Just Give Me This One Night To Feel That I Might Be On The Right Path, The Path That Takes Me Home, Wise Enough To Know Myself

I have always wanted to juggle five balls. I mean, it looks cool when I see people juggle more than two balls. This, I thought, was something I could achieve. This, I presumed, would mark my adulthood experience.

But I have never been able to juggle three balls (or in my case, apples or oranges). It’s my birthday today and all I can think of is that I have underachieved. One of my earliest memories is of me and my mother on a bus ride to Muthaiga to see a friend of my mother’s. I might have been about four or five. We sat next to the driver who (my mother tells me) was a woman and (because I never could have kept my mouth shut) I told my mother that when I grew up wanted to be a driver, just like that bus driver.

Another memory that is so vivid, I sometimes doubt it, is when I am about to join nursery school and because money was really an issue back then, I got in late but because my mother had taken the initiative to teach me some of the basics,  I knew quite a bit of English.  I remember them (my sisters and parents) asking me the question, “What a man can do?” and my enthusiastic answer being “A woman can do better.”

I am quite aware of how memory can distort facts to fit our idea of what happened to what we think actually happened. So I am not really sure if that is really what happened or it’s my identity as a feminist somehow shaping my memory. But what I am 100% certain of is I woke up to the realisation that I never achieved that dream of becoming a bus driver –as much as I never actively pursued it. I can live with that. What I think is the underachievement of the century is that I have never mastered the art of juggling balls. It is my birthday today, and all I can think of is that I never mastered the art of juggling more than three balls. Maybe I should also add that I desperately need this night to be the night that I finally get to feel like an adult. After all, I am one year older. That should count for something. Right? Right.

The title of this post is from the song No Reptiles by Everything Everything.

Believe That Change is Coming Soon

Confession: My eyes tend to glaze over when people talk to me about fashion. I don’t really care much about what other people are wearing.

This, I should clarify, is not to say that I don’t have a sense of style (although I am guilty of wearing an item of clothing for the simple reason that I own it). Or I think I have a sense of style, I just haven’t found the name, yet. I wear skirts and dresses and lacy and frilly tops. I am also very comfortable in–and mostly wear– button downs buttoned all the way to the top, skinny jeans and blazers. Combat boots and oxfords are my favourite footwear. As for my hair, my signature look is the afro but once in a while I’ll have it plaited into a million braids or cornrows. Also, I don’t wear makeup except for lipstick or lip gloss.

Why, you may wonder, am I talking about clothes right after my confession about not caring about other people’s sense of style? See, while I was leaving the house today, my five year old neighbour looked at me and said that I was wearing men’s shoes. It was said in wonder, as if verbalising thoughts she couldn’t quite wrap her mind on. I wish I had the time to talk to her about what she thinks are men’s and women’s clothing.

Then I remembered (how dare I forget!) that I live in a very heteronormative and patriarchal society where ‘traditional’ gender roles are the norm. Anything that is outside the norm will raise eyebrows and earn you a second disapproving look. Just this morning, a radio host was talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s fake genitals! I think a lot about sex and gender and identity and gender roles. We may not be (as a country) at the point where discussions about whether to have gender neutral bathrooms make news (what made news today was the Anglican Church of Kenya elections to be held tomorrow. This got almost 10(!) minutes airplay).

Anyway, I think I am rambling now and have lost my point somewhere. My point was to say that I am looking forward to a time where five year olds will be used to seeing men wearing heels and women wearing ‘men’s’ shoes.

The title of this song is from the song The Royal We by Silversun Pickups.

An Unnecessary Woman

I started reading An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine at the beginning of this month and I finally finished it last week. I don’t usually take this long to finish a book and I didn’t take this long because the book was bad. On the contrary, the book was good, so good it made me want to weep. I’ll admit, the main reason I picked this book is because it is set in Lebanon. Sometime back, in an effort to be more self aware, to figure out and subsequently claim my space in this world, I promised myself to read more of the world’s literature. This promise has led me to have a different view of the world, a better view so to speak. A view that I have been denied by the media in their attempts to chase ‘news worthy’ stories which they deem important to me.

There are a number of unusual things I did while reading this book: I only read it whilst in transit. It didn’t feel quite right to read the book while at home simply because I like immersing myself in other people’s lives and the life of Aaliya felt too similar to my own and somehow I thought it wise to create distance between Aaliya’s life, however fictional, and my own life. Inviting her to my home felt a little too intimate.

Nothing really happens in this book. But that’s all right because I think for most of us, nothing major ever happens in our lives: no earth shattering tragedy; not even winning the lottery. We are born, we live and eventually, we die. In between being born and dying, we do a lot of unnecessary things. For instance, like Aaliya, I read a lot. And I can justify my reading and list the importance of reading. But what if my reading is really unnecessary? What if, at the tail end of my life, I realise that all I ever did was unnecessary? What will be written on my gravestone–this, of course, is in my imagination because our (African/Kenyan?) graves are not inscribed; there is a cross over your grave with your name and your date of birth and death, nothing else. And yet I can’t seem to stop doing these unnecessary things. These unnecessary things, that in their own warped way, give meaning to my life.

I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass– an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me.

Beirut, as is described by Aaliya, is so similar to Nairobi it is uncanny. Maybe it is because of this that I only read the book while commuting. It felt necessary for me to do so because I had to discern the difference.

My books show me what it’s like to live in a reliable country where you flick on a switch and a bulb is guaranteed to shine and remain on, where you know that cars will stop at red lights and those traffic lights will not cease working a couple of times a day. How does it feel when a plumber shows up at the designated time, when he shows up at all? How does it feel to assume that when someone says she’ll do something by a certain date, she in fact does it?

Aaliya goes on to wonder if one feels more in control of their destiny if things turn out as expected. I’ve wondered the same thing, only that for me, it is just not out of curiosity but with annoyance. My tolerance level for tardiness and people not keeping their word is decreasing by the day.

Other themes in the book that have kept me awake (I exaggerate only a little) are childlessness and Godlessness. I have strong opinions, as am sure everyone does, but I feel they were well explored.

You might not like the book for its uneventfulness but you might like it for its prose.

I Want You To Notice When I’m Not Around

Lately, my thoughts have been scattered –this term feels inadequate for this yo-yoing thing my mind seems to be doing– so much so that I feel a little bit ungrounded, a little bit unsettled. I have tried everything that normally calms me down, including meditation, to gather my thoughts but that leaves me feeling more anxious than I was. And while this is not an uncommon occurrence (having unruly thoughts ie) I feel as if it is taking me a long time to feel like myself again (whatever that means –honestly, I am too contradictory, too ambivalent to know what that means) or at least a version of myself that I recognise. But all of these would have been okay if my emotions didn’t shift with my ever changing thoughts.

So I am sitting in the dark drinking my umpteenth cup of tea (I got home at around nine and I stopped counting after the second cup –it’s almost two now) listening to the Indigo Girls’ Closer to Fine on repeat with the hope that I’ll be closer to fine feeling together again when I wake up.

Maybe by writing this I am taking back control and telling my scattered thoughts that I am tired of feeling scattered. Maybe me writing this is an indication, in a roundabout way, that I am closer to fine. Words, in whatever narrative, after all, have always been what I use to make sense of the world, and myself. So, I shall return. Imminently. And hopefully, post regularly. I may not have told you this for fear of jinxing it, but that was my new year’s resolution. Turns out, that my fear came true anyway.

The title of this post is from the song Creep by Radiohead.

What A Shame We All Became Such Fragile, Broken Things

‘People say, That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But they are wrong. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. That’s all you get. Sometimes, you just have to hope that’s enough.’
      Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.

Someone I was exchanging emails with asked me what is it I was thinking about, what was occupying my mind. I thought that was an excellent question. I had just celebrated my birthday and as is with every birthday, time was forefront in my mind: the passage of it; the everyday mundaneness of it; and how (this is a recent realization) the major, life changing decisions, the unknown errors in judgement; and even communication happens in seconds. That question forced me to be aware of the myriad of thoughts that occupy my mind, to be conscious of all the places my mind wanders to when I am not busy. This has been a blessing in my attempts to be a creative. I have written before about my monkey mind and the efforts that I have made to try to tame it. Since then, I keep track of my recurring thoughts. It’s been a little psychological test I have done with myself as the subject so my analysis may or may not be as objective as a scientific test should be, but I noticed that what occupies my waking moments has a way of sneaking into my sleeping moments and manifests itself in form of dreams.

I read Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow towards the end of last year. Silver Sparrow is one of those books that was on my ‘to read’ pile but somehow I never got around to reading it and then when I finally read it, I asked myself why it took me so long. Anyway, for the two and half months since then, the above quote has been on my mind. On some days, Kelly Clarkson’s What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) would play repeatedly in my head, and on these days, a part of me would try to deny the truthfulness of the above quote. On other (most) days though, the days when I see on Facebook people trying to console each other with ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ I get this intense desire to tell them how untrue that is without coming out as insensitive to people’s misery, tough times and/or grief. Because what doesn’t kill you sometimes takes you several steps back. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you breaks you into tiny pieces that take forever to put together, sometimes you lose a tiny piece or two in the process of reassembling your broken pieces. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you vulnerable to what may eventually kill you. And sometimes, you just have to hope that what doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you.

The title of this post is from the song Let The Flames Begin by Paramore.

But Did you Imagine in a Different Way?

Maybe it is because of our advancing age; maybe it is because we’ve been disappointed enough times by expectations set too high; or maybe we are just cynical, too cynical for our own good, but after I sent a close friend of mine a link to the letter I wrote to 2015, we had a text conversation about 2016 not being better as we had perhaps (unknowingly) hoped it would be. While I was clinging to 2015, desperately wishing it to redeem itself, my friend couldn’t wait for it to end, so anxious for 2016 to begin.

Every 31st of December brings with it a certain kind of joy: for some people, it is with a sigh of relief that the year is finally over; for others it is the culmination of good things that happened, a sort of indication of the direction the new year will take. Either way, there is an excitement that is almost tangible, an excitement so palpable it becomes contagious. It is a chance to begin again, to correct all our errors. We promise ourselves to become better people.

I was coming home on Tuesday night when I saw a neighbour who asked me ‘mwaka mpya inakupeleka aje?’ Which translates to ‘how is the new year so far?’ And I smiled and said it’s been good. His question reminded me of the discussion my above mentioned friend and I had. I have been thinking about possible answers to that question but the best I could come up with is, ‘the new year feels the same as last year except that this one feels like it has been wrapped up in a promise.’ This is why: within the space of one month I have done so much (including a mistake that made me happy!), I created something I thought was impossible -I might post something about it in the future, I started another project that I am excited about and I still had time to read; seven books, so many essays and articles and short stories.

Still, there are things I thought I’d have by now but still don’t and it is the not knowing when I’ll have them that is killing me.

The title of this post is from the song Regret by Everything Everything.

I Know it’s Hard to Find Out What I am Not

Jonathan Franzen’s The Republic of Bad Taste was published over at The New Yorker mid last year. This is the type of story that makes you feel, feelings that you didn’t know you had, that you didn’t know you were capable of having, but there, with your eyes on the screen slowly at first, they sneak into you, and then you look up and the world is going on with little or no regard whatsoever to your mini breakdown, as if time hadn’t been suspended at all. Franzen has the ability to suspend reality, to stop time for the duration that you’ll read the story. And that right there is what good storytellers are made of. I know that in reading, given that I am a very emotional reader, I have experienced the full gamut of emotions. And so I reread the Republic of Bad Taste a few times -I reread stories and books not because I have the time and no more books to read (on the contrary, the pile of books on my to be read list teeters precariously) but because some stories and books demand to be read more than once. And that is why I believe the worst kind of people are the ones who don’t return the books you’ve lent them. So. After rereading The Republic of Bad Taste a few times, I came to the conclusion that it was the best representation of love that I have read in a long time. The kind of love that I wrote about here. The kind of love that we spend a lifetime seeking and after we’ve found it, try to emulate. The kind of love that explains crimes of passion.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets to experience this type of love. Some people flounder in and out of relationships in search of this elusive love. While others wait in vain for this love to find them.

I’ve been obsessed with the album Becoming a Jackal by the Irish band The Villagers lately. The songs that make up this album cover a range of topics: from religion (or lack, thereof) and the need to find something to believe in to love to mundane things that make up our everyday existence. I am interested in the human condition and that’s why I am obsessed with this album. There is this song The Meaning of the Ritual that describes my type of love. It made me find out what I am not: And that is Franzen’s representation of love will always be an ideal that I will never live up to, no matter how hard I try to. No matter how much I seek it. And that, however sad as it sounds, is okay. Because, as The Villagers (they took the words right out of my mouth) say “My love is selfish, how it separates the earth it takes every shiny stone but leaves the dirt for the cowards in the corner who don’t know what they are worth…My love is selfish and it remembers everything.”

The title of this post is from the song I Know by Sharon Van Etten.