August Visitor

august_VisitorThe day passes quickly without incident until they come through the door; they being Z, and A, here to spend a few minutes having a natter with me just after lunch. What strikes me first is how striking the resemblance is. Z has her mother’s eyes, flowing hair, and – from what I’ve heard – her penchant for good natured deviousness.

When they first arrive, Z is hiding behind her mother, peeking out now and again like only children do, somehow believing that there not being a direct line of sight means they are hidden from view. A and I catch up about work and the latest office gossip, whilst trying to cajole Z into taking the hand I have proffered several times. Nothing works. By the time our catch up is done, they both leave me to the company of my headphones, and the pile of virtual paperwork I have been working through.

She does find her way back to my desk, this time less self concious and more willing to engage which is how we end up talking about her first week at school, how her friend F is also in the same school, the pasta lunches (which she doesn’t like) and trying to unlock my phone whilst I read the numbers to my pin out to her.

In between we run through a pile of pink and green sticky notes, drawing stick figures and colouring in hair and lips. She decides her father deserves a small tuft of hair – a la TinTin (my Daddy has no hair she says, somehow alluding to the fact that painting on any hair is somehow embellishing the truth).

That is how my quiet afternoon vanishes, sucked up into a vortex of entertaining and bonding. If there is a silver lining, it is that my child minding/ entertaining skills have not gone the way of all things lost, yet.

Letting Go…

unrequited love2
Image Credit: Sarah Horrigan, Flickr

The one woman I think I loved most in my recent history didn’t quite like me back that way. I was sure she was The One; I was entranced by how her eyes lit up around children and young people, how easy she was to talk to, and how her voice – soft and mellow yet steely when required – seemed to exude this aura of quiet strength. Even her awkward moments seemed cute, the tilt of her chin when she pretended to not see me across the room and the mumbled words when I could tell she was furiously inventing excuses to not meet up.

When she managed to find time for me in her chock-full social calendar, we would sit across a table at Starbucks – pair of matching lattes and carrot cake to hand – and catch up about everything; life, work and the myriad in between. I was in awe of how much about everything she knew, how we could talk ceaselessly about everything from art to the latest hole in the wall around town, and travelling. These times would make hope sprout anew in my heart – there was something there beyond mere politeness I felt.

Thoughts of her fuelled sleepless nights, ones in which I played various what ifs and maybes in my head, trying to find a context in which what she had said  – when she managed to articulate it  – meant something less ominous than what in all probability she had meant to say any way.

I could see the pity in my friend O’s eyes when he and I spoke, at the pining obvious in my eyes and the – his words not mine- softness that crept into my voice when I spoke about her. Somehow for all of two years I managed to hope against hope that somehow she would see my inner coolness – rust and all – and get to experience all this love bottled up in inside.

I suspect part of me didn’t want to accept the implicit rejection. In choosing to risk rejection I had invested a significant part of my emotional reserve in the venture, having it thrown back in my face wasn’t necessarily an option –  which was why I probably persisted beyond reason. In the end though, one can only take so many bashings before self doubt and pragmatism wears one down.

I think I reached that point yesterday… And I finally decided letting go and loosing couldn’t be much worse than the torture I’d dragged myself through for all of 2 years and some.

So…. If anyone knows how to get someone who has been lodged inside your head for all of 2 years, 19 days and 4 hours out, pray tell… Answers on a postcard pretty please…

A Good Year of Sorts – A Playlist

The continuum: loss, numbness, turmoil, (self induced) heartbreak, surrender and (finally) finding a peace of sorts.. Here’s to Beginning, Again…

The Playlist

  1. Mad World – Gary Joules
  2. Wish – Lighthouse Family
  3. This Too Shall Pass – Yolanda Adams
  4. Shadowfeet – Brooke Fraser
  5. Father Me – Rick & Cathy Riso
  6. Read All About It – Emeli Sande
  7. Airplanes – B.O.B
  8. Love Alone Is Worth The Fight – Switchfoot
  9. Volcano – Rapture Ruckus & Jonathan Thulin
  10. Redemption Days – Josh Ojo
  11. Something New – Axwell Ingrosso
  12. Shake – MercyMe

On Being and Identity


Standing here on the cusp of a milestone birthday of sorts, the sense is one of relief – that what has been a deeply emotive, if difficult year, has ended without too much lingering damage. Much of course is relative, depending on that difficult to define quality emotional capacity, or resilience. To my untrained mind, it would appear that like muscles and exercise, the more experience one has had dealing with trauma and difficult, emotionally charged situations, the easier it should get. I suspect the jury is still out on that. Tempering the sense of relief is a sense of clarity, the detached sort that hits in the moments between when a car begins to skid off a bridge and when it hits the icy water beneath. Time, in those moments, seems to stand still, each event on the time line of dying taking on crystal clear quality, like an HD frame, frozen. This birthday has that feeling of being a portal to inevitable change. The facts are what they are, I am now nearer forty than thirty, and that realisation in one fell swoop takes away any remaining pretensions to enduring youth I still have. What this does in addition is bring to the fore the questions of being, identity and direction I have managed to sweep under the carpet over the past few years.

There is a sense in which one’s perception of person-hood and identity is shaped by experience, particularly experience of the sort acquired in the formative years of childhood. These experiences occur within the context of role and society, being shaped by multiple layers of interaction – faith, family, culture, education and exposure all being contributors to their nature and quality. In my case, my childhood experiences aggregate around three locations – church, school and the house on 3rd and 49th. Although in my mind I was a model kid, I suspect my mother felt differently, if the notes in the margins of her copy of James Dobson’s Dare to Disciplinequietly stubborn – are anything to go by. Perhaps, if she had been familiar with the blunter crafty little bugger she might have chosen to use that instead.

Being the preacher’s kid changes everything. I got dragged along to umpteen conferences, youth group meetings, sang in the choir, and gave the occasional message from time to time. In non-church settings, this also meant that I was held to a higher standard, the oft repeated line being, your father is a pastor, as though that fact – in and of itself – meant the natural proclivities of childhood did not apply to me. I did have my own defining, emotive moments too. I recall sobbing uncontrollably at an Easter Conference in April of 1991, whilst the speaker, Venerable O, calmly insisted that it was the last chance for quite a few of us at the meeting. I was 12.

School was the one place I was marginally popular. It helped that I had a reputation for being smart, a reputation forged on the back of two years in which the resident genius and I tussled for the top two positions in class. One of my enduring memories from that phase of life is being made, whilst in Primary 2, to stand up in front of one of the Primary 3 classes to read from their MacMillan reader. Mrs A – whose intentions I am not entirely sure of any more –  had been passing during a period of inactivity, post exams, and seen my head on my locker. When she found I had been engrossed in tales of Edet’s escapades, she was impressed enough to make me read in front of the older class. That in retrospect was one of the first inklings I had that books and reading could be cool. Later on – in my secondary school days – a slew of Enid Blyton, Pacesetters, Nick Carter and James Hadley Chase books would plug my entertainment needs. Being on the debating team – slight stutter notwithstanding – and the JETS club didn’t do any harm either.

Books are also prominent in my recollection of the home space – more so than the relationships I developed at home to some extent. We had them in abundance, shelves and shelves of Baldwin, Chaucer, Dickens, Emerson, Joyce, Shakespeare, Spencer, and others of that ilk lined our living room, as did Achebe, Ekwensi, Salib and the other authors on the African Writers Series imprint. Beyond that, home was an experiment in behaviour modification, James Dobson and Beverley LaHaye’s tomes being the laboratory manuals that guided everything. When I ask my sister if she’s kept my mother’s copy of both books, she assumes I am going through a season of self doubt and straight away proceeds to reassure me that my mother thought very highly of me. I humour her, listening to all she has to say, but the truth is all I am interested in with these books is understanding the notes in the margins, and what my mother’s perceptions of me as a kid were as opposed to what my own assessments of self are.

On my part, whenever I have had to describe myself, I find myself reaching for the familiarity of a few well worn phrases – recovering bookworm, corrosion and materials engineer, talkative introvert, Lost Son and Nigerian. On occasion, I have also described myself as a pretend writer, inveterate over-thinker and occasional essayist. Inherent in these descriptors, but not often clear are conflict and evolution.

Work – and the Corrosion and Materials Engineering discipline – has been a big part of my life over the past twelve years. Prior to rust finding me, I had aspirations to becoming a video game programmer – I spent my NYSC year free time coding an idea for a football simulation game, that obviously wasn’t very good. An internship in a steel mill probably sowed the seeds, bringing iron-carbon phase diagrams and time temperature transition curves to life for me, but when I set out for a mechanical engineering degree in ’97, my more romantic notions were of designing and building things, not eking more and more years of life from them. If what I hear at work is anything to go by, I’m not terrible at doing that, once in a while I still feel like the chancer who stumbled on to something good and has held on for dear life.

Books continue to be a big part of my perception of my identity, somewhat tempered by the ‘recovering’ qualifier these days. Bookworm still retains a certain pejorative connotation; in conversations, and perhaps for good reason, there is still the perception of reading as being a nerdish, real-world-useless activity. I suspect I opt for recovering to slightly reassure me that I am on a journey to re-engaging with the wider world.

Given how much faith underlined my life growing up, its absence in my self description seems particularly glaring. The last few years have seen me slide deeper and deeper into a state of cognitive dissonance, the increasing disjunction I feel between my real world and faith perhaps driving me towards playing down its importance.

To a lesser extent, self classifying as a talkative introvert also reflects inner conflict of some sort. There are friends who don’t believe I have quiet moments given how much of a buzz I carry when I am around them. Some others sincerely believe I am deeply introverted – and take it upon themselves to draw me out. The notes in my mother’s copy of How to Develop Your Child’s Temperament had me pegged as predominantly choleric. These days when I take personality tests I shake out as INTJ and temperamentally as largely Phlegmatic. Clearly, I was a lot more talky and pushy as a child, or at least masked my introversion very well. I still sometimes wonder how much nurture can account for my current social attitudes as opposed to my nature; that is neither here nor there I suspect.

Lostness for me, has a long and convoluted back story, inextricably linked to a strangely spelled surname that immediately complicates my sense of identity, a point that Chris makes succinctly in his take on the Straight Outta *insert whatever* meme.  Only yesterday at a ten year old’s party, I got talking to someone who straight away switched the conversation to Yoruba, wrongly assuming that I understood it. I don’t. This is further muddled by being treated very much as a minority in the (Nigerian) state my parents hail from. All this has done is build an increasing sense of disenfranchisement, and left me with no real stake or connection to the political entity of Nigeria. That may be another reason why work, and rust, have become a big part of my identity – the first few years spent working in Nigeria showed that it was possible – by being darned good at what one did – to transcend the limitations of ethnicity.

Here, one sleep away from beginning this ineluctable lurch towards turning forty, what is becoming clear is that there is a certain logic to how I self classify. These are the things I do not suck at. Maybe in describing myself in these ways, I am patting myself on the back virtually, celebrating the little victories life has lobbed in my direction so far. Would I, for instance, like to be a better people person, one that walks into a room and lights up the party? Yes, but only sometimes. I suspect that deep down, that sort of change requires going out on a limb and being very vulnerable, risking rejection and growing thick, callused skin that inures one to the discomfort that failing to get what one really wants brings. Whether there is the willingness on my part is a question I have no answer to, yet.

What You Lose

Boy and girl separating

What you lose in the breaking,
and the leaving, and in the tearing
up of things is not the weight
of the burden of a flailing we,
unravelling as it were,
beneath the weight of the angst
the uncertainty of ambivalent inquiry weaves
in its wake.

What you gain is not peace,
or freedom, or the sense of soaring free;
a relief craved like cold water
on a blistering summer day –
a breath drawn deep, air gulped
a sigh of resignation
at the certainty of leaving.

What you leave in the un-cleaving,
is a good riddance tossed like a curse
into the wind, the silhouette of a fading back
the only linger of a memory
quickly fading into a transient thought

What you lose is the endearing quality
of a sometimes awkward silence,
of knowing, and being known
and of safely being-
and the joy and the passion
deeply feeling things brings.

What you learn, when in the lingering
haunting sound of silence you reflect,
is that what you lose is the joy of eyes
lit by quotidian things –
is laughter, and living and loving;
and hope for hoping against hope
for a thousand smiling summers.