By Degrees: Lessons from My Decade of Being Thirty Something

The year I turned thirty, I was a student battling to put finishing touches to my master’s degree dissertation and pondering what the future had in store for me. That the success or failure of that year, and the year before that, came down to that singular task was the result of an unanticipated turn of events which turned what was a leave of absence to return to full-time study into having to leave my Nigerian job. Grad school, my response to the year before that, had made sense in my head largely because it seemed a low risk, given there was a reasonably high likelihood of returning. I, as it would turn out was ultimately mistaken.

For the first few months after, I was certain I would be up and running in no time – there was still the path to a post-study visa and I was certain my previous experience of pretending to know about rust at an oil major would be more than enough to get my foot in the door at any number of similar companies. A conversation with my Uncle C during this period comes to mind in which, talking post-study plans, I quoted a salary expectation which in hindsight was wildly optimistic. Months later, with comparatively few responses to the various applications I had sent out, and my expectations a lot more realistic as a result, bitterly cold mornings at train stations waiting for connections between Newcastle and the ‘Deen were the sum of my life, broken only by the pleasures of BBM chats with O and F that helped the time pass. Thankfully, things would eventually improve, culminating in a successful interview in the middle of winter and a relocation to the ‘Deen in time to return to full-time work by the first week of January of the next year.

Ten years down the road, it feels – at first glance – that I am in the same space again; wrestling with a desire for more seething beneath the surface and wondering what the big gains of the last ten years have been.The longer I look though, the clearer it becomes to me that the sense of being stuck and stale is the glass half empty version of events. The glass half full version is that there have been lessons learned and victories won over the past ten years. For one, now and again I stumble into conversations with the workmates I left behind back in ’09. These conversations typically segue into catching up on who has left the company (or been pushed out) or which high-flier has earned a move to Houston. Whilst on the level of financial gain and success I have most definitely been left behind by them, the one silver lining tends to be that I have had grown into more positions of authority and influence than they have. I won’t presume to imagine I have done as well as I could have but was is undeniable is that I have grown from the ultra reserved, tentative person that I was then into a more confident person thanks to the various work situations I have been thrown in. That is one of the lessons I have learned from the past ten years – only by letting go and stretching can one grow. It helps if the letting go is by choice of course.

My default setting, no thanks I suspect to growing up a Nigerian PK, is an intensely private one, the general sense whilst growing up that what happened in the house should be kept in the house; keeping up appearances and what not. Allied to that has been a strong sense of independence – if striving to do things by myself for myself counts as independence. Several times over the past ten years, people have come through for me and surprised me. A., who several times has insisted I spend my Lagos nights at his rather than in a hotel even on one occasion he was out of town, O who dropped everything to offer support when H passed and others too many to enumerate have been high points, underscoring for me a lesson that has been difficult to learn, it is OK to lean on people. I can only hope that I can be as a good a friend to others as these and more have been to me.

In the aftermath of H’s passing, and several times over the intervening years, it has felt like grief has acquired a life of its own festering deep within. There have also been several seasons of heartbreak occasioned by unrequited love amongst other things. My memories of the immediate aftermath of these events – thankfully now dim and distant – are of being brought low and unable to properly function. Time though has worked its magic and in the main whilst the memories still linger, the pain and hurt from them have faded into acceptance. That is something I try to remind myself of in the aftermath of disappointment, time usually brings healing in its wings.

My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ – if unlike Adam Grant you don’t think it’s hogwash – which perhaps explains my occasional bouts with analysis paralysis. Seemingly big decisions have often left me crippled with indecision from weighing all the pros and cons to minute levels of detail. A few come to mind from the past ten years – the Azerbaijan question, my Bachelor’s Conundrum to list a few – but with benefit of hindsight, in most of the instances, the individual decision would have made little difference in the end; sometimes the process of deciding is more important than the decision itself.

For all the high points from work there have been low spots too; not least the sense I have had more recently of being left behind. I suppose spending 8 years in the same building will do that to you, particularly when it feels like remuneration hasn’t been the greatest. A reticence to toot my own horn at times has contributed to this I suspect, as has my work visa-related restrictions which were only fully lifted in January of 2017. What key inflection points in my career over the past ten years there are have occurred because I have taken the bull by the horns turning offers from elsewhere into significant upgrades or being very clear about what direction I want my career to go next. Learning to sell myself better is something I suspect I will continue to struggle with but struggle I will until I gain ascendancy.

Of all the faith-based monikers kicking about, I suspect charismatic – with all its trappings – would probably have best described me ten years ago. These days, I self classify as a recovering prodigal, my attempt to describe the evolution in my beliefs on the big issues such as faith, origins and the fate of humanity. Given what we know about the age of the earth, the likelihood of there being a single Adam and all, I have increasingly found it difficult to hold on to a young earth, literal interpretation of Genesis and by extension the doctrine of original sin. Dark matter and dark energy however suggest to me that there remains a huge gap in our understanding of the workings of the Universe, a gap which means that I can completely discount the spiritual dimension with any degree of intellectual honesty. It is perhaps a poorly articulated God of The Gaps argument, but in conjunction with the subjective evidence of the answers to prayers I still get (or the coincidences that occur when I pray), I have to say I still believe, however tenuous that might yet be.

As I write this now with the emotions of the big day now long past – and all the cake and doughnuts well and truly digested – it very much feels like a time in which to draw a line in the sand and begin again, something I suspect I have been too eager to do many times in the past. Much as it was back in ’09, the question of how the next ten years will shape up is front and centre in my mind. What is incontrovertible though is that time marches on, and whether by action or inaction, every passing second is a step in a sequence of movements that will result either in a masterpiece or a very well polished turd. That is the way of the world.

Stripping, (TV) Binges and Thinking About Thinking

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By some unexpected twist of fate, I found myself heading into Central London on the hottest day of the year, a fairly tropical 37 degrees Celsius, and that for the first time since last December. The destination was the Nigeria High Commission on Northumberland Avenue, the plan to get my expired Nigerian passport renewed. To get here I had had to jump through several tortuous loops, not helped by the fact that my trips down to England are scheduled months in advance with impromptu trips being aggressively minimised due to the costs. My takeaway from my dealings with the appointment’s system was that the (re)scheduling system could be significantly improved  – first, you sign up via a third party web service, pay the booking fees and then get randomly assigned a date, one you can only change to a more suitable one by emailing back and forth, no less than six in my case – which meant in addition to the heat I very much had my mind prepared for a terrible experience which could potentially take the whole day. It might have been my low expectations, but the experience was far less stressful than I expected, sans the slow pace at which things trundled along from picking a ticket to getting called for an initial review and then submitting my biometric details. If there was a silver lining, it was that the slow pace of things – and the very many other Nigerians there for similar purposes – increased the likelihood of running into people I had not seen in a long time; 20 plus years and two kids in one case. That the most unsettling thing from all of that was wondering what the scrawny lad I ended up sitting across from on the tube from Charing Cross to Waterloo was up – to whilst reading from 2nd Corinthians 1 in a huge bible – is a miracle of sorts (events at the High Commission didn’t leave me mentally drained as they have in the past) or perhaps only the symptom of my low expectations.

A lot of my free time over the past month has been spent catching up on TV which, admittedly, is hardly the stuff of living intentionally  Be that as it may, all that TV watching did manage to throw up something to relish. The movie was The Upside, a comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy quadriplegic (played by Bryan Cranston) and his ex-convict Life Assistant (played by Kevin Hart) with the sub-text of his relationship with his devoted assistant who it would appear hs feelings for him (played by Nicole Kidman). In one of the surprise birthday scenes, the opera assembled for a private performance began to sing a tune which I thought was very familiar. My first thought – borne out by events in the end – was that I had heard it on an episode of Rhiannon Giddens’ Aria Code. one of my favourite podcasts from earlier in the year. It was indeed, a portion of the Queen of The Night Aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute. The downside was that it led me down a YouTube rabbit hole which swallowed up the rest of that Saturday.

The one book I managed to finish in July, Alan Jacobs’ How To Think, is increasingly beginning to seem like an inspired choice not least for how often my Twitter timeline has tottered on the edge of a complete meltdown over the past few weeks. Existing online as I do at the intersection of being Nigerian (with all its spiritual, cultural and political baggage) and being an active seeker of intellectual complexity at times my Twitter feed has seemed like a frothing mess of controversial tweets and retweets, 140 character takes and counter takes and the occasional link to a think piece published so soon after the event it seeks to analyse that any claim to thoroughness could only be wishful at best. Many a time, I have started typing a furious response to a tweet only to catch myself mid tweet, sigh and walk away. I would like to think that the overriding driver behind my choice to not add to the noise has been noble but the longer I think about it, the more I see that most times it has been due to a fear of sorts – that the views I am about to share might get ripped to shreds by the collective wisdom of the frothing masses – or at other times fatigue from all the digesting and engagement I am having to do. A recurring thread in the book is how our perspectives, views and memberships colour our understanding of facts and (naturally?) drive us towards thinking in herds.  Social Media and its engagement algorithms drive us further into the depths of our herds, our Inner Rings (to borrow from CS Lewis) and our echo chambers. The final chapter ends with an offering of 12 ideas – a thinking person’s checklist – which are well worth a read. A few key ones for me not in as many words: Take 5 minutes, value learning over debating, eschew virtue signalling, gravitate towards communities that can handle disagreements with equanimity, assess your repugnances and be brave, one I can certainly use more of I suspect.

2019: The Year of Living Intentionally

The Year of Living Intentionally-2

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If I had to boil down the essence of the year of being thirty eight into one word, it would be coasting. It felt like I lurched from one crisis to the other, my actions driven more by the need to fight whatever fire glowed brightest than any form of plan or structure. As I stand here on the cusp of turning forty, I feel like something needs to change significantly – a fool at forty is a fool forever they say. That, and that there is someone who is significantly affected by my actions only makes it more imperative that I get my SH*T together soon.

I’d like for this year of being thirty-nine to be one of Living Intentionally. By Living Intentionally, I mean living a life that is aimed towards defined goals/objectives and which (by gathering the requisite data and analysing them) measurably improves. Defined goals/objectives suggest an overarching plan for life, various iterations of which have existed over the years. At its core that plan – derived from identifying the roles I fill, clustering them into three interaction spaces (Personal, Professional, Public) and identifying long term goals for each interaction space – can be summarised as:

  • Be the best husband, father, brother, son and friend I can be;
  • Excel in the Corrosion, Materials, Welding and Inspection discipline;
  • Live in and contribute to life in a great church and a great city.

So on to the focus areas for this year of living intentionally, which is organised around five themes.

Learn continuously (and become proficient in my core skill areas)
For work I pretend to know a lot about rust, which is one element of the wider job family I have spent the bulk of my career in – Materials, Corrosion, Inspection & Welding Engineering (MCI &W). For all the development activity I completed in 2018, it didn’t feel as structured as in previous years, driven largely by the fire-fighting I had to do at work. The goal for this year would be to go back to basics, review the competency definitions, identify my gaps and get a structured plan for closing them by self-study and or specific courses. Outside work, I became more and more intrigued by all the happenings in the data science/analytics/machine learning domain. From learning to code in python, I ended up taking a number of data science courses on Coursera and signing up for a Dataquest premium account for a year. This, and improving my writing skills I believe are the three areas I would like to develop proficiency in in 2019. The small changes identified in support of these goals are:

  • Complete my Dataquest Data Scientist path whilst studying for 5 hours a week*
  • Spend 5 hours per week studying MCI&W related topics*
  • Identify and complete a creative non-fiction writing course

Prepare (for fatherhood, ageing and eventual retirement)
Several elements stand out to me as being critical to being/becoming a good father, the key ones being building a solid spiritual and moral grounding to provide leadership within my personal circle, being more financially responsible so I have more disposable income and am also preparing for eventual retirement. Also as I totter on the edge of turning forty, what has become clear is that my metabolism is no longer what it once was, and downing multiple slices of pizza just won’t cut it anymore. It is also a time when lifestyle changes might yet stave off debilitating problems later in life. There is also the small matter of my life being split between the ‘Deen and Byfleet further down South. To get closer to these ideas, I intend to be intentional about:

  • Developing a daily practice of prayer and bible study (I have chosen to use the YouVersion app for its in built tracking and metrics)*
  • Save at least 10% of net monthly earnings*
  • Reduce weight to 80 kg
  • Run 3x a week (>20km overall) *
  • Improve average sleep to >6.5 hours per day: This is unlikely to be a quick fix as I first have to find and fix the underlying habits/issues affecting my sleep
  • Relocate to the Greater London  Area – another one that involves a lot of smaller changes including finding a job down south (in the same or different industry) or a means of replacing my current income
  • Read 25 books, covering Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, Popular science, The Church Fathers/ Church History, Personal Development (Reading widely and consistently is a habit I would like to give to my future kids)

Engage (family and friends better)
One of the consequences of my year of drifting was a slow disconnection from all non-essential communication. For 2019 I would like to get into a space where I have regular meetups and phone calls with my close friends and family. Specific objectives in this domain for 2019 are:

  • Speak to my father weekly*
  • Speak to my siblings monthly (one each week), in-laws once a quarter*
  • Write to my sponsored (Compassion) children at least once a quarter also
  • Meet up with one close friend each month*

Diversify (Earn Extra income)
They say death and taxes are the only things one can be certain of, which is why I would like 2019 to be the year in which I diversify my earnings. The obvious advantage of extra income aside, there is also the opportunity to insulate myself somewhat from the ebbs and flows of big oil and its effects on job security. Two things come to mind as options for exploring this – developing and then monetising any data science/ analytics skills I pick up and also exploring options for engaging the online gig economy. Lots of work to develop this further this year I suspect but one I intend to be intentional about. My notional target here is to earn >£1,000 from a side gig by year end.

Measure and Improve
They say you can’t improve what you don’t measure, which is why one of the themes for this year is to find ways and means to simplify measuring and reviewing my progress towards all the changes I’m trying to be intentional about. A few of the apps I use (Strava, YouVersion, Dataquest, Garmin) automate the process of capturing performance related data. For the remainder, loop will have to suffice as a repository for tracking data. The idea would be to develop a short monthly review template which will capture key datasets and also include some text/ commentary as a means of self-assessing where I am on the path towards these goals.

My Year in Reading 2018

It is that time of the year when others – more (or better) read than I – share the highlights of their reading from the year. As with last year, I’ve commissioned myself -unbidden, besides perhaps a desire to record the key themes that drove and/or came out of my reading – to weigh in with the highlights of my own reading.So here goes.

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Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was all the rage on the airwaves at the turn of the year, which is how I ended up grabbing a copy for myself and digging in. As I plodded through it, I found the mix of fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes reporting and qualified conjecture curiously engaging, drawn by the lurid details behind public events and happenings in what at the time had been a Trump presidency that seemingly lurched from one PR disaster to the other. A few themes ran through Fire and Fury – the Trump team being surprised by the election win and thus poorly prepared to lead, the hold of Stephen Bannon and the alt-Right and infighting amongst various factions of the administration. Despite strenuous denials at the time, the events of the year – multiple firings, leaks, indictments, evidence of Russian activities and prison sentences – would seem to give credence to the viewpoint of the book, more so as the year draws to an end.

After that maelstrom, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead seemed the perfect riposte given its subject which was life across (regular) America. Of the essays included, Upon This Rock resonated strongly, bringing back back memories of growing up within the Christian Youth subculture and bingeing on the music of its stars such as Relient K, DC Talk, Audi Adrenaline and Petra. Elsewhere in the collection of essays, there was reflection on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Darwin before Darwin (Constantine Samuel Rafinesque) and one of the more nuanced assessments of Michael Jackson – warts and all – I have read. This Christian subculture, amongst other things, also featured in Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, his description of growing up in South Africa including a reflection on the centrality of church in all its various guises. Other themes of interest touched on included the dysfunctional malehood of his step father, school and navigating the evolving racial landscape, all themes which have shaped is journey and his perspectives as he hosts The Daily Show.

Since reading Colm Tóibín’s 2014 essay, The Literature of Grief, at a time I was wrestling with my own grief and loss, each year I have returned to something related – sometimes tangentially – to his work. Last year was finally watching the movie Brooklyn, this year it was reading The Testament of Mary, a somewhat contrarian retelling of the latter part of Mary’s life as she jostles with the gospel writers who try to recast Jesus as the son of God, remarkably relevant to this age of fake news I suspect.

For new and emerging technology I read Soonish, a fly-by-the-seat-of-the pants look at upcoming technology with a focus on potentially transformative technology and the issues which need to be resolved to bring them to fruition. Quantum computing, rockets, scramjets, asteroid mining, fusion power and origami rooms all showed their heads in this wide ranging book. Jim Al-Kalili’s Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed, was a fascinating review of the older scientific underpinnings of technology. His BBC podcast, The Life Scientific is one I have enjoyed over the years, and still do.

I found Austin Kleon from a retweet by Alan Jacobs, which led to my signing up to his weekly newsletter and reading his book, Steal Like an Artist. From the newsletter, I found Merlin Coverley’s The Art of Wandering, a reflection on the writer as a walker both in history and in modern times. It, the writer and/or his/her protagonist as a walker and observer, is a theme I have found myself drawn to over the years, influenced primarily by the works of the likes of WG Sebald and Teju Cole.

The two biographies I read this year; Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life and David Leeming’s James Baldwin, A Biography offered two perspectives on race relations in 1960/70’s America. Where Ali’s basis for fame was his brute strength -some would say his essential skill was the finesse with which he boxed- Baldwin’s was largely intellectual. The common thread in both their lives was dealing with the weight of their fame, and the expectation from all sides of the race debate – the establishment, white liberal America and the various Black empowerment factions to carry the flag for their various causes.Both biographies were deeply personal, making a strong effort to show the persons behind the huge reputations, full marks were achieved by both books in my opinion.

As a/an (armchair) Liverpool FC fan, John Barnes comes to mind as the most successful black footballer to have worn the Liverbird with distinction, it was fascinating to read of a black footballer from another time, Howard Gayle, who had the distinction of being the first black player to be part of the first team at Liverpool FC. He tells his story in 61 Minutes in Munich, which in addition to sharing his experience of coming on as a substitute against Bayern Munich in the 1981 European Cup final (the precursor to the UEFA Champions League) also delved into Liverpool – the city’s – slave trading legacy and the racism black footballers of that era had to deal with. Incredibly, in a year in which France won the World Cup, and a fairly diverse England team reached the Semi’s, racism in football is back on the front pages.

The Best American Essays collection has become a staple of my year. 2017’s version, edited by Leslie Jamison featured a number of noteworthy reads for me, Rachel Ghansah’s The Weight of Baldwin being one of the triggers for reading the fuller Baldwin biography this year. Jason Arment’s Two Shallow Graves, Emily Maloney’s The Cost of Living and Rachel Kushner’s We Are Orphans here were others I found noteworthy/ deeply personal for a various reasons.

The fate of book stores and libraries is a subject persons invested in them have strong opinions on, which was how I stumbled on to The Library Book, a collection of essays on the subject of libraries from famous names including amongst others Seth Godin, Stephen Fry and Zadie Smith.

In other reading, I finally managed to read Dinaw Mengestu’s highly praised The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine (a much lighter read) and Skye Jethani’s What’s Wrong With Religion, another one I picked up from listening to his (and Phil Vischer’s) podcast.

31 Days Of Journaling, Day 10: The Hero’s Journey

Photo by Brett Patzke on Unsplash

The Hero’s Journey makes for interesting reading, showing how in 12 stages the boy becomes a man as he journeys through a life. Although based on myths, the underlying idea behind this framework is that these myths work because they represent how we understand how life happens to us. Vogler’s model, which the folk at AoM espouse, is an abridged version of the original in the Joseph Campbell book (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and identifies 12 steps (from the Wikipedia page) as below:

  1. The Ordinary World: the hero is seen in his/her everyday life
  2. The Call to Adventure: the initiating incident of the story
  3. Refusal of the Call: the hero experiences some hesitation to answer the call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to commence the adventure
  5. Crossing the First Threshold: the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure
  6. Tests, Allies and Enemies: the hero explores the special world, faces trial, and makes friends and enemies
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave: the hero nears the centre of the story and the special world
  8. The Ordeal: the hero faces the greatest challenge yet and experiences death and rebirth
  9. Reward: the hero experiences the consequences of surviving death
  10. The Road Back: the hero returns to the ordinary world or continues to an ultimate destination
  11. The Resurrection: the hero experiences a final moment of death and rebirth so he (or she) is pure when he reenters the ordinary world
  12. Return with the Elixir: the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world

For what it is worth, it feels like in so many parts of my life I am somewhere between Stages 1 and 3, either having just being called or just having rejected the call for the first time. Mentors and mentoring are going to be key for this next phase of my life. This is certainly something that I will need to return to over the next few weeks.

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 2017

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

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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.
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Currently listening to: The Best Is Yet To Come (from the Donald Lawrence Album, Go Get Your Life Back)