he reaches are from considering a specific form of a blog, the sort that lies at the intersection of personal reflection and journalism, much like his (now retired blog) Daily Dish. Overall the numbers are mind boggling. Back in 2005, Technorati estimated that a blog was born every second, with 14.2m blogs being tracked by them back then (For some context, Tumblr which didn’t exist back in 2005 was home to 261 million blogs as of the 1st of November this year). The vast majority of this blogosphere is made up of blogs that are far less serious in nature and content than the ones Sullivan’s comments concern primarily, however his conclusions apply, perhaps more-so in this personal, less formal space.

The personal blog appeals to us as readers, that much cannot be disputed with any degree of conviction. The why is far more nuanced, stemming in part from the humanising effect the vulnerability implicit in a personal blog generates. Paulo Coelho puts this most succinctly when he compares writing to being publicly naked.  Sharing, in this space is a given; where the lines blur is around what is acceptable vulnerability and where over-sharing begins. This potential for over-sharing may be one of the reasons these sorts of blogs attract us, sating our inner desires to be in the know. There is an obvious downside to all this sharing; we as readers can get sucked into a comparison game – juxtaposing the realities of our hum-drum, quotidian lives with what are ostensibly the highlight reels from others’ lives.

Anonymous personal blogs – by decoupling real world connections from the stories that we share – go further, enabling engaged, diverse conversations around what might otherwise be taboo, stigma tainted subjects; living with HIV and/or rape being two examples which spring to mind quickly. This is interaction at its purest – a mental, mind-to-mind connection – unsullied by considerations of shape, sex, beauty or other physical characteristic.

For the reader, a personal blog – particularly where it veers off the beaten path into non-traditional quirks, likes and behaviours – also provides relief and validation. The joys of finding out that one’s curious fascination with cats acting like humans is as normal as can be reassures one that his/her humanity is not seriously in doubt. One is like the guy or girl next door, if next door can be expanded to include the unknown person behind a screen.

Somewhere between discovering a blog and becoming a captive reader lies a progression much akin to the development of a love affair. The first heady heights of being attracted to a mind  – either by a unique turn of phrase, a shared quirky interest or whatever else grabs one – eventually gets replaced by a commitment to returning, and for some people, we return again and again. Our desire for connection is obliged when the blogger returns repeatedly, sharing more and more, sometimes with a regularity that allows us build anticipation and sometimes associate happiness and joy with reading. Sometimes, we end up extending our follower-ship to other platforms across the internet, progressing from conversations on the blog to connections across the social media domain.

Blogs and bloggers do not last forever, regardless of what our expectations as readers are. We hope that once posted, what we read and what we like will remain stored in the ether, the URLs we collect in our favourites and the text we save all becoming a time capsule that bottles up for future retrieval the sense of time, space and emotion created when we first read and resonate with someone else’s words. When blogs and bloggers disappear, the only reminders that they were once here are the 404 pages  we get when we try to reassess our favourite content. This is very much the equivalent of being ghosted. As with all bad breakups, we seek palliatives. Google Reader, until retired by Google was perfect for this, storing a rich text version of whatever blog post the blogs one subscribed to had pushed via RSS. The Internet Archive WayBack machine, hit-or-miss as it could be, was another such resource, allowing me re-read archived versions of Teju Cole’s blog which became the source material for his novella Every Day Is For The Thief.

The years between 2008 and 2011 are ones I consider as a golden age of sorts for the Nigerian blogosphere, at least in my little corner of it. Thanks to quitting my mind-numbing job and returning to Grad school, I had far more time on my hands at the back end of 2008 than I had had in the preceding five years. I am no longer sure which was the first blog I stumbled on but over time I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of the people behind my favourites from that era; Doug, Dante, Olu Simeon, NoLimit, CaramelD, MissFab, Original Mgbeke, AfroGeek Chic and Tatababe to name a few. There were other favourites from that era I never got to be the ultimate fan boy with but whose writing still resonates with me – Nigerian Drama Queen, Adebola Rayo, Jaja, Light Her Lamp, Good Naija Girl, Atutupoyoyo, Zena, Miss Opeke, Confessions of a London Gal, La Reine and the Parakeet to name a few.

The vast majority of this lot have either vanished off the blogosphere, significantly downsized their blogs or reinvented themselves completely. It has been a source of great joy to see the likes of Jaja and Atutupoyoyo take their craft from blogsville to the real world of publishing – perhaps for the hope it gives the rest of us that one’s craft might yet be honed sufficiently by blogging.

There is certainly the sense that the Nigerian blogosphere is different in all sorts of ways, not least younger and interested in different subjects from the ones the old crowd were. From time to time, when I catch up with the members of the old guard I am close friends with in real life, we blame Twitter for being the disruptive influence at the centre of things. Truth be told, change was bound to happen, and if my own personal life is anything to go by, real life and its pressures are difficult things to manage. Twitter has given me the opportunity to know a few of the new crowd, and I must admit I am a big fan of quite a number of them – YossiePaul, Naija Rookie, Ifeoluwa, SingleNigerian, Naija Husband (and Wife)  and the folk behind Nik-Nak  come to mind most readily,

On a slow day I sometimes wonder what some of the oldies I never got to speak to are up to these days. NDQ dragged us through finding peace in heartbreak,  before shooting off to Paris for the joys of quotidian things and then surreptitiously deleting a bunch of blog posts. Jaja was there one day, living it up in England, losing his wallet and battling malaria and then he was not (he’s turned up as a published author – bless him). Baroque turned up in a different guise on Twitter. UK Naija surfaced post the London Olympics, and may or may not be the essayist behind a truly compelling piece on depression in Nigeria.

I’d like to think this has not been a moan. I will agree that it is a reflection – laced with nostalgia – of a past time and a past life. But then would I be human if I didn’t conflate time and space into a muddled memory, reinventing reality as I went along? For a title I have stolen a line from a poem written by the aforementioned Nigerian Drama Queen, one which lives on the edge of my consciousness on most days but from time to time raises its head above the parapet. It, like all truly important blogger time capsules, no longer exists on the internet, a 404 page the only testament that a living, breathing, succinct haiku once lived there. I will however share the fragment that lives in my head.

Sometimes I bleed blood,
cry tears, bruise flesh. Remember:
I am human, too…