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.
A year ago if you asked me how well I enjoyed my own company, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would place myself somewhere between 9 and 9.5, the 0.5 my attempt at modesty. Pressed for evidence, I would point to the various things I did alone without so much as a flutter of an eyelid — Football Manager, a substantial list of feeds subscribed to in my Feedly, a number of series I watch obsessively and any number of books I have my nose in from time to time.
That is why I find the sense of listlessness I begin to feel mid-way through my two weeks away from work doubly disconcerting. Far from being painstakingly planned and flawlessly executed, the two week holiday happens to me suddenly, the result of a perfect storm of failing to request the days (hoping I can convince S to go away with me for a week) and a month at work which frankly seems to have come from hell. I barely have time to send out the notes from the last meeting on the 21st before I have to leave the building, a compromise which still leaves me having lost three days of holiday.
I do manage to hatch a cunning plan to make the most of the enforced holiday — the first of the weeks till after Christmas up in my corner of Scotland and then a quick hop down south to London till the New Year.
What my plan fails to account for is S’s Spanish jaunt getting off to a dodgy start, the absence of wifi at their lodgings meaning that communication is at a premium, limited to the occasional text message sent by international text. The combination of loads of time on my hand, and a limited number of places I can go to at short notice drives my mind into overdrive, what-ifs, maybes and should haves jostling for primacy in my mind. I find myself twiddling my thumbs, counting the hours and finding little comfort in the things that used to fill my alone time, hardly the most productive or healthy use of my time and energy
This sense of discomfiture at the absence of someone is one of the things I have perhaps struggled most with over the last few months, particularly as this thing with S has evolved. Part of me realises that there is a balance somewhere, between retaining individuality and yet becoming a collective that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I suppose NCIS:LA’s Nell Jones (Renée Felice Smith) captures this most succinctly in the Season 8 Christmas episode, “Tidings We Bring”, when in a conversation over a gift she gives to Eric Beale (played by Barrett Foa), she describes them as pendulums which keep time individually but when placed on the same wall sync up.
Spent the entire weekend building up to a conversation with L. The arguments and counter arguments were all laid out in my head, in my very worst Ted Mosby imitation. Here on the cusp of the actual meeting, it doesn’t feel so cut and dried in my head anymore, which may or may not be a good thing… I guess I’ll know soon enough how it goes..
In-between solving a convoluted case in the last episode of NCIS: New Orleans, “Radio Silence” (Season 2, Episode 17), Dwayne Pride has to deal with his daughter’s angst at the pressure she feels he’s put on her to explore her musical talents. In the final scene they reach a resolution of sorts agreeing to finish the semester before revisiting her decision to drop out of music school, and then play out to “Under Pressure“. I hope I can be there for my (future) daughter in the same way, being able to relate and resolve any issues she has…
Spent the bulk of the weekend re-watching Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, complete with its unsatisfactory ending in which Ted shoots off to Robin’s after all she put him through. Tsk!!! Tsk!!! Before that though, Ted’s summation of his 9 year journey to finding Tracy did resonate with my inner suppressed romantic:
It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult, because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see, kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew… I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump. Every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was look at her and thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was, or will be, and the whole universe, and anyone else I can possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth, and speak.
Oh to love and be loved that intentionally and intensely.