The Small Light in Things

the-small-light-in-thingsI 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.

The Burden of Grief

One of the lingering effects of H’s passing is that four times a year, I go through a phase where I especially struggle for words to share with my father. Although triggered by four specific days – her birthday (the 8th of July), their wedding anniversary (the 11th of November), the day she passed (the 19th of July) and the day she was buried (the 8th of August) – these tend to be long drawn out affairs affecting the days leading up to and the days after these days. The struggle takes various forms primarily centred on whether to call my father or not, and on the days when I manage to call him, what to talk about – to keep things as normal as possible or broach the difficult subject of H. He and I have never been the best of conversationalists – we’re much too similar for that – but these days make that tenuous relationship an even more difficult one, so much so that on most of these days, I have opted for not calling him in the end.

H’s passing does still feel especially raw, even though her’s was not the first of which clear memories still remain. For that I have to go all the way back to 1988 and G, the ones the genes took. I distinctly remember the events which led to it; the battle with a crisis and the ensuing hospital admission, and then the knowing once I was called out of my class to Mrs A’s office where the neighbour’s orange Volkswagen beetle was waiting to whilst myself and T home. The others in between though covering a range of family members – paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother and a couple of uncles – are comparative blurs in the landscape of my memory. Distinct memories of G’s passing notwithstanding, I do not remember the same sense of grieving with her that still lingers with H. It is difficult to define completely the interactions of time, space and connection which make both experiences of grief so markedly different, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would offer up the fact that I was much younger then and that there had been a sense of inevitability to it, given the situation with the genes. I imagine others across a broad spectrum of locations and contexts still feel the weight of the grief with H as keenly as I do, given she interacted with a lot of people across the various interests and causes she supported.

This, the intersection of ‘griefs’, complicates grieving in the context of ongoing relationships. With my father, these key dates trigger a remembrance – and a reinforcement even – of loss, driving the conundrum that I wrestle with around these dates. Outside these dates, I feel like we have reached a new normal of sorts, one that accepts the reality of loss but focuses on getting on with life as much as possible. These dates disrupt that new normal for me, and drives the sense of there being a disjunction between living normally and remembering. In my head, by refusing to speak to my father on the day – and hence removing the need to speak about H – I am removing an additional trigger of remembrance from him. That at first glance sounds like a good thing but somewhere in my head, I wonder if it is truly as altruistic as it sounds. Not having the difficult conversation is a good thing for me, whether it is for him, and if this stance adequately honours the memory is a different matter altogether. It is this, the balance between living in the new normal and respectfully remembering and honouring the one who has been lost, that is the primary burden of grief, at least in my opinion.

There are also other non-time based triggers which set off the same sort of feelings. The most recent example was in the middle of a conversation with S’s parents a few weeks ago. Being the incredibly perceptive people they are, they picked up on how I had studiously managed to bring up the subject of H in the over three hours we had spent catching up at the time, which prompted the question. The uneasy silence which followed my explanation suggested it was a topic they would not have brought up if they had known the context. Perhaps – in typical J fashion – I am overthinking the exchange, but this unease exhibited by others when the subject of H comes up is another one of the burdens of grief. Not only does one have to deal with loss, one also has to deal with the reaction of others to loss.

There are no right or wrong ways to carry these burdens. I suspect that time will continue to chip away at the intensity of the grieving of loss which in turn might lessen the burden it places on relationships. If the last few years are an indication of how the next few might pan out in this regards, it is fair to assume that it will not be as simple as that.

Currently listening to: Mandisa – Lifeline

A Question of Patience

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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?

Human, Too

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In his seminal essay Why I Blog, Andrew Sullivan reflects on the subject of blogging; it’s similarity to – and shared etymology with – a ship’s log, its rise in step with the proliferation of the web technologies which have made it possible, and the unique niche it fills in the online space. Its overarching and enduring quality, he surmises, is due in part to two things; the informal, almost instantaneous nature of blogging as a reaction to news and events, and the intense, if sometimes unforgiving, interaction between blogger and reader that blogs enable. The conclusions he reaches are from considering a specific form of a blog, the sort that lies at the intersection of personal reflection and journalism, much like his (now retired blog) Daily Dish. Overall the numbers are mind boggling. Back in 2005, Technorati estimated that a blog was born every second, with 14.2m blogs being tracked by them back then (For some context, Tumblr which didn’t exist back in 2005 was home to 261 million blogs as of the 1st of November this year). The vast majority of this blogosphere is made up of blogs that are far less serious in nature and content than the ones Sullivan’s comments concern primarily, however his conclusions apply, perhaps more-so in this personal, less formal space.

The personal blog appeals to us as readers, that much cannot be disputed with any degree of conviction. The why is far more nuanced, stemming in part from the humanising effect the vulnerability implicit in a personal blog generates. Paulo Coelho puts this most succinctly when he compares writing to being publicly naked.  Sharing, in this space is a given; where the lines blur is around what is acceptable vulnerability and where over-sharing begins. This potential for over-sharing may be one of the reasons these sorts of blogs attract us, sating our inner desires to be in the know. There is an obvious downside to all this sharing; we as readers can get sucked into a comparison game – juxtaposing the realities of our hum-drum, quotidian lives with what are ostensibly the highlight reels from others’ lives.

Anonymous personal blogs – by decoupling real world connections from the stories that we share – go further, enabling engaged, diverse conversations around what might otherwise be taboo, stigma tainted subjects; living with HIV and/or rape being two examples which spring to mind quickly. This is interaction at its purest – a mental, mind-to-mind connection – unsullied by considerations of shape, sex, beauty or other physical characteristic.

For the reader, a personal blog – particularly where it veers off the beaten path into non-traditional quirks, likes and behaviours – also provides relief and validation. The joys of finding out that one’s curious fascination with cats acting like humans is as normal as can be reassures one that his/her humanity is not seriously in doubt. One is like the guy or girl next door, if next door can be expanded to include the unknown person behind a screen.

Somewhere between discovering a blog and becoming a captive reader lies a progression much akin to the development of a love affair. The first heady heights of being attracted to a mind  – either by a unique turn of phrase, a shared quirky interest or whatever else grabs one – eventually gets replaced by a commitment to returning, and for some people, we return again and again. Our desire for connection is obliged when the blogger returns repeatedly, sharing more and more, sometimes with a regularity that allows us build anticipation and sometimes associate happiness and joy with reading. Sometimes, we end up extending our follower-ship to other platforms across the internet, progressing from conversations on the blog to connections across the social media domain.

Blogs and bloggers do not last forever, regardless of what our expectations as readers are. We hope that once posted, what we read and what we like will remain stored in the ether, the URLs we collect in our favourites and the text we save all becoming a time capsule that bottles up for future retrieval the sense of time, space and emotion created when we first read and resonate with someone else’s words. When blogs and bloggers disappear, the only reminders that they were once here are the 404 pages  we get when we try to reassess our favourite content. This is very much the equivalent of being ghosted. As with all bad breakups, we seek palliatives. Google Reader, until retired by Google was perfect for this, storing a rich text version of whatever blog post the blogs one subscribed to had pushed via RSS. The Internet Archive WayBack machine, hit-or-miss as it could be, was another such resource, allowing me re-read archived versions of Teju Cole’s blog which became the source material for his novella Every Day Is For The Thief.

The years between 2008 and 2011 are ones I consider as a golden age of sorts for the Nigerian blogosphere, at least in my little corner of it. Thanks to quitting my mind-numbing job and returning to Grad school, I had far more time on my hands at the back end of 2008 than I had had in the preceding five years. I am no longer sure which was the first blog I stumbled on but over time I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of the people behind my favourites from that era; Doug, Dante, Olu Simeon, NoLimit, CaramelD, MissFab, Original Mgbeke, AfroGeek Chic and Tatababe to name a few. There were other favourites from that era I never got to be the ultimate fan boy with but whose writing still resonates with me – Nigerian Drama Queen, Adebola Rayo, Jaja, Light Her Lamp, Good Naija Girl, Atutupoyoyo, Zena, Miss Opeke, Confessions of a London Gal, La Reine and the Parakeet to name a few.

The vast majority of this lot have either vanished off the blogosphere, significantly downsized their blogs or reinvented themselves completely. It has been a source of great joy to see the likes of Jaja and Atutupoyoyo take their craft from blogsville to the real world of publishing – perhaps for the hope it gives the rest of us that one’s craft might yet be honed sufficiently by blogging.

There is certainly the sense that the Nigerian blogosphere is different in all sorts of ways, not least younger and interested in different subjects from the ones the old crowd were. From time to time, when I catch up with the members of the old guard I am close friends with in real life, we blame Twitter for being the disruptive influence at the centre of things. Truth be told, change was bound to happen, and if my own personal life is anything to go by, real life and its pressures are difficult things to manage. Twitter has given me the opportunity to know a few of the new crowd, and I must admit I am a big fan of quite a number of them – YossiePaul, Naija Rookie, Ifeoluwa, SingleNigerian, Naija Husband (and Wife)  and the folk behind Nik-Nak  come to mind most readily,

On a slow day I sometimes wonder what some of the oldies I never got to speak to are up to these days. NDQ dragged us through finding peace in heartbreak,  before shooting off to Paris for the joys of quotidian things and then surreptitiously deleting a bunch of blog posts. Jaja was there one day, living it up in England, losing his wallet and battling malaria and then he was not (he’s turned up as a published author – bless him). Baroque turned up in a different guise on Twitter. UK Naija surfaced post the London Olympics, and may or may not be the essayist behind a truly compelling piece on depression in Nigeria.

I’d like to think this has not been a moan. I will agree that it is a reflection – laced with nostalgia – of a past time and a past life. But then would I be human if I didn’t conflate time and space into a muddled memory, reinventing reality as I went along? For a title I have stolen a line from a poem written by the aforementioned Nigerian Drama Queen, one which lives on the edge of my consciousness on most days but from time to time raises its head above the parapet. It, like all truly important blogger time capsules, no longer exists on the internet, a 404 page the only testament that a living, breathing, succinct haiku once lived there. I will however share the fragment that lives in my head.

Sometimes I bleed blood,
cry tears, bruise flesh. Remember:
I am human, too…

Bits, Bobs and Writing Elsewhere…

Firmly mired in the middle of my February read, Ted Thompson’s debut novel The Land of Steady Habits, no thanks to a gruelling schedule at work with criminal deadlines, although I did manage to complete a profile of Selma star David Oyelowo for the church newsletter I occasionally write in. What intrigued me about that in the first place was how open he has been about his faith through out his career from theatre to Hollywood. Fascinating read, if I say so myself. Other than that most of my February reading was web based longform, a few of the more interesting ones being highlighted below:

1. Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days were 24-hour periods – Justin Taylor (The Gospel Coalition): Interesting read, particularly coming from someone firmly ensconced in the camp of biblical inerrancy, key quote:

Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth. Rather, it is a deduction from a combination of beliefs, such as (1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

2. Ten Years of Google Maps, from Slashdot to Ground Truth – Liz Gannes (<Re/code>): Google Maps, ubiquitous as it now is, is only Ten Years old. Liz Gannes charts its origin story from birth to the pervasive product it now is. And the quest for innovation is not sated yet, by any means.

The early history of Google Maps ends there. Most of the seminal Google Maps team members have moved on, but to a person they recall working on Maps as the most fulfilling and successful project of their careers. They still take it personally when they hear of bugs in the product or complaints about misguided redesigns.

Today, Geo is one of Google’s main product divisions. Ground Truth remains an ongoing project, and Google developed tools to keep its maps updated through direct user contributions. The division continues to be acquisitive, buying Zagat and Waze and Skybox in recent years. Street View has mapped the Grand Canyon and the canals of Venice. And Google’s maps have laid the groundwork for its most ambitious project yet — self-driving cars.

3. Why I’m Still A Catholic – Nicole Callahan (Salon): Reflecting on remaining Catholic in spite of disagreements with doctrine and how defining herself as Catholic somehow feels like a crucial part of her heritage.

Despite my disagreements, my weaknesses, my failures as a member of the Catholic Church, I can’t do anything but remain in it, though I’ve long since abandoned any pretense of being a great Catholic. Like all American Catholics, I flout and complain about and struggle to comprehend Church teaching; I emphasize the things I find easy to agree with, and minimize those that bother me. But while I am a bad Catholic, and I know it, I am also a practicing one. I have figured out that I’m just the kind who stays.

Though I can understand all the reasons why other people lapse and leave, I can’t seem to manage unbelief. Nor can I turn my back on the church that still gives me a home, a place to belong, when I so often feel that I don’t truly belong anywhere else. This might make my faith sound like a “crutch.” It very well might be. At times I feel that I cannot function, cannot stay on my feet, without it.

4. What does your selfie say about you – The Next Web:

Selfies also allow us to exert a greater level of control over how others perceive us online, and this is a major appeal. Thanks to front facing camera phones, we can take countless photos of ourselves until we have an image that depicts us exactly the way we want – an image that we’re happy to share with the online world. Interestingly, recent research suggests that this “selective self presentation” may actually enhance our self-esteem and boost our confidence.

5. An Ode to the Aux Cord – Eric Hulting (Medium):

Few things exemplify that [instant gratification] more than the AUX cord. Literally any song that exists on your phone or the internet is within your reach once you get in your car. It’s cathartic, spiritual even, to have that level of free will over what you listen to. Last road trip I took, I listened to something like 100 different songs from like 50 different albums

2015 Reading #1

In addition to completing Moon Walking with Einstein, The Pioneer Detectives and significantly denting my copy of The Best American Essays 2014, my 2015 reading has consisted of loads of longform, which I am curating via Pocket. Below are a few of the more interesting pieces that caught my eye this month:

1. Learning to Drive – Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker): What we learn when we learn to drive?

… Driving a car more like walking on a sidewalk, [is] full of recognitions and hand waving and early avoidance, tamping down the sudden shocks that the combustion engine is heir to…

I saw that driving was in another way civilization itself: self-organizing, self-controlling, a pattern of agreement and coalition made at high speed and, on the whole, successfully. “Just signal and slide over,” Arturo would urge me on the highway, and, as I signalled, other cars—other drivers—actually let me slide over!

2. Writing Your Way To Happiness – Tara Parker-Pope (The New York Times) : The benefits of expressive writing?

Like Siri, I have numerous explanations for why I don’t find time for exercise. But once I started writing down my thoughts, I began to discover that by shifting priorities, I am able to make time for exercise.

“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change”.

3. Selma was a Spiritual Endeavour for Me -Alissa Wilkinson and Morgan Lee (Christianity Today): David Oyelowo on playing Dr King in Oscar nominated (best picture) Selma:

.. every film I do can be edifying, can be something that points toward I believe to be true: I’m not one to shy away from darkness in movies, as long as there is light. As long as the light overwhelms the darkness, then you’ll find me in the midst of that story. That’s what I aspire to do because I know it to be true in my own life. I don’t think I’ve done a film that doesn’t demonstrate that—the darkness being overwhelmed by the light.

4. The Secret Life of Passwords – Ian Urbina (The New York Times) : Keepsake passwords;

…ritualize a daily encounter with personal memories that often have no place else to be recalled. We engage with them more frequently and more actively than we do, say, with the framed photo on our desk. “You lose that ritual,” [Miah said,] “you lose an intimacy with yourself.”

5. The Little Bug That Could – Michael Frankel (Medium): On travelling across the continental US in a Volkswagen Beetle to welcome a grandchild;

The Bug and I rolled into the Tampa Bay area still under waves of thunder­storms, alternating downpours with steamy sunshine. You could almost see the recently dropped rain rising off the pavement as steam. The grand tour of the union was coming to an end. We covered seventeen states in 6,000 miles. The top was down for 5,300 of those miles — a new personal-all-time-best. I consumed seventy-five cups of coffee on the road, almost all of them McDonald’s secret, piping-hot recipe. I averaged eighty miles per cup. The longest dry run between McDonald’s restaurants was 258 miles from Fallon to Eli, Nevada on Route 50. Along with the coffee, I ate six dozen granola bars and countless pretzels.