Shifting Gears [4]

unashamed

Unashamed

I was born under the twin towers of shame and pride.

My mother prided herself on rising up from the dilapidated shack on the Hudson River across from New York. Her rise from second-hand clothing and no running water was her badge of honor. My father hid with shame, the quiet emotional poverty of a childhood spent reacting to the mercurial moods of an alcoholic parent. He never thought he was quite good enough to take us to nice restaurants.

Before the age of three family members died one after the other and though I don’t remember any of them, the awareness of death and separation plagued my young mind. Inherited pride led me to believe I was captain of my ship, yet with shame, I noted how rudderless and shaky my travelling vessel was. All the while I asked myself was there any point. Death loomed.

Before I wrote my first novel, I drifted uninspired and crippled with doubt into many ports always with an eye on the storms that might lead to shipwreck. The novel grounded me. I thought I wanted to play the hipster author smug and ironic, but my characters had hearts and souls. How could they take grace, love, and redemption seriously? How could they believe in an un-hip God? They refused to be cool.

Fifteen years passed. The grounding was an illusion. I was still on a boat but no longer at the helm. Conversion stories abound on the internet. Mine happened searching scripture to put hypocritical words in my characters’ mouths.

Recently I realized I still live under the towers. My characters (and I suspect God), try leading me, but I tend to cry shipwreck and jump into the sea or hide deep in the hull of life.

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger invited me to give answers to a Q&A series about reading habits. My shelves sag with history, literature, and how-to books (maybe I keep some to impress people), and for most of the questions I kept my head above water until I was asked which single book I would recommend to another.

I hesitated . . . for days. I considered lying. I had a hidden crutch, a new-found yet semi-secret belief in what some considered an offensive savior. When I hit the send button with my answered questions, I had a sinking feeling I’d lost all standing with this faraway internet acquaintance. I recommended the Bible. I suddenly realized how easy it was for Peter to deny Christ.

My hipster novelist thing shattered. I’d often sold my book as a story about a morphine addict because I wanted faraway people to think it was edgy—but I lied to get “likes.” The real story is about a family on a difficult journey, as we all are. In the end, they figure out who’s at the helm. There’s no shame in that any longer for me.

© Adrienne Morris, 2015

Adrienne blogs @ Middlemay Books

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Shifting Gears [3]

gear shift

Not The Comic Book Hero

As a young man, I had no understanding of stiffness after exercise. I had no idea of the pain that came with the arthritic joints of unsteady elderly folk.  This would never happen to me.

In the 1940s, I happily skinned my knees in South London streets devoid of motor cars. During the ‘50s, I was introduced to cricket and rugby, two sports I continued regularly to play until, aged forty-five, I moved to Newark on Trent and considered it a little late to join new clubs.

From thirty-five to forty-five, I undertook weight-training three times a week. Throughout my forties, I ran 25,000 miles on roads, including participating in eighteen marathons. Having covered nine miles to work with a knapsack on my back, I showered in my workplace, and then breakfasted in a nearby cafe. On the day I ran fifteen miles before completing a rugby training session, I felt smugly comfortable with the epithet ‘Superman’, bestowed somewhat facetiously, I’m sure, by a group of Social Work students.

I shrugged off sporting injuries, notably tying a broken finger to its neighbour with a bootlace before completing a match. That joint has never bent since, rendering picking up coins rather difficult.

As I entered my sixth decade, a recalcitrant calf muscle forced me to concede that my daily mileage would need to be walked, not run.

During a game of touch rugby at the end of Sam’s December 2007 stag day in the Margaret River wineries, a seventeen-stone friend of the prospective groom, forgetting the rules, tackled me to the ground. I leaped to my feet and tackled him back at the first opportunity. The father of the bride halted the game soon afterwards, saying that ‘someone’ would get hurt.

The best way to overcome the wall—the point in a marathon at which your body tells you that it cannot go on—is said to be to run through the pain until it subsides. When, towards the end of 2008, my left hip developed severe discomfort, I applied that belief. Sometimes I couldn’t sit down afterwards.

About three months after receiving a prosthetic joint in October 2009, I was back to an average of two hours a day of undulating perambulation.

When we began reclaiming our neglected garden in April last year, both Jackie and I spent about six hours a day throughout the summer engaged in heavy tree work, removing stumps, and shifting substantial rocks and concrete.

Abruptly, this March, I shuddered to a halt. My right knee was in such pain that when I visited the GP, I was offered a wheelchair, which I declined.  After some improvement, I can walk an occasional two miles and my gardening is somewhat restricted.  Were I to be tackled today, I would need helping to my feet.

Exercise is now required to reduce stiffness. It has happened to me.  I am not the comic book hero.

That is what I have learned in 2015.

© Derrick Knight, 2015.

Derrick blogs at derrickjknight.com

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Shifting Gears [2]

Don't complicate your mind.

 

Eileen’s writings, laced with humour, candour, and common sense, inspired me to examine how what is important to me has changed over the years.

In Gifts of Age, she notes, “On the outside I’m a short, plump, white-haired old lady on a walker. But inside me still live all my younger selves. Dwindling energies and a sense of time passing at warp speed, force me to re-evaluate my priorities. Where do I want to focus my limited resources? On image? On possessions? On my aches and limits? On pleasure as a temporary distraction? On a past that I cannot change? On a future that may never come?

It seems more important now, to focus on recognizing the footprints of God in my daily life, on celebrating God’s presence in the small and ordinary, even in the heartbreak, and to share that awareness however I can.

No matter what our age is; today is the only day we actually have.  We can seize it, rejoice in it, and dance in our hearts.”

She invites us to laugh with her as she shares how growing older has caused her to shift gears. Hear her:

At night, as soon as you get your pillow nest arranged to support aching backs and knees and burrow gratefully into it, doubt enters the room.  Did I lock the doors?  Did I turn off the stove?  Did I switch the wet wash to the dryer? Did I take my pills? Yes, I think I did all that tonight. No, that was last night. Oh hell, I better go check.

Then, because your bladder is your only body part that’s more active with age, there are at least three trips to the john every night. And since your early warning system is now deceased, these are made at warp speed, even on a walker. Panic is a great motivator. There should be an Olympic competition for this. You wake up tired and wonder why.

The disconcerting end to what seemed like a reasonably nice day is realizing that you have gone all over town smiling today without your upper dentures.

When you express worry about some of the disasters being experienced by others your age, your children encourage you to be thankful that’s not you.  And you mentally add the word, yet.

When everyone’s talking about diets, you’re thinking, Sure. Like I’m going to give up my last pleasure in life, so I can look good in my casket.

Read More …

If you enjoyed what you read, please tell Eileen so on her blog.

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shifting Gears [1]

shifting gears

 

Human clay finds its moisture in relationships and will evaporate into dust without them  – Beth Moore

 

When I arrive at Tamali’s house, she holds my arm and turns me from side to side, and then she sighs.

“How do you do it?”

She knows how I do it. Her eyes sunken, her voice nasal, her walk without bounce; she coughs as she leads the way. The aroma of sautéed bell peppers and tomatoes hits me. On the gas hob sits a stainless steel pot. Underneath the glass lid, I spy something white; rice, pasta?

“Food?” she gestures towards the pot.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

She opens the fridge and brings out Amaris’ cake. I recognize it from the photo she sent me on WhatsApp. The Barbie doll, which sat atop is gone as is half of Barbie’s pink-layered flowing gown. She gets busy with her knife.

“Too much,” I protest.

She eyes me, “You don’t have to eat it all at once.”

Her neck is lean and last week was tough for her. So, I take the knife from her and halve the portion she set aside.

Back in the living room, she offers me the stubby bananas that Kwame brought from Uganda.

“Very sweet. Not like the ones from Costa Rica in Albert Heijn.”

“I’m full.” I bend and hug my stomach.

“You never eat! I can’t count how many of them I’ve had,” she spreads her arms and looks at her torso; “I’m always eating!”

She is not always eating. It is her frustration speaking.

“How did I get from there to here?” She points at a framed photo by the TV and then digs out more photos from the shelf next to the TV stand.

This is what you do for a friend with flu. You stop by her house after work with a packet of Day & Night Nurse and explain how to take the capsules. You eat cake when you’d rather not. You pull your chair closer to hers and hunch over hundreds of photos. You listen as she reminisces about her days at Makerere University and her time in London, the jauntiness of her late teens and early twenties—that period before we tell ourselves, I’ve got to get serious and settle down. You see a girl you did not know, who helps you understand the woman you now know. 

She appraises each picture by size, interrupting my flow.

“Oh, look at this one, I was slim here.”
“You think I look good there? No way, I resembled an elephant.”
“This one was taken earlier in the year. See me in the same dress later that year; the dress is bursting at the seams! What did I eat?”

And you mourn with her, the loss of youth. Because flu makes you delirious. It makes you want your mother who is 6000km away; although you left home at twenty and you are now in your early thirties. It chains your legs so you miss the gym, stay at home and raid the fridge, and feel fatter than you are.

A pathological nostalgia has seized her and you cure it with kindly indulgence, not once looking at the clock. 

I recently read an article about why female friendships are fraught with infighting. Sitting here with Tamali, I cannot relate. Have my friendships always been this supportive?

There was that time Ada stayed over and borrowed my jewelry while I was at work, leaving me a note to dispel panic in case I looked for it when I returned. I stayed mad for months and ignored her overtures and peace emissaries. My anger was toxic, contaminating anyone who would listen. One day she braved my rage and showed up at my doorstep.

“Yes?” I filled the door space, arms folded across my chest.

“I’m sorry. It broke. I couldn’t return it until I fixed it.”

I blocked her advance, spreading myself wider.

“For crying out loud Timi, it isn’t even 24-karat gold. It’s costume; that’s why nobody could fix it!”

“Beside the point! You shouldn’t have taken it without asking!”

She edged passed me, pushing me against the doorframe. She dropped the broken piece of jewelry on the dining table on her way to the kitchen.

“Do you have any food?” she asked one hand on the door of the fridge.

I sighed and smiled. You cannot poison food if you are going to eat and share it. That was twenty years ago. Ada and I are still smiling.

My girlfriends and I congregate around food. We eat; we do not eat. Thighs and hips feature in our extended conversations. Size is important and relative. Beneath this shallowness is affection, deep and strong, binding us as tomatoes cleave to meat in stew.

When I was younger, I made war. Now I’m older, I make peace. 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

What Do I Look Like?

selfie

The mirror in an uncrowded elevator is an invitation to look at myself, as are the floor-to-ceiling display windows in the mall. Rarely do I say no. Ever notice that when presented with a group photograph, your eyes search for you first?  Is this vanity or normal self-absorption? I have sixty-one selfies on my phone. Perhaps I should not call them selfies. The Oxford Dictionary defines a selfie as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Not one of my digital self-portraits is uploaded on my social networks.

My favourite ‘selfies’ are those where I employed the tricks my eighteen-year-old friend taught me to make a selfie not resemble a selfie. All that posing and angling, so I look as though my photo is the view from another’s lens, why?

Apart from a desire to pretend that I did not tilt my head, tuck in my chin, suck in my cheeks, and find the best lighting, before stretching my hand to click, I want to try to replicate an unguarded moment—what others see when I am unaware that they are looking at me, an honest picture of me. But a selfie is manipulation, a digitally enhanced, filtered, and cropped representation of how I want to see myself and how I want others to see me.

I find selfies useful as picture diaries to share privately with friends, but too subjective to tell me what I really look like. Sam Anderson captures this paradox in his New York Times‘ article. He begins by asking: What do you look like?

You are the world’s leading authority on the subject. You have studied your face for many years, with life-or-death intensity, in almost every mirror and tinted car window and unrippled pond you have ever passed. You are the Sir Isaac Newton of your own face: the one true discoverer of its laws of motion, its particular gravity.

You are also, simultaneously, the very least qualified person in the world to know what you look like. You have no idea. You have never actually seen your face — not truly, from the outside, the way other people see it. This is because of a nonnegotiable quirk of the human anatomy: You have to use your own face to look at your face. You are both observer and observed.

Is this why we ask others, “How do I look?”

As a child, my mother was the first yardstick I used to measure my looks by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. External validation aids self-perception. I have wished on occasion that I could step out of my body and see myself. The next best thing is my reflection in the eyes of those I trust, a realistic picture that transcends the selfies on my phone.

 

Related: Beauty, A First-Class Ticket
                A Fading Glory

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Your Part of the Story

comprehension

In secondary school, my English teacher gave us a block of text to read followed by a series of questions to test our understanding. This exercise was called comprehension. Correct answers were based on the text. To extrapolate from our life experiences and make connections beyond the confines of the text, in order to interpret it, meant certain failure. This standardization of meaning complemented the marking scheme, I suppose, but we don’t approach life this way.

When we listen, we not only hear the words spoken, but also the manner in which they are spoken and all that it encompasses. How these elements affect our emotions, also influences our understanding.

At work, while implementing a strategy that we’d been briefed about, my colleague and I came to a gridlock because we interpreted the briefing differently. When we sought clarification, it turned out neither of us were right. So much for clear communication, which is why at the end of a talk, a speaker says, “Let me recap . . .” or an avid listener practices reflective listening, “If I’ve understood you correctly, you said . . .”

Someone said, “Write it to eliminate ambiguity,” as if inanimate words on a screen do not awaken and grow wings in the minds of those who read. Perhaps in business writing where clarity and conciseness are pivotal, this is true, except when the writing is convoluted to deceive.

But, in October, I wrote fiction. In fiction, we abandon some of the rules of comprehension I learnt in school. I think that a good writer invites us to create our own stories within the bigger narrative that he or she is telling. Writers do this by leaving a trail of white pebbles that readers instinctively follow to figure out what the story is about, when and where it is taking place, and why the characters act the way they do.

Somewhere along the journey, readers abandon the trail for a meandering path to interpretation. The writer takes a secondary seat, having provided the framework for readers to build by making associations based on their experience, belief, imagination, or needs even.

When I began publishing fiction here, I was fussy about readers’ interpretation. Did they get what I was trying to say? The comments showed me that readers don’t always perceive the story the way I do. And now I’m okay with that. For one thing, no one is writing a comprehension exam. Moreover, to see the story through a reader’s eyes is to see the story again.

I will agonize over words for days on end—do my words lead to logical inferences, are they coherent? But once I hit publish, I understand that the piece of writing, the baby I carried, has been delivered to the world. It is no longer mine. Comprehension is the reader’s part of the story.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.