One of my objectives for 2020 is to complete a Creative Non-Fiction course, which is how I signed up for the National Centre for Writing’s Start Writing Creative Non-Fiction course. Once a week, or so, I’ll drop a few thoughts on exercises completed, thoughts and progress on here. Here goes the first one.
The focus of this first week has been pondering the question ‘why?’, exploring the motivations for taking on the course, and perhaps the underlying book project which it is assumed one is working on. For me, the course is an attempt to go beneath the surface and understand the techniques behind good writing, in keeping with the theme for this year of Delving Deeper. Progress on that elusive memoir, The Small Light in Things. will be a very welcome bonus.
In my head, The Small Light in Things will focus on the last ten years of my life, ones in which I upped sticks on the cusp of turning thirty and began life anew on a new continent along with all the change that instigated. It will be a story of surviving – of navigating a culture shock, the first tentative steps on a journey of evolving faith and changing, by degrees as it were. It might be cathartic, or not, but my hope is that I get to properly process all of this with hopefully the benefit of some distance and detachment.
Three books come to mind as exemplars of what I am trying to achieve here: Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For The Thief, Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory and Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, all of which reflect on times of change and evolution with the benefit of some distance. What resonates with me in these books, particularly Every Day is For The Thief and Hunger of Memory, is the lived immigrant experience -both in the other country and in the country of birth. Time, life and the experience change us in ways which are not immediately obvious, that is what I’m hoping to tease out from the past ten years of my life.
For Day 4 and 5 of the WordPress Finding Everyday Inspiration Challenge
Struggling has hope of success, but forsaking the struggle does not
– John Piper
John Piper is perhaps most famous for his espousal of Christian Hedonism, the idea that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’. One of the essential tenets of this is that we are designed to, and should indeed, desire God not only on the level of mental assent but also at a deeper heart, emotional level. The reality of most people of faith is that our hearts and heart connections to God wax and wane, the strength of our feelings never really existing continuously in that Christian Hedonist space.
It is in a reflection on fifteen years since publishing that book that the quote above comes. This is both a source of hope and concern, hope because the struggle is proof that some life is still left in my faith, but also concern that they might just be the final thrashings of a thing recently dead thing. Food for thought!
A Mentor: One of the clear gaps I have identified from the past year has been a tendency to isolate myself from people, both at work and in my personal life, one of the impacts of which has been a lack of oversight of my decisions. Mentors, in both my personal and professional lives, are a priority for me over the next year. Two people, EM and CG, come to mind as options for both domains. Engaging them with a view to seeing if this is something they’d like to help me out with is something I have added to my list of things to explore and conclude over the next year.
A Mastermind Group: The AoM folks boil down a Mastermind group into a collection of similar irons which sharpen each other. Through my interactions with my friends in the corrosion business, I’d like to think the intent of this tool is being met already. Carefully selecting a mentor with corrosion expertise who also help provide coverage of this need, I believe.
Discipline: All of the above require me to get off my backside and develop/ implement a number of habits consistently. Discipline is what will ensure I keep at these till they deliver value in my life. Enough self.
The most recent time of my life I feel nostalgia for has to be my formative years in Eket, Nigeria. Hired fresh following a year of national service, with a starting salary that almost eclipsed my father’s; 30 plus years of teaching in a University notwithstanding. Prior to applying, interviewing and getting hired, getting into the software industry had been my realistic focus, driven by my interest and a sense that it was perhaps the most realistic option for me. The perception at the time was that to get a good job in Nigeria, one needed to be connected.; which I was not being from a minority ethnic group in a minority state.
In retrospect, I look back fondly on that time for two main reasons; the sense of camaraderie that being part of a cohort of intakes bred (I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of that group even though it is ten years this year since I left that job) and an underlying sense of gratitude and thankfulness for the opportunity to make something of myself I felt I had been given. That sense of thankfulness and of life being an opportunity that I have to make the best use of is one that I no doubt need to rekindle.
Currently on my reading list is David Leeming’s tell all biography of James Baldwin. Whilst it is a hefty read – and I have spent the most of the last month plodding through it between doing life and work – a few themes have stood out, including the influence of church, the civil rights movement and his struggle with his sexuality.
The more I read this, the clearer just how great an intellect he was is under scored in my mind. I’ll never read Go Tell It On The Mountain or Giovanni’s Room the same way again.
For the Day 2 prompt from The Art of Manliness’ Jumpstart Your Journaling 31 Day Challenge
One of the frameworks which has most defined my thinking about Manhood came to me many years ago in the form of an Al Mohler article on Boundless, in which he suggested 13 marks which defined mature manhood in his opinion. Given his background, that his views were based very squarely on Christian Conservative ideals was not surprising, and were very much aligned with my thoughts at the time, seeing I was (and perhaps still am) very much of a similar spiritual bent. Roles (husband, father), Responsibility, Leadership, morals and ethics and an ability to provide for a family all feature prominently in his piece, which morphed into a small book eventually.
Now that a few years have passed since I first read that, I still feel fundamentally aligned with Mohler’s ideals as espoused here, with the explicit addition of attempting to live those out whilst being a supporter and encourager to the people in my life (wife, future children, siblings and friends). The premise is that there is enough room at the top of the table for every one in my personal space to live their best life, however so they deem fit.
It feels like a good time to try to develop a regular practice of journaling. For one there is the need to reflect properly on my latest attempt at rebooting, as well as the plethora of other more intelligent folk who think it is a good thing: David Sedaris, Austin Kleon, Michael Hyatt, Samuel Pepys, David Thoureau to name a few. The benefits are many, ranging from providing opportunities to reflect on life, a record of one’s day (both for the individual and for posterity) and also a source of material for future creative writing pursuits.
Of these, providing a record of my thoughts and feelings on the day as well as potentially providing source material for future writing projects stand out most. Here’s to hoping I develop the discipline and reap the benefits, even if all I manage to do is log each day.