Winging It

I am seating in a meeting, listening to the folk around the table drone on about some subject now lost to memory when it hits me – in the way I imagine an out of body experience might – just how much of what is often dressed as expert opinion is little more than strongly expressed opinion. Far from thumbing my nose down at others, it is a farce I very much consider myself as a contributor to. That sense of winging it, making things up as I go along, is one which has come to define the first half of the year for me; from the vagaries of the aforementioned work situation to the minutiae of doing life, spread as it has been between the grey, dull granite of the ‘Deen and the leafy, colour-suffused greenery of the Wey country.

In the best of years, I face the second half of the year with a sense of tentativeness, primarily due to the fact that the six weeks between the 8th of July and the 15th of August are deeply emotive ones. This year, that sense of being dragged unwillingly into the second half of the year is heightened by my middling attempts at meeting the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Boiled down to its essentials, 2018 was the year I would read (and write) more, lose weight (to the tune of ~ 10kg), go a long way towards replenishing the savings my Chelmsford exertions drained and complete a timed 10k race. Some progress has been made towards running that 10k (I am currently training for the Simply Health Great Aberdeen Run) and have managed to complete 7 of the 25 books I hope to read in 2018, but what is abundantly clear is that a humongous effort is required to recover and meet these targets.

Elsewhere work (and multiple trips to the middle of nowhere), travel and machine learning have been my continuum. In addition to Pula, pit stops over the course of the year have included Inverness, Glasgow and various dodgy London backwaters. I am only six weeks into a twelve week machine learning course on Coursera but what it has done to reignite niggling doubts in my mind about the future cannot be completely quantified. Poring over matrices, gradients and numerical computations has brought back to mind things learned in Further Mathematics many years ago, with the near instant feedback a few lines scripted in Octave can bring raising the question in my mind of what I want to do long term. A year ago, I could have sworn the corrosion and materials discipline was it for me (hence the Rust in RustGeek) but a combination of needing to move down south and studying has made me question what shape or form the move should take. I am far from being at a level of proficiency required to completely dump my past life and switch industries but I suspect if this horse had its wish, I would be dumping my rust geek card and picking up a Deep Mind one, never mind they are riddled with contractors.

It is not only on the subject of the future that niggling doubts assail me. Faith, developing a coherent world view and how that interfaces with science and what we know about the physical world is something that has floated on the periphery of my consciousness for a long time. The pitfall in all of this thinking is entertaining doubt for its own sake only, or worse as a proxy for a cool, worldly wise spirituality rather than as a means to an end, figuring out objective truth. That, this engagement of the mind and reason in the sphere of faith, is one that the church has a rich tradition of; Augustine, Origen, Eusebius, Anselm – to whom the motto fides quaerens intellectum – and more recently the likes of CS Lewis and John Stott all come to mind. Three books, one on the go and two on the to-read list, are likely to feature prominently here; Diarmaid MacCulloch’s (the partly read one) A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years which attempts to chronicle the coalescence of various ideas into what we know and practise as Christianity from a historian’s viewpoint, NT Wright’s Paul: A Biography which looks to reinterpret Paul’s legacy from the perspective of a theologian’s who is not afraid to colour outside the lines a bit, and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood which given her antecedents is likely to be a more modern, doubter turned believer again view. Paul looms large in all of this, predictably, given his outsize influence on the New Testament and its shaping, and also how a lot of the ‘problematic’ bits of the new testament, especially it’s treatment of women relate to his teaching.

Identity is also another topic which has lingered on my mind these past few months, triggered in the main by the World Cup and the make up (and performance) of the French, Belgian, English and German teams. Trevor Noah’s take, the response from the French ambassador and his response all demonstrate how deeply nuanced the subject is. Whilst there is certainly some delight in seeing people like me do well for these countries (sans the English team of course which being the dour, Calvinist almost Scotsman I am I must hate), the fact that none of the ‘proper’ African countries made it out of the group begs the question of if these sons of African émigrés have achieved what they have in spite of, rather than because they have African roots. The Mezut Ozil saga does suggest it is a little bit of both, with there being a sense in which the acceptance of one’s visible otherness is bestowed almost as a reward for being of the good other. Acceptance or not, the one question I have’t being able to wrap my head around is what I would do if I had a kid who was great at sport. Would I encourage them to represent Nigeria or their adopted country?

There are a lot of weighty things to mull over, and a few trips to the middle of nowhere to navigate but I would like to think I can make writing more a focus for this second half of the year. The benefits are obvious, I think, from providing an outlet for clearing my head and organising the prodigal thoughts swirling about in my head to providing opportunities for deliberate practice. I make no promises though, may what will be be.

#NaPoWriMo18

Offshore Nigeria, back in the day. For the prompt Rise/Set.

It is now a mere three days to the start of National Poetry Month this year, three years since I last participated. Back then in addition to the prompts from the NaPoWriMo website, I had La Reine and Tolu for company, two poets who are far more deserving of the label. I plan on jumping in this year, the idea primarily being to participate, rather than hammer out high quality poetry. Fingers crossed.

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.

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