I decided that for Lent this year I would give up caffeine, if starting almost a week after the properly faithful and switching to tea, topped up by the odd cup of decaf coffee count as giving up. No longer being part of any of the Orthodox traditions meant I failed to get the prompt I took for granted growing up, the ash crosses on foreheads that signalled Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. The point of Lent is spiritual – which giving up caffeine is not, at least on the surface – but I think there is a spiritual point in trying to best what has become a costly, insidious habit; proving to myself that coffee is not my master. Given how much my morning routine at work is related to taking time out to reflect at the start of the day with a cup of coffee in hand, it should be an interesting thirty-seven
forty days. Hopefully it translates to better sleep – the data from my Fitbit will be the judge of that.
In tandem with the idea of ‘giving up’ caffeine, my interest has been piqued by the 1,000 Day MFA Project; the idea being that one reads a short story, an essay and a poem everyday and writes at least once a week. I suspect that this will be the greater struggle, to fit time to read amongst every other thing going on in my life at the moment. To ease myself in, I subscribed again to the Poem A Day from Poets.org, bookmarked the Fifty-Two Stories site and now go to work with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things in my bag. It has been an interesting few days of reading already; Simon Van Booy’s The Missing Statues, Teju Cole’s Ghueorgui Pinkhassov (a redo of his essay Dappled Things) and Kim Dower’s poem, How Was Your Weekend being highlights so far.
It is from Cole’s essay, Ghueorgui Pinkhassov, that the line The Small Light in Things comes. Cole’s assertion is that the underlying theme of Pinkhassov’s photography, even as he makes a conscious effort to vary subjects, methods and media, is making finding the small light in things the centre that holds true in spite of change. The close association of rescuing and small perhaps implies that there is a light in everything, and that it is somehow in danger of being lost amidst the noise of everything else. Pinkhassov’s genius, if I read Cole’s essay right, is in this ceaseless pursuit of light in everything.
Maybe we all are trying to rescue the small light in things in our lives too. In the happy, sad or indifferent, the momentous and the quotidian there are lights of sorts; in the form of lessons to learn for the future, the nostalgia of memories of the past or most importantly the inspiration to dig deep, find grit and get through the present. Speaking of grit, I have had to dig deep to find that this February; the clearest indicator of that being that for the first time in a long while I woke up one Tuesday morning wondering if I could call in sick and avoid going into work. In the end, the force of habit (I’d love to think it was my professional integrity) won through and I went in, but pacing myself and avoiding burnout has never been more imperative.
The small light in things, I may have found the title for that memoir, if (when?) I get to write it.
For the WordPress Discover Challenge Prompt: Song
1995 was an interesting time to be young and Christian. DC Talk, The Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline were at various stages in their evolution from being the niche interest of church youth groups to becoming recognisable by mainstream music lovers. Seemingly out of the blue, Christian Contemporary Music was on its way to acquiring a sort of coolness that the work of the likes of Larry Norman and Rich Mullins had deserved but somehow never achieved. In my corner of the world, Hosanna Music‘s body of work was the rave, a slew of live worship albums including a couple recorded in post apartheid South Africa (Tom Inglis’ We Are One and Lionel Petersen’s Rejoice Africa) building on a collection that included several offerings from the likes of of Ron Kenoly, Don Moen, Bob Fitts and Randy Rothwell.
At the time we lived in a little, four bed house on the corner of 3rd and 12th streets, one of a number of identikit pre-fabricated buildings in what passed for the University Senior Staff Quarters at the time. These, meant as temporary housing at the time the University was founded, had taken on an unplanned permanence, dried up funds meaning that the grand plans for a permanent site across town for both University and staff housing were scaled down significantly.
On a personal level it was a time of great change, one that would see me take the School Leaving Certificate Exam a year early and pack in my secondary school education. That meant that as the year wrapped up I found myself with loads of time on my hands, some free cash and little to prevent me from walking into town from time to time to browse the shelves at any number of music shops in the city centre. Crucially, I was at an age where my on-off friendship with Di began to take on an element of seriousness, at least in my mind.
DC Talk and the Newsboys notwithstanding, it turns out that the defining song from that era for me is a lesser known song, One Love, from the Rick and Cathy Riso album As For My House. My memories – and I recognise that memory can be a fickle thing – are of playing the song over and over on my Walkman until sleep took me away. I was sure at the time – and I told anyone who cared to listen – that like Rick and Cathy I would sing my wedding vows to whoever had the fortune (or misfortune some would say) of agreeing to marry me.
Years later, with the prospect of actually marrying someone a lot realer than it was back in those days, the song remains a favourite of mine, albeit one that serves as a reminder of The-One-Who-Got-Away. As for singing my wedding vows, common sense – and the biology of a cracked voice – suggest that that is now a non-starter.
When asked to describe my look, I tend to go for scruffy chic, this being my attempt to rationalise away what is my laissez-faire approach to dressing up. Left to my devices I default to four objects: jeans, a t-shirt, super comfy shoes and a pair of glasses which I am increasingly dependent on. On the occasions on which I have deviated from these, they have tended to be to the relative safety of a shirt and a blazer over jeans; the full shebang – a suit and a tie – only coming out for weddings (the last of which I agonised over before buying a new suit) and black tie dinners, which I tend to avoid. I suspect I have managed to get away with this, particularly at work, because I work in the Engineering field and have largely worked for employers where a formal dress code has never really been enforced.
This bare bones, minimalist approach to dressing up is one which is at odds with most of the communities I am part. Being African – and Nigerian at that – the default garb for events is in bright, loud colours; never more obvious than on a Sunday morning. From memory, a number of the rows I had with my father growing up stemmed from this, his concerns centring on how my scruffy dressing reflected negatively on the family. The aphorism about dressing the way one expects to be addressed got thrown about a fair bit during these conversations.
The official line as to why dressing down is my default behaviour is that I would rather let my non-physical characteristics define me, and stand out when I meet people. In my mind – rightly or wrongly – I am this creative, eccentric chap, far too focused on being awesome to give a hoot about my appearance. Implicit in this is the assumption that those talents – which the reality is I do not have – exempt me from the expectations of society as they relate to befitting appearance. The truth – as always – is far more nuanced than this.
For one, having been on the bigger side of plus size for most of my growing years, jeans and t-shirts served the purpose of providing a mask for all the flab I was carrying. Being a procrastinator, jeans and a t-shirt make preparing to go out a tad easier. Solid colours – my go to t-shirt is a solid navy blue one – remove the need to think about colour coordination. Buying them wrinkle free obviates the need to use an iron which saves a lot of time over the course of a year. 🙂
There is also a sense of individualism behind all of this, a slight bent towards rebellion, towards refusing to accept the strictures of community and public expectation and embracing the simplicity inherent in just being. On occasion, a fifth object will make an appearance, a leather bracelet plucked on a whim from the counter at a H&M a few months ago now.
Last weekend on a whim, as I prepared to meet up with S at the Ilford TFL Rail Station ahead of an afternoon out, I opted for a slightly dressier shirt than usual. The slight raise of her eyebrows suggested she took notice, a fact confirmed when over lunch she complimented me on my shirt. As I pressed her further, she remarked – in her characteristically understated manner – that it was the first time since the first day we met that I had turned up in anything but a t-shirt. If I have learned anything from my thirty something years of blokehood, it is that the things which draw compliments from the people in my life whose opinions I care the most about are the most important things.
Duly noted S, noted.
It’s official, we’re the leaving kind after all. Voting last Thursday concluded with a 52% majority that Great Britain’s future path lay outside the EU framework, ending a 43-year association. The easy conclusion – particularly given how much the result has been affected by voted cast south of the Solway-Tweed line – is that insular England has held the Union hostage, but I suspect things are far more nuanced than that.
Voter turnout was high, over 30 million or 72% of eligible persons, indicative of how important the issues at stake were (framed largely by the cost of the EU, its ever increasing bureaucracy and control of borders). Much has also been made of how the vote to leave was favoured more by older folk than younger. The BBC as always has a fascinating breakdown of the numbers here.
In the immediate aftermath, David Cameron who campaigned vigorously for remaining announced he is to step down in October. The opposition Labour leader who also campaigned (some same less interestedly) for a remain option faces a renewed leadership challenge. Here in Scotland, the noises are all about a second independence vote being ‘highly likely’, a straw the SNP were always likely to clutch at in their quest to extract Scotland from the Union. The economic impact has been swift, the pound fell to a 30-year low before recovering somewhat, the FTSE 100 losing 8% before also recovering and Moody’s downgrading the UK’s credit rating to ‘negative‘ following the result.
De-tangling the legal, economic and political machinery of the United Kingdom from the EU is likely to require significant time and resources, given the significant integration with EU frameworks over the last 70 years. Formal separation still requires the UK to trigger the so-called Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, a process which provides for a 2-year road map for negotiations.
Private conversations with a number of friends leading up to the vote illustrated the difficulties. On the one hand the cost of the EU – the so-called new £350 million hospital every week – appealed to very many people, as did the opportunity to claw back control of laws and regulations which a section of the population felt drove the country increasingly towards a ‘god-less’ future, a point made by the Telegraph’s Charles Moore here.
Much like the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, the result highlights how deeply fractured the country is; Scotland vs England and Wales, the young vs the old, affluent urban London vs the rest of England – the contrasts go on and on. A number of leave voters appear to have voted in protest, in the belief that their single vote wouldn’t sway the overall outcome. To their surprise, our new reality is an advisory to government to initiate leaving the EU. It is by no means certain what happens next. By choosing to step down, David Cameron might just have had the last laugh – leaving the actual decision to act on the ‘mandate’ to those who might benefit from blaming him. They – Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Michael Gove or whoever else inherits the seat – now have to deal with the legacy of whatever happens next and what that leads to in the long run ; if article 50 is triggered or not.
The wider context is what worries me a bit – the rise of far right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe (France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands) and Trump’s ascent in America – perhaps speak to an under current of concern around borders, and the loss of a certain way of life which main stream politics has failed to address.
All told, there are days of critical importance ahead – I hope we haven’t handed our children a poisoned chalice.
Two weeks ago on a whim, I decided I would book a short trip away from the ‘Deen, to London. The plan was simple — fly out on Friday night after work, catch up with a few friends, particularly S, and then head back on Sunday night, with no one the wiser at work. At such short notice, British Airways to Heathrow was a non-starter, as was Flybe to London City. This left EasyJet to Luton or Gatwick as the only viable options. In the end, I settled for Luton, the weekend of the 10th of June being the best fit with friends and family. On the day, having packed my go to travel bag and done work, I hopped on to the 727 from the bus station next to work, arriving just past 6.00pm for what was meant to be a 7.35pm flight.
The first sign of trouble was the continued absence of a boarding gate on the departures display against my flight. The details blur in my mind but I suspect it wasn’t until after 8.00pm that a gate was displayed- gate 1. Between then and 9.30pm when I left the airport, we managed to get in line for boarding before being stood down and then get asked to return to the front desk for further information. A ‘recovery’ flight was announced, departing at 9.00am the next morning- key because anything later than noon would have made the trip no longer worthwhile for me.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the flight the next day was also delayed, eventually leaving at 10.46am. S, thankfully, had re-jigged her plans to accommodate the delays, otherwise I might have been in a spot of bother.
The mood overall wasn’t particularly great, a couple of people seemed to have been affected multiple times in the recent past by similar events as these
Once in London, I briefly flirted with the idea of booking a quick return via BA. I however convinced myself that the bother with the inbound flight was a one off. Surely thunder couldn’t strike twice. My faith would prove misplaced, in even more spectacular fashion than the in bound flight.
Arriving at the airport just before 6.30pm, I managed to get through security in six or so minutes, not shabby given how things have panned out differently in the past. A long wait ensued, punctuated with a call to proceed to Gate 10 at about 9.30pm. Whilst waiting at Gate 10, it turned out the air craft we were meant to fly on had arrived but not one of the ground staff seemed to know its whereabouts. A further call to go to Gate 2 raised hopes briefly, before we were stood down at about 10.20pm with reports of the flight being cancelled and a request to return to the front desk.
All outward EasyJet flights from Luton were cancelled that night — Aberdeen, Belfast, Berlin and Glasgow all getting the chop. That led predictably to bedlam, worsened by the lack of relevant information flowing. There must have been 300+ people thronging the EasyJet customer service desk at departures, waiting to be advised of new flight details and hotel accommodation (in the end the advise was to book one off the mobile app and keep the receipts to be reimbursed afterwards). Amongst the mix, I spotted a number of fellow travellers on the cancelled and then recovered in bound flight from Aberdeen.
All told, it took me till 1.20am to get my cancelled flight rescheduled to a Glasgow one (as there was no Aberdeen flight till Tuesday) and a hotel sorted.
Predictably, the flight the next morning was also delayed; from 10.55am to 12.15am which meant I had to miss work as well as hop on a bus at 2.10pm, only arriving in Aberdeen at 5.00pm; almost 24 hours after I should have.
I suppose EasyJet and Luton airport cannot legislate for the impact of acts beyond their control. It turned out the Aberdeen to Luton flight was delayed due to a damaged nose tire which needed replacing, whilst the Luton to Aberdeen leg was cancelled due to the knock on effect of Gatwick flights being diverted to Luton following runway closures.
A few things could have been handled much better to ease the impact on stranded and confused travellers such as me and avoid the comedy of errors which ensued:
- Better Communication: One of the more frustrating elements of the ordeal was the near total black out on information on what was happening. Getting information to passengers earlier might have allowed me make alternative travel arrangements, or at least reassured me that everything was in hand. Trying to make inferences from the mobile app was hardly the most efficient way of trying to keep us informed.
- Better planning: That one of the reasons for delays on both legs of the trip had to do with crews going over their hours is surely unacceptable. I would imagine it is someone’s jobs to track crew hours, and having realised that hours would be exceeded by the delays, a decision to cancel the flights should have been taken earlier than after almost four hours.
- Enhanced mobile app capabilities: The mobile app, good as it is, fell apart significantly for me, when I tried to get on to a Glasgow or Inverness flight. All the app allowed me do — once the cancellation had been updated — was attempt to book another Aberdeen flight. Tuesday was most certainly not an option, which was how I ended up in Glasgow.
- Locked down amenities: On the best of days, Luton is not the greatest airport for a long wait — seating being at a premium, and the wi-fi being restricted to a free 30 minute access. Perhaps more could have been done to grant extended access to us stranded folk, particularly as the instruction was to get on the mobile app and get accommodation booked.
Perhaps these are the compromises we make when we go for no frills, budget flights, ones in which the schedules and timelines are so finely tuned that all it takes is one anomaly to unravel everything. On the basis of this weekend’s debacle and what is bound to be a slew of demands for compensation from EasyJet, it seems to me that their scheduling model projects a false economy. It is also a false economy for me too as a traveller; missing a day of work, the stress and strain I went through to sort out the journey and get home surely have costs, monetary or not.
It is difficult to think of any scenarios in which I’ll fly EasyJet again, or through Luton for that matter. I just like the certainty of knowing I’ll arrive on time, given my usually tight schedules.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. S was an absolute delight to hang out with as always; her sharp, sarcastic tongue, allied to her controlled excitement the highlight of what would have been an otherwise ruined weekend.
Something about shared adversity sometimes brings out the best in us. Watching people rally around each to help with crying, antsy babies, managing to have civil conversations and staying in line for the main part gave me renewed faith in humanity.
Politicians and the weather get people talking in good old Blighty. Waiting in line on Monday morning whilst the shenanigans around my Glasgow flight unfolded, I ended up in conversation with a gentleman on his way back home. His distaste for the SNP and their particular brand of lip service and blame shifting resonated with me as did his views on the Brexit referendum. I still haven’t made up my mind on that one. Not much time left on that one.
Credit too must go to the staff who manned the customer care desk at Luton into the small hours of the morning, until we stranded customers had gotten rearranged flights.
As my bus made the final approach into the bus station, my relief at finally making it home was unquantifiable. Never did the sight of Union Square feel so welcome to me as it did that Monday.
E may be for EasyJet, in this case it definitely stands for error-strewn and perhaps excruciating..
The conversation – when it happened – happened on a whim; as unplanned as could have been. The intent – to set up a face to face meeting later in the week – quickly snowballed into a full-on conversation about the direction the whole L thing was headed. As it turned out, it was headed nowhere.
It, the culmination of months of chasing, was about as anti-climactic as could be, worsened perhaps by how sure I thought I was that this was it. A lot of things sucked about it – not least the fact that the reasons offered; the uncertainty around work and the pressure from family all felt like convenient cop-outs. That my interest, made known clearly and consistently over the past few months ultimately counted for nothing felt like a slap in my face. The alternative too felt inferior. True he was probably a lot more heeled than I was, but there was baggage which I didn’t have which – given the seriousness with which L had seemed to chase this – should have counted for a lot more than it.
When I spoke to folk about it, the overwhelming consensus was that it was not meant to be. E went so far as insinuating that I had perhaps overreached myself on this one, her apple and tree analogy a particularly galling one. O, who has been party to fallouts from far more of these things than I am willing to admit, felt it was a good outcome of sorts; particularly as it saved me from investing far more time and energy into a black hole than I had already. They had the luxury of emotional distance in critically assessing the situation. I, on the other hand, was far too invested to take the black and white approach this required. It was only upon further reflection that the truth of the rejection began to sink in. That, however, did little to ease the pain.
Given how regularly I seem to return to this place, it is a wonder I still haven’t managed to suss out how to deal with pain and rejection. For the most part, the sense of hollowness in the first few days is the most difficult to deal with, the conundrum being whether to allow time work its magic or to hop back on the chasing/loving gravy train. Both options have their merits – time and healing being critical to ensuring the memories of the rejector are well and truly removed and one is in a place to commit wholly again. On the other hand, getting out there exponentially reduces the time involved in forgetting and mitigating the pain and sadness.
With Grace, one of the more compelling essays I read in 2015, followed the author’s attempt to get a much desired editing gig at a well known company which ended in rejection. In the essay she explores the pain of rejection, the vulnerability inherent in deeply wanting something yet fail to get it and her subsequent attempts at dealing with the pain. Somewhere in her essay she perhaps hits on the best response to dealing with rejection: you take your rejection, you make it public and you turn it into a catalyst for doing what you are rejected at, better. The key is not to do it for the one who has rejected us, but for ourselves, because we love doing it.
This is as yet still too raw to process fully but I’d like to promise myself to take this rejection, the pain and the distress, and use it as a catalyst to become a better me in every one of my life dimensions — Spiritual, Physical and Health, Financial, Career, Personal Development, People and Social and my Causes — to become so good at being me that I can no longer be ignored. Here’s to hoping I get there, soon-ish.
A year ago if you had asked me if I thought I was a patient person, my unequivocal answer – given without so much as a batted eyelid – would have been that I thought I was; somewhere between 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 if you had pressed me to quantify. The reality, grudgingly accepted after much soul searching a few weeks ago, is that I am not; a realisation that has left me second guessing the validity of all the other assumptions about myself I carry. The first seeds of doubt to assail my iron clad convictions were sown by an offhand comment by my friend M, the context being a decision she needed to make. As far as I was concerned, it was an open and shut case; she needed to put the poor sod she was stringing along – in my opinion – out of his misery. To her it was a lot more nuanced than that, for which I got the quip about being impatient (and unfeeling).
My initial response was to shrug it all off as an offhand comment, one borne out of her unwillingness to confront the facts. As with all well aimed, off hand comments smart women make, what I hadn’t bargained for was its lingering effect, and that I would be so riled by it. The longer it simmered, the less certain of my convictions I became, until the penny dropped one April afternoon whilst strolling along the banks of the river Dee, recognition aided perhaps by how the quickly changing weather mirrored the state of my thoughts.
Intrinsic to the question of patience is a recognition of the inevitability of delays; hold ups on the path to the attainment of desired objectives. With them, the one who desires is held in a state of anticipation and expectation until such a time as the passage of time, or the progression of other activities, allows for the attainment of the desired, or indeed makes its achievement no longer feasible. Mired in the never-land between desiring and attaining, such a person is forced to manage the passage of time as they best can, existing in a state of activity somewhere between complete passivity and all out, gung-ho action.
Intuitively, it seems to me that delays – and hence our response to them – exist on a continuum. That much is clear even from a cursory look at one’s life: the wait to satiate a peri-peri chicken craving from 1am is a few hours; that for an answer back from the girl of one’s dreams could be anything from weeks to multiple years. That is perhaps why in seeking to understand the range of patience states that I exist in, time (as measured by the length of the delay) jumps out at me as one of the key inputs. Two other factors come to mind as important too – the visibility of the desired outcome (clarity) and the (perceived) certainty of that outcome. Taken together, these defined the basic framework for a patience domain, which defined the inputs to my patience states. As an example, for the work situation from 2015, the desired outcome was clear (clarity around my role going forward through to the end of 2015 at least), the certainty of the outcome was low, and the time element was undefined which contributed to a high degree of anxiety/ impatience.
But nothing is ever that simple. I find that there are a slew of other less obvious, even counter-intuitive factors that affect the balance for me; how much control over the outcome I have – and the attendant vulnerability – is one, as are my perception of the availability of equally desirable options, how much risk there is of rejection and how deeply desired the outcome is. The time sensitivity of the desired outcome, as measured by inward and outward expectations of timeliness was also an input I found that drove me towards impatience. What surprised me most out of all of this was the interplay between certainty and clarity. A high degree of clarity coupled with a low amount of certainty drove me towards impatience, the lack of progress towards the certain outcome prompting a desire to rationalise my investment of time and energy towards more efficient use. This all confirmed to a large extent that like my friend M, I did not exist in a binary, patient/ impatient state but rather occupied an envelop of fluid duality, influenced by all these factors and more.
The assumption behind all this is that patience is a good thing; that is not necessarily something us Gen Y-ers accept as fact. The general consensus seems to be that we are an ambitious but impatient lot. That we’re connected and on the go all the time doesn’t help with the stereotype either, nor does the rise of apps likeTinder.
That, the goodness or otherwise of patience, may be a moot point in any case, as even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The million dollar question then must be where the patience sweet spot lies; where the balance between giving a desired goal time, attention and dedication, and accepting it is a lost cause and reallocating the effort elsewhere is. Too much patience, and one can run the risk of been seen as grovelling, or n the worst case applying too much pressure. Too little and one can very quickly be cast in the image of the Gen Y stereotype, impatient and having a short attention span.
The L thing comes to a head sometime in the middle of all this. In a different time and space, I would have cut my losses long ago, choosing to invest my time and energy in more certain ventures. But something about this one, and the season of reflection holds me back, leaving me pondering what-ifs and maybe-ifs in endless loops.
Where this will end is still unclear, but what is incontrovertible is that I do not do uncertain very well. It gnaws at my insides, makes my gut rumble and leaves me counting innumerable sheep at night. I ache in every imaginable space, I am irritable, self doubt hangs around me like a cloud with heartache in its wake. I tell myself I have had enough but find myself returning again and again in hope, or delusion. Surely there must be a easier way, but then without hope we have nothing, or do we?
When March finally dragged itself to an end, I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt as stressed as I did at the time since 2008, 2008 being a nadir of sorts; one that ended up with me quitting my job and heading back to grad school, my version of navigating a delayed quarter life crisis.
So out of sorts and form did I feel that I took myself away to the Starbucks in Union Square, one Sunday after church, ordered the most decadent hot chocolate with cream on offer and proceeded to have a conversation with myself. What quickly became apparent from that exercise was that there were a number of pressure points which were driving my malaise.
Work was one of those. It has been an interesting – if difficult – year. From being dragged into a project at work with strong personalities on both sides of the table and poorly defined deliverables to the pressures of sub-par oil prices on the long term viability of the North Sea business, trepidation has been the underlying emotion I have associated with work all year. With the pressure to deliver upwards of 20% reductions (75% in the long term McKinsey surmise), in order to bring lifting costs in line with prices, cuts in projects were inevitable and more than a few good people had to leave, voluntarily or otherwise. This had a two fold effect – creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, but also leaving one with survivor’s guilt every time yet another acquaintance got the heave-ho. The question of what constitutes appropriate etiquette around leavers remains open, at least for me. Does one call or text to commiserate, or does the ostrich manoeuvre suffice seeing as HR matters are of a private and confidential nature?
In tandem with the work issues were pressures on a personal level; big decisions I needed to make with wide ranging ramifications, spending which was spiralling out of control due to unforeseen circumstances associated with an acquisition I made at the turn of the year, and a sense of cognitive dissonance over my continuing world view issues.
There is a sense in which April, and NaPoWriMo 2015 was perfectly timed, particularly for the opportunity it presented to process the questions, ambivalence and unseen turmoil I was wrestling with. It was hard going, particularly as prompts weren’t necessarily timely for me given the time differences, but all told it helped that I could ‘steal’ lines from La Reine and feed off the Komunyakaa-esque imagery of some of the pieces Tolu put out with challenging regularity.
I would like to think there has been an upswing (small and barely perceptible, but there nonetheless), the origin of which I would have to trace all the way back to a competency assessment interview I had with an outside consultant brought in to assess the team. Going over my background with him resulted in the unintended consequence of providing some much needed perspective for me; on just how far I have come since being the bumbling twenty something year old new hire hassled by a police man all those years ago in Eket, to leaving (and surviving) 2008 and a few detours later arriving at where I am at the moment.
With time, and more reflection, it has becoming increasingly clear that of the myriad of decisions – some of which I agonised over to no end – that have taken me from there here, only a comparative handful have been truly life defining. The first big fight I had with my parents – over the choice of an under-grad major – in the end mattered very little as both options could have led me here. Ditto for the choice between Newcastle, Manchester and Cranfield for grad school. Perhaps the most critical was one I took most lightly, sending in the application for that first role which set me off on this path of pretending to know a thing or two about rust.
Your entire life; every routine, every risk, every moment, every step forward and every step back, has led you here to the next step and it has the power to change everything… Your entire life, all of it leads to the next step. The chance to define yourself by where you’re headed instead of where you stand.
And so, I keep walking…
When I was seventeen, I was sure that I would be married by the time I turned twenty-seven. I knew the date, Saturday the 7th of July 2007, who she would be and the song we would say our vows to. That year was my first away from home at University in a different city, one in which I cut my teeth creating a budget, spending money as I chose and defending my results to my father at the end of each month – all very responsible and grown up – or at least so I thought. There was no real science – or thought for that matter – to the timing, merely a wild stab in the dark. Ten years seemed far enough into the future to feel like forever, and my big Uncle F who seemed to embody adulthood perfectly turned twenty seven that year, or maybe thirty. Reality, I would later find out, was far more intention and hard slog than hit, hope and wishful thinking.
Thursday nights at Union Square, with the milling masses of people camped out at the various eating places and shops, are perhaps the clearest confirmation of what I learned as a seventeen year old, that we as a species are wired for love and loving. If you believe the 2013 predictions, Britons splurged nearly £1bn for Valentine’s Day, with the average spend just under £120. Across the world, Japanese, Thais, Indonesians and Taiwanese splurged a tad more, the equivalent of £173 on average. A 2015 survey in America by the National Retail Federation, projected a total spend in excess of $18.9bn (£12.2bn). Valentine’s Day therefore does continue to capture the imagination as The Day to be romantic, one on which we indulge ourselves and our love interests.
That we are now busier, and more stressed out, than at any other time in the history of our species seems to have done little to dampen our enthusiasm for love. We have in the main co-opted technology to our cause. By almost every measure (size, revenue, number of service providers at least), online dating is big business – £2bn and growing; the most astonishing statistic perhaps being that one in five relationships now starts online. Social media perhaps also has had a part to play; conflating time and space into a continuum in which separation is defined by a few mouse clicks or bursts of data from any one of a plethora of messaging apps bobbing around the ether via our ubiquitous wingmen, our cell phones and tablets, rather than by physical distance .
In spite of all the love and loving we seem to gravitate towards, marriage as an institution appears to be in decline. We as a species are waiting longer to marry, and when we do, there are fewer marriages, and more divorces, across Europe. Across the pond in America, the situation is as dire, the headline number being a thirty per cent reduction in the marriage rate per 1000 between 1990 and 2011. Clearly, between hooking up and marrying there lies some sort of bottleneck, a rate limiter that constrains conversion from romantic connections into marriage.
One possible explanation for this apparent disconnect is, at least in the West, that marriage, or more specifically living together, can carry an economic penalty. The rise of the welfare state, and its ever increasing generosity, means that at least in some scenarios, it makes more economic sense to preserve separateness in the eyes of the law, as opposed to tying up and losing benefits in the process. This factor perhaps impacts more strongly on persons more likely to need welfare due to lower earnings but it is an effect reproduced in the US also, as identified by research conducted by Heritage..
Beyond the economic disincentive, there are also a number of perception issues within the wider culture. One of such is that marriage is inherently limiting, succinctly captured by The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz in the The Vartabedian Conundrum Episode:
“There’s a whole buffet of women out there, and you’re just standing in the corner, eating the same deviled egg over and over again”.
Another perception problem might be that marrying is increasingly being seen as an addendum to life, something to be progressed only after several other more critical things have been checked off. True, marrying for the heck of it, without proper preparation or thought as to how to deal with the responsibilities that come in its wake, is somewhere between foolhardy and irresponsible, but the delay trap can sometimes be self perpetuating for no real benefit. Delaying marriage to focus on getting an education, work and other critical life skills for successful adult life does correlate with lower divorce rates as research in the US by the National Marriage Project concludes. There are costs associated with this though, particularly to do with enjoying the freedoms of the single life a little too much at times. The same report concludes:
Twenty somethings who are unmarried, especially singles, are significantly more likely to drink to excess, to be depressed, and to report lower levels of satisfaction with their lives, compared to married twenty somethings”
A third societal influence is perhaps the rise of the personality cult when it manifests itself in an overly explicit focus on looking out for oneself only. Only the best will suffice, the narrative suggests, as such the guy or girl next door can only ever be a barely passable 5.5 whilst we are rip roaring 10s on the desirability scale. Whatever glamorous attractions they had disappear forever once you’ve heard them fart five times in a row after far too much cheese or seen them wake up looking like ‘crap’.
Increasingly relaxed societal norms around cohabiting also contribute, I suspect. With relational needs – often sex, but also the emotional support and commitment an intimate relationship provides – no longer limited to the context of marriage, there is also less of an incentive to ‘buy the cow’ in a sense, seeing as the milk is often available for free.
I would be hard pressed to describe what my seventeen year old self felt as love. There was a certain element of excitement, and perhaps delirious joy, associated with what I felt, or thought I felt, but the cold hard evidence suggests that that in itself is never sufficient. Paul’s seminal chapter on love paints a picture that majors on the focus, work and intentionality that sharing life in the real world requires rather than the warm fuzzy feelings we as a species associate with love and loving. What cannot be in serious dispute on the other hand though is that a sense of duty alone, without the buzz and excitement, seems like a consignment to purgatory at best, or a living hell at worst. Where the balance is is a question I am still unable to answer. Eight years and counting after my Big Virtual Wedding which was not, it is clear that I am still none the wiser, having cycled through a few of these phases myself. Perhaps the chaps at Wait But Why put it most succinctly:
Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day. Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.