The Small Light in Things

the-small-light-in-thingsI decided that for Lent this year I would give up caffeine, if starting almost a week after the properly faithful and switching to tea, topped up by the odd cup of decaf coffee count as giving up. No longer being part of any of the Orthodox traditions meant I failed to get the prompt I took for granted growing up, the ash crosses on foreheads that signalled Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. The point of Lent is spiritual – which giving up caffeine is not, at least on the surface – but I think there is a spiritual point in trying to best what has become a costly, insidious habit; proving to myself that coffee is not my master. Given how much my morning routine at work is related to taking time out to reflect at the start of the day with a cup of coffee in hand, it should be an interesting thirty-seven forty days. Hopefully it translates to better sleep – the data from my Fitbit will be the judge of that.

In tandem with the idea of ‘giving up’ caffeine, my interest has been piqued by the 1,000 Day MFA Project; the idea being that one reads a short story, an essay and a poem everyday and writes at least once a week. I suspect that this will be the greater struggle, to fit time to read amongst every other thing going on in my life at the moment. To ease myself in, I subscribed again to the Poem A Day from Poets.org, bookmarked the Fifty-Two Stories site and now go to work with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things in my bag. It has been an interesting few days of reading already; Simon Van Booy’s The Missing Statues, Teju Cole’s Ghueorgui Pinkhassov (a redo of his essay Dappled Things) and Kim Dower’s poem, How Was Your Weekend being highlights so far.

It is from Cole’s essay, Ghueorgui Pinkhassov, that the line The Small Light in Things comes. Cole’s assertion is that the underlying theme of Pinkhassov’s photography, even as he makes a conscious effort to vary subjects, methods and media, is making finding the small light in things the centre that holds true in spite of change. The close association of rescuing and small perhaps implies that there is a light in everything, and that it is somehow in danger of being lost amidst the noise of everything else. Pinkhassov’s genius, if I read Cole’s essay right, is in this ceaseless pursuit of light in everything.

Maybe we all are trying to rescue the small light in things in our lives too. In the happy, sad or indifferent, the momentous and the quotidian there are lights of sorts; in the form of lessons to learn for the future, the nostalgia of memories of the past or most importantly the inspiration to dig deep, find grit and get through the present. Speaking of grit, I have had to dig deep to find that this February; the clearest indicator of that being that for the first time in a long while I woke up one Tuesday morning wondering if I could call in sick and avoid going into work. In the end, the force of habit (I’d love to think it was my professional integrity) won through and I went in, but pacing myself and avoiding burnout has never been more imperative.

The small light in things, I may have found the title for that memoir, if (when?) I get to write it.

A Good Year Of Sorts – A Playlist

It feels like the sort of thing that one knows intuitively;  that music and memory are inextricably linked.  Finding out that there is a whole slew of science (Google search) that supports this is intensely gratifying, in the same way I imagine that someone who stumbles on a hastily put together recipe for quick delicious food must feel if that recipe ends up being celebrated by what I suppose is the more discerning palate of a Gordon Ramsey or a Jamie Oliver. Time and time again when I reflect on a song from yesteryear, I find that the where, who, what and when are indistinguishable from the song of the time, particularly where it was a song that I had on repeat for what feels in retrospect like days on end.

It feels like I listened to a lot more music this year than I have previously – a feeling backed up by my Instagram feed it seems. Walking and running a lot more this year than I have previously has helped, seeing as my trusty phone is a constant companion on these. I might subscribe to Spotify or a similar service next year, just for the greater granularity and visibility it will bring to my listening habits.

As I reflected on the year over at Stories.ng, I found that the thing with L (which ultimately failed) and the thing with S (which I am hopeful about) featured prominently, as did wrestling with the burden of grief, my extended weekend in Vienna and the Hillsong Conference which were the highlights of my #NineFridaysOfSummer.

Looking over these songs, I found clear patterns: Songs #1 and #2 corresponded to the start of the year and the sense of fresh energy, #3 to #9 lined up with the back and forth with L and the ultimate demise of that situationship. Songs #10, 11 and 12 reflect on slowly coming around to and warming up to the thing with S, #16 a throwback to the Hillsong conference and the much anticipated release of the conference worship album. #19 was the sound track to the period in which I wrestled with the burden of grief.

Beyond the obvious things above, there are no other overarching things to glean – it is a mix of genres, styles and eras in the christian contemporary music genre. Make of them what you will.

  1. Chasing Me Down – Israel & New Breed feat Tye Tribbett
  2. God’s Favour – Donald Lawrence feat Kim Burrell, Kelly Price, Karen Clark-Sheard
  3. When The Rain Comes – Third Day
  4. Never Too Far Gone – Jordan Felix
  5. Tell Your Heart To Beat Again – Danny Gokey
  6. Beloved – Tenth Avenue North
  7. Speak To Me – Audio Adrenaline
  8. This Too Shall Pass – Yolanda Adams
  9. Shoulders – For King & Country
  10. Back To The Beginning Again – Switchfoot
  11. Love Is A Beautiful Thing – Group 1 Crew
  12. The Best Is Yet To Come – Donald Lawrence
  13. Till The Day That I Die – TobyMac
  14. Mended – Matthew West
  15. Resurrecting – Elevation Worship
  16. What A Beautiful Name It Is – Hillsong Worship
  17. The Very Next Thing – Casting Crowns
  18. God Is My Refuge – Fred hammond
  19. Just Cry – Mandisa
  20. No Weapon – Fred Hammond
  21. We’re Blessed – Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ
  22. O Come To The Altar – Elevation Worship
  23. Shouting Grounds – Crowder

The Burden of Grief

One of the lingering effects of H’s passing is that four times a year, I go through a phase where I especially struggle for words to share with my father. Although triggered by four specific days – her birthday (the 8th of July), their wedding anniversary (the 11th of November), the day she passed (the 19th of July) and the day she was buried (the 8th of August) – these tend to be long drawn out affairs affecting the days leading up to and the days after these days. The struggle takes various forms primarily centred on whether to call my father or not, and on the days when I manage to call him, what to talk about – to keep things as normal as possible or broach the difficult subject of H. He and I have never been the best of conversationalists – we’re much too similar for that – but these days make that tenuous relationship an even more difficult one, so much so that on most of these days, I have opted for not calling him in the end.

H’s passing does still feel especially raw, even though her’s was not the first of which clear memories still remain. For that I have to go all the way back to 1988 and G, the ones the genes took. I distinctly remember the events which led to it; the battle with a crisis and the ensuing hospital admission, and then the knowing once I was called out of my class to Mrs A’s office where the neighbour’s orange Volkswagen beetle was waiting to whilst myself and T home. The others in between though covering a range of family members – paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother and a couple of uncles – are comparative blurs in the landscape of my memory. Distinct memories of G’s passing notwithstanding, I do not remember the same sense of grieving with her that still lingers with H. It is difficult to define completely the interactions of time, space and connection which make both experiences of grief so markedly different, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would offer up the fact that I was much younger then and that there had been a sense of inevitability to it, given the situation with the genes. I imagine others across a broad spectrum of locations and contexts still feel the weight of the grief with H as keenly as I do, given she interacted with a lot of people across the various interests and causes she supported.

This, the intersection of ‘griefs’, complicates grieving in the context of ongoing relationships. With my father, these key dates trigger a remembrance – and a reinforcement even – of loss, driving the conundrum that I wrestle with around these dates. Outside these dates, I feel like we have reached a new normal of sorts, one that accepts the reality of loss but focuses on getting on with life as much as possible. These dates disrupt that new normal for me, and drives the sense of there being a disjunction between living normally and remembering. In my head, by refusing to speak to my father on the day – and hence removing the need to speak about H – I am removing an additional trigger of remembrance from him. That at first glance sounds like a good thing but somewhere in my head, I wonder if it is truly as altruistic as it sounds. Not having the difficult conversation is a good thing for me, whether it is for him, and if this stance adequately honours the memory is a different matter altogether. It is this, the balance between living in the new normal and respectfully remembering and honouring the one who has been lost, that is the primary burden of grief, at least in my opinion.

There are also other non-time based triggers which set off the same sort of feelings. The most recent example was in the middle of a conversation with S’s parents a few weeks ago. Being the incredibly perceptive people they are, they picked up on how I had studiously managed to bring up the subject of H in the over three hours we had spent catching up at the time, which prompted the question. The uneasy silence which followed my explanation suggested it was a topic they would not have brought up if they had known the context. Perhaps – in typical J fashion – I am overthinking the exchange, but this unease exhibited by others when the subject of H comes up is another one of the burdens of grief. Not only does one have to deal with loss, one also has to deal with the reaction of others to loss.

There are no right or wrong ways to carry these burdens. I suspect that time will continue to chip away at the intensity of the grieving of loss which in turn might lessen the burden it places on relationships. If the last few years are an indication of how the next few might pan out in this regards, it is fair to assume that it will not be as simple as that.

Currently listening to: Mandisa – Lifeline

On My Return To the Middle of Nowhere

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Back at the heliport for a trip offshore – the first time since March – it feels like a lifetime ago. The last time there was the pressure of my counterpart from the government regulator looking over my shoulder to deal with, this time the roles are reversed as I am the one asking questions of others. Waiting to be checked in, what strikes me is how empty the terminal looks. Spending one’s days in an office which was only recently re-stacked has somehow shielded me from the reality of just how much more reduced offshore activity has been over the last year.

We go through the usual things – waiting, getting checked in, watching the safety brief and then more waiting – a monotony broken only by the joy of people watching. This time only a few things catch my eye, chief of which is a bit of banter between a group of men and a woman who appear to all be going to the same rig as I am. In sitting amongst them, she almost misses her seat, spilling a bit of her coffee. This leads to her being asked if she is sober. Only later, as I overhear another conversation whilst we’re offshore does that bit of banter make sense; she does have a reputation for being a lively, paint the town red kind of person, one which the latest escapades she regales the group with only cements.

Before all that, there is the small matter of an hour and some of flying time, whilst kitted out in one of these, not exactly the most comfortable of feelings. I do manage to fall asleep during the flight, the rhythmic chugging of the helicopter and having woken up at just past 4.00am all contributing, in my defence. Besides the boiler suit, I get the added ignominy of having to wear a green arm band, this being my first time out to the particular rig since the back end of 2014.

The series of meetings I am offshore for go very well, there being enough time over the course of the three days I am out to catch up with folk I haven’t seen in awhile. These offshore trips can sometimes be an exercise in politicking dealing with people, the overwhelming objectives being to not come across as an onshore boffin who is ramming things down people’s throats without thinking of the impact of the added work. This fine line of balance is never more obvious than when the subject of ongoing pay cuts come up. Word around town is that most of the folk I deal with directly have had to stomach a 22% pay cut over the last eighteen months with a few of the perks being pulled, like the option of an extra bacon roll at morning tea time. Not exactly the stuff morale boosting conversations are made of but I do my best we’re all in this together impression, a truthful one this time because the only reason why I am making slightly more money than this time last year is I have chosen to accept a contribution in lieu of a city centre parking spot.

Running into people I have met on other rigs in the four years and some since I began these trips is a recurring theme on this one. On arrival, I find out that the installation manager is a control room lead operator from a different asset I used to support who has risen through the ranks  – by way of a job elsewhere. The inspection team also includes two people who I have worked with in the past.  As we exchange life jackets ahead of hopping on to the helicopter for the flight out on Thursday, I run into another two folk from a past life. This all leaves me wondering if there is a wider meaning to all of these – have I spent too much time around these parts or is this just an indicator that one has done a good enough job, and stayed long enough to survive the impact of one’s decisions? I suspect it is a little bit of both.

Outer Layers: On Dressing in Four Objects

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Source [Afolabi Sotunde]. For the WordPress Discover Prompt, Outer Layers


When asked to describe my look, I tend to go for scruffy chic, this being my attempt to rationalise away what is my laissez-faire approach to dressing up. Left to my devices I default to four objects: jeans, a t-shirt, super comfy shoes and a pair of glasses which I am increasingly dependent on. On the occasions on which I have deviated from these, they have tended to be to the relative safety of a shirt and a blazer over jeans; the full shebang – a suit and a tie – only coming out for weddings (the last of which I agonised over before buying a new suit) and black tie dinners, which I tend to avoid. I suspect I have managed to get away with this, particularly at work, because I work in the Engineering field and have largely worked for employers where a formal dress code has never really been enforced.

This bare bones, minimalist approach to dressing up is one which is at odds with most of the communities I am part. Being African – and Nigerian at that – the default garb for events is in bright, loud colours; never more obvious than on a Sunday morning. From memory, a number of the rows I had with my father growing up stemmed from this, his concerns centring on how my scruffy dressing reflected negatively on the family. The aphorism about dressing the way one expects to be addressed got thrown about a fair bit during these conversations.

***
The official line as to why dressing down is my default behaviour is that I would rather let my non-physical characteristics define me, and stand out when I meet people. In my mind – rightly or wrongly – I am this creative, eccentric chap, far too focused on being awesome to give a hoot about my appearance. Implicit in this is the assumption that those talents – which the reality is I do not have – exempt me from the expectations of society as they relate to befitting appearance. The truth – as always – is far more nuanced than this.

For one, having been on the bigger side of plus size for most of my growing years, jeans and t-shirts served the purpose of providing a mask for all the flab I was carrying. Being a procrastinator, jeans and a t-shirt make preparing to go out a tad easier. Solid colours – my go to t-shirt is a solid navy blue one – remove the need to think about colour coordination. Buying them wrinkle free obviates the need to use an iron which saves a lot of time over the course of a year. 🙂

There is also a sense of individualism behind all of this, a slight bent towards rebellion, towards refusing to accept the strictures of community and public expectation and embracing the simplicity inherent in just being. On occasion, a fifth object will make an appearance, a leather bracelet plucked on a whim from the counter at a H&M a few months ago now.

***
Last weekend on a whim, as I prepared to meet up with S at the Ilford TFL Rail Station ahead of an afternoon out, I opted for a slightly dressier shirt than usual. The slight raise of her eyebrows suggested she took notice, a fact confirmed when over lunch she complimented me on my shirt. As I pressed her further, she remarked – in her characteristically understated manner – that it was the first time since the first day we met that I had turned up in anything but a t-shirt. If I have learned anything from my thirty something years of blokehood, it is that the things which draw compliments from the people in my life whose opinions I care the most about are the most important things.

Duly noted S, noted.

About Town: Weird gifts, names and Children on Trains

 

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Sometime ago, not without some misgivings I must add, I moved desks at work, all part of the new re-stacking policy designed around optimising our use of space. Following the move, I went from a desk which looked on into the central corridor with my computer facing away from the door to one where my view was the bus station across the road. The view was decidedly an upgrade, what came with it though was a sense of being blinded to people milling about behind me and coming in to meet me, particularly on the occasions when I have my head phones plugged in to maximise my concentration.

Enter the weirdest – but most useful gift  – I’ve ever been given; a mirror which stuck to the top of my monitor resolves the blind spot around the things behind me. Given to me by the previous occupant of my desk, it now means I have the best of both worlds, a decent view and a significantly lower risk of being blindsided by people door stepping me from behind. Bliss.

***

S and I share an inside joke from time to time, centred around ageing – gracefully or otherwise,  depending on which of us the joke is on. Things like falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, emoji related faux pas, or particularly weird and wonderful auto correct generated communication mishaps bring the joke up; mostly at my expense given my penchant for WhatsApp typos. The latest instalment of this long running joke was precipitated by a typo in a long string of text I sent, Dear somehow becoming Deer. To her credit she waited all day till the evening to point it out, the conversation which ensued  taking a different tenor, one which went down the lines of pondering the etymology of names lovebirds call themselves rather than focusing on my latest foible.

It is an interesting subject, I think, given what the range of the literal meanings  to the ones I pick up from conversations around friends and their significant others can be: defenceless objects which need protection (baby, doll?), unhealthy sweet things (honey, sugar, candy?) and objects of worth (gold, diamond, precious).

In the end, I dig myself out of that hole by referring S to the Songs of Solomon; that provides validation of deer, and the parts thereof as a metaphor for love. 🙂

***

They board at West Silvertown, they being a little girl and someone I assume must be her older brother. She is dressed in what looks like her school uniform, and has a bright pink backpack with some child super hero of some description on it. He on the other hand has huge beats headphones on, and an iPhone in his hand, clearly listening to something. Once aboard and settled in – it is standing room only – she tries to peer into whatever it is on his phone, an act he prevents by moving his phone outside her reach. That attempt at playful, sibling bonding on her part, and an insistent aloofness on his part is a pattern that repeats itself as we chug along towards Ilford where we all disembark. My tired, cynical mind – work, a flight up from the ‘Deen to London City and then this train ride have taken their toll – goes to work analysing the situation, the conclusion being that he has been tasked with getting his little sister home, a task he considers an intrusion on his own plans and space. Not quite content with that, she being the energetic, doting little sister wants his attention but his phone and whoever is on the other end are more important in the moment.

With time, I suspect that he will learn that family trumps the heady heights of young love, and that in ten, fifteen or twenty years time she will still be kicking about in his life, the person on the other end, most likely not.

Of Times, Eyes and Seasons

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Life – and time – have a penchant for throwing up surprises, ones which are sometimes welcome, but (perhaps more often than not?) unwelcome. Never more obvious is this than in the passage of time as measured by times, seasons and the lives of others. Somehow life in the moment, in the here and now – never seems to move at pace; only with the benefit of hindsight does the amount of time that has elapsed become obvious.

This, the apparent disconnect between time in the moment and time as Time, was brought home to me this week thanks to a chance conversation with my cousin V. Out and about for a quick lunch time walk to clear my head, stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I run into him on the corner of Market and Hadden Streets. As we have a quick chat, he mentions that it is his daughter’s birthday tomorrow – her fifth.  I distinctly remember being at her first birthday, seemingly only a couple of years ago. How four years have gone by so quickly beggars belief in my mind.

It is now just over two years since H passed. The keenness of loss has been medicated by the time which has passed since then, which I suppose is  a  good thing. The new normal is more and more embedded, with occasional triggers like remembering one of her favourite songs – When I look into Your Holiness  – being the things which jolt one back to the reality of loss. With all that, and the song, came memories of children’s Sunday school and growing up at Chapel in the early 90’s.

One of the more interesting things I read this week was Anne’s musing about spiders; which reminded me that I am due a free eye test; yet another reminder of the passage of time, and in my case how dependent on my glasses I am to function in the real world. On the odd occasion my glasses fall off the cabinet next to my bed, I struggle to find them, such is the state of my eyes these days.

The nip in the air is another telling indicator of the passage of time. It was spring not too long ago, then summer, and now we stand on the cusp of autumn. It is not heaters-blazing-with-multiple-duvets weather yet but it doesn’t feel like there is much between this and that. Word around town is that this year’s winter is likely to be harsher than the last. For now, it is dry, cold and sunny. That, I can deal with.

Lull…

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[Source]

In conversation with a gentleman I consider a mentor of sorts, the question about what was going on in my life at the moment got asked. After a few moments pause, I realised that the answer lay somewhere between ‘nothing of note’ and ‘normal’.

With the Summer Fridays out of the way, life is focused on fleshing out budgets for 2017 at work and waiting on a direction on a critical decision I have to make; somewhat of a lull compared to the frenetic pace of life over the past few months.

It is a good-ish place to be in I suspect – one cannot run away from the hum-drum, everyday, quotidian things that are the basis of life – I can only hope that if and when the bedlam returns, I have learned enough in this lull to be prepared.