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

Nine Fridays of Summer: The Not-Quite-A-Milestone-Birthday Edition

East&WestO2

Months ago – when it became apparent that my birthday this year would fall on a work day – I made a mental note to take the day off. The act of making that official – signing into the absence management software we use at work and requesting the day off – never happened, which was how I ended up stuck behind my desk at work on the day. That the only slot for a meeting I had been trying to set up for months opened up on the day, the Friday before, didn’t help either.

The day itself was just like any other. At work there were issues to deal with, the occasional bit of banter with R who remembered, and phone calls. Around all of that were personal phone calls from friends and family and messages on the two  main Whatsapp groups I am part of. I didn’t get the gift I most deeply craved; my subtle prod aimed at pointing (and I use that really loosely here) a few people towards Teju Cole’s new collection of essays failed to convince any one. That the weather was a reasonably warm, dry and sunny 18 C only compounded the sense of misery I felt. My consolation though is that next weekend, Summer Friday #8 (of 9), is being spent in Vienna.

***

The Year of Being Thirty-Six was an interesting one. For key events I would have to point to the trip to St John’s where four years’ worth of catching up with the kid brother were compressed into ten days, finally excising the ghost of F from my memory,  a new job in the middle of the oil patch downturn and turning up on (online) radio.

Having taken a moratorium on travel in the second half of 2015 and into 2016, the last few months have seen a lot more travel; London for visa interviews, Hillsong and S made a few appearances as did Birmingham, Leicester and Newcastle. Not doing Nigeria all through 2015 made it imperative to get it out of the way early this year. That happened in April, providing an opportunity to see J get hitched. On the family side, I became an Uncle again, twice for good measure.

***

This next year, the year of being thirty-seven, has big milestones I need to deliver on.  For one, I take the next big step on my quest to become a global citizen in a few months. If I had my way, after that’s in the bag I’d take the next week off just to breathe a sigh of relief and recover from the subtle pressure of the last few years.

On the Spiritual Practice front, I would like to finally land that discipline of daily prayer and bible study. I made a few big strides in 2015 – morning prayers at church twice a week helping in that regard but the goal for the next year is to reach a place where the desire to reach for my notebook with time blocked off becomes more automatic.

Physically, my weight has see-sawed between 84 kg and 90 kg, currently sitting just shy of shy of the upper bound, far too much pizza – and handmade burgers – having their say, loudly. In this regards, M is as good an ideal as can be. In spite of being in his seventies, he remains a fierce physical competitor; rowing, cycling and hiking being key parts of his non-work life. For me I’d settle for turning my current practice of running between a mile and a mile and half three times a week  into a 5 km run five times a week.

With People, I’ve historically been a very big fan of my own space, tending to favour doing things that interest me than share my space and time. A concious effort earlier in the year to meet up with a few key friends more regularly led to some improvements (but perhaps contributed to far too many downed burgers). A couple of these meet ups are now firmly established. The goal for the next year is to keep those monthly meet ups going and also find a mentor of sorts with whom I meet up once a month to compare notes. I am increasingly keen to see how the S thing evolves over the next few weeks, hopefully I don’t end up in this kind of place again.

Although I notionally make an extra 3% in my new role, it often feels like I am in a worse place financially than I was last year. Keeping the financial numbers in check has to be a key objective for this next year, especially if marriage and fatherhood are phases of life I hope to participate in over the next few years.

Work has been great, bar the  twin pressures of the commodity market and the increasing recognition of one’s skills and knowledge. That is not a bad thing by any means, particularly given how many people are out of work at the moment. Maintaining progress here, delivering consistently and growing my sphere of influence are the key objectives in this category. A promotion, and more than a 3% pay rise would be nice to haves too, i I say so 🙂

The impact of all that work, travel and people time I have dedicated myself to is that sadly a lot less reading than usual is happening. A book a month seems like a sensible target to work towards from a Mental and Personal Development perspective. There is also the keenes on my part to explore addition technical certifications in this rust geeking business. Some more work on my part to identify which add the most value to me is required but the intent would be to pursue this aggressively through the next year. When I was younger, I had aspirations of becoming a programmer of some description (I spent my free time in my service year trying to write a text based football simulator in Visual Basic 6 – it obviously wasn’t very good!!). One side project I’d like to pick up again is something coding related.  Ideally it would allow me understand enough about computers and open source OSes enough to allow me customise one enough to provide a quick, light weight OS that allows me run the key applications that support my life. I suspect it will have to be Linux, Chromium or Android based, but fingers crossed.

Causes and Charities remain near to my heart. Alongside serving on my church’s tech and media team, i currently support a couple of children via World Vision and Compassion as well as a few other charities. Beyond what I believe are the Judeo-Christian worldview imperatives which underpin these, I suppose the feeling that one is making a difference does do wonders for one’s mood too, all things considered. This is something I hope I can continue going forward, with a future visit to be considered. Depending on how much time and energy I find I have to spare over the next year, a technical volunteering cause is one I’d like to add to my current ‘portfolio’. STEMNET springs to mind as one that fits the bill. I hope to be in a position to make a decision in time for the start of 2017.

***

Amidst the less than stellar year in reading I have had, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before stands out as one of the more useful books I have read.  In it she explores how we change; how habits are built and sustained. New beginnings are one group of triggers she considers as being useful – beginnings which wipe the slate clean being particularly relevant here.

So here’s to my Clean Slate and New Beginning. Let the year of being 37 begin.
– – –
Currently listening to: The Best Is Yet To Come (from the Donald Lawrence Album, Go Get Your Life Back)

Times, Seasons and A Hundred Juggled Things..

201603south_harrow

It feels like a trick of time, a sleight of hand drawn from the very top tier of a Houdini play book, but the facts – borne out by the calendar I have open in front of me, and the worn pages in the notebook I bought a couple of months ago – tell a different story; a record, as stark as it is of just how much time has passed in 2016 already.

Back when I set out to reflect on 2015 and how it had panned out (read intense, difficult but largely fulfilling), all I had in front of me was the crowded centre court of Union Square. This time, as I consider the year so far, the view is decidedly more upscale; framed by the vintage red brick buildings and the tops of trees in rude health of this corner of South Harrow.

No matter how many times and in how many ways I slice and dice the year so far, two things end up standing out as leitmotifs – constant change and steady habits. Change, even if constant, is not necessarily a negative thing – and there is an argument that done right it can be a trigger for creative disruption – but my sentiment, one I have voiced in several work contexts is that change for the sake of it serves no real purpose. But then change, thinking differently and continuous improvement are the new buzz words in the current climate; I suspect that is what I have to accept as the new normal.

Where constant change has been a force of disruption, steady habits have been the glue that has held, tenuously at times,the myriad of juggled, jumbled things together. A few of these – like my morning pit stop at church for an hour of contemplative prayer followed by fifteen to twenty minutes of (expensive) Starbucks time in which I plan my day before heading into the bedlam of work – have been intentional, but the most important ones I am finding have somehow evolved organically. An amble about the city centre at lunch time is one of those, started off first because I needed to escape the smell of food at lunch time in my (reorganised) office but then very quickly proving beneficial; the fresh cold air and brisk walking helping to clear my head before the second half of work.

Running and Reading, my two go to activities for de-stressing, have taken a big hit this year. 90 pages of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life and a further 100 of The Night Manager are about the sum of my real reading this year; piss poor given the grand worldview altering reading I had planned for this year. The mitigation though is that thanks to Pocket I’ve done a lot more web based long form reading, gobbling up everything from my perennial favourites Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, Adam Gopnik, Malcolm Gladwell and the Modern Love series at the New York Times. The less said about running the better I suspect, given all I have managed all year is a single run. My one attempt to salve my conscience through all of this has been to keep my gym membership running. Something about the finality of defeat inherent in cancelling it holds me back a little bit but given how little utilisation I have managed over the past year, I suspect even that might not be enough to save it from the chop in this era of focus on marginal gains and cost efficiency.

Side projects are a happier thing to dwell on. I am at Day 90 of my #100DaysofBeing, a far less mentally tasking writing and picture taking project which I have prioritised over being here as I decide what direction to take this space in. It does mean that NaPoWriMo is in doubt for this year, but given I still haven’t identified a theme that might not be such a bad thing. Elsewhere I have been given the opportunity by the remarkably persistent @1Life_Saved to pretend to be profound on (online) Radio. Our show, Behind the Music, is a chilled, informal conversation centred around music which I think is cool. I might be biased but by all means give the archives a listen as well as any of the other shows the radio station broadcasts.

the3six5NG, our crowdsourced diary effort from three years ago is actively being resurrected. My friend C says, she’ll believe me when she sees it live. I can’t really blame her for the lack of faith given the number of false starts since then. I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which previous participants have embraced the chance to contribute again. Give the archives a whirl and if it’s your kind of thing, do email us about picking up a slot from the first of June. For more background, digest this.

All told, it’s been a challenging but productive year so far. I suppose that is what this whole adulting business is all about – engaging life head on rather than skirting the skirmishes and looking to live to fight another day. What I can’t shake is the lingering sense of a change looming; a sense of an ending if you like.

#QuietlyConfident

#61 – The February Wrap – Of Life, and Steady Habits

#61-whatwerepeatedlydo-@allielefevere

What has quickly become apparent – as this year of living earnestly evolves – is that far from being the wild, giddy, excited life I half expected when my thoughts began to initially crystallise, it is one that is lived in increments; steady habits being the under-girding behaviours which hold everything together. That sense – of slow, steady if ponderous, progress – is one that has been consistently underlined and reinforced all year; by the book I am currently reading (Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life),  the ongoing series at Passion City on Habits and various conversations, the last of which occurred over the weekend with the older guy friend/ mentor O.  The general gist of the book and the series is that change is only possible if there is an overarching vision of the future that frames the daily actions that we take, providing an incentive that keeps us plugging away at them.

Discipline without direction equals drudgery, Whitney says; Giglio’s line is that who we become is all about the habits that we create and the habits that we curate.

I made steady progress in January but fell off the wagon massively in February, distracted by pressures at work and all. March though is an opportunity to get back on track, repeat the February habit as well as the March one and take it from there. Roll on the steady habits, shall we say?

Currently Listening to: When the Rain Comes – Third Day (from the 2003 Grammy Award winning album Come Together)

#50 – Debut

 

#50-radio-2On the day this challenge hit the halfway mark, I ended up spending the bulk of my Sunday evening prepping for, and interviewing, the truly delightful Sam Hibbard; an Aberdeen based Christian singer/song writer whose new single In The Waiting, dropped a couple of weeks ago. I definitely got the sense the wee lad – he’s still not 18 – is going places. It was great to get to chat God, Music, Youth and  just catch up in general. First time behind the mics for me too, looking forward to more of these this year. I might have to come up with a funky DJ name if this continues.. 🙂

#Debut

#23 – Going Analogue

#23 - Moleskine

My quick wander around Union Square leads me to WHSmith where I trawl the shelves, ultimately failing to find a notebook that calls to me. I do find this A5 sized one with gridded out sheets at Paperchase, one that reminds me of studying Maths in my (Nigerian) primary school days. Truth is my current task management set up (Wunderlist on my phone and Mac) leaves a little niggle – an inability to order tasks n running order. As a work around, I have pulling through the day’s tasks into Notes on my phone, a sort of live action tracker, which is where this new setup shines, replacing the notes app on my phone with a proper notebook. I hope, once the shine of a new notebook and erasable pen wears off that I can continue to do this… Fingers crossed.

Inspired by this. #StrikeThru

#16 – Work (Talk) Shop

#16 - talkshop

Yet another day spent in a workshop, hammering out the finer details of the support we’ll need to provide for an upcoming project. This time away from the office; sequestered in a building on the corner of Market Street and North Esplanade West. I could get used to this; talking about work as opposed to doing work…

#4 -Of names…

At the coffee machine, catching up with the new,  younger engineer who shares my first name, he asks me what my surname is. I give him the anglicized, easy to pronounce version which doesn’t satisfy him. He asks me how I would pronounce it – cue five attempts, after each of which he fails colossally to reproduce the sounds I make somehow ending up adding, subtracting and transposing syllables through his various attempts.

Full marks for interest I guess, but I suspect he and I will be sticking to our (shared) first name going forward.

#Resolved

1 – First Run

beach_run

My first run since I cracked a couple of bones in my foot last October went without incident, all fifteen minutes of it. I took my usual route, up the Beach Boulevard and then towards the Beach Esplanade; the long, straight stretch of which I have come to love for the sense of exhilaration I get as my feet pound the ground in time with whatever song I am listening to.

This time, I had 55mph winds behind my back, the view to my right one of the sea whipped into froth by the wind which made the Switchfoot song I was listening to an interesting choice. The sound of the crashing waves, the flying spray and the bone-chilling coldness of everything – juxtaposed with the sense of fragility I have felt both emotionally and physically through last year – all contributed to foist upon me a sense of my smallness amidst everything.

If there is a moral to all this – and I am not entirely sure there is one – perhaps it is a healthy reminder of one’s insignificance in the overall scheme of things. One has a place, important to the individual as it might be, what is critical though is not to lose sight of the fact that there is a much bigger picture.

The song?

And my heart is yours
And what a broken place it’s in
But you’re what I’m running for
And I want to feel the wind at my back again

Apt.