A Writer at Last?

writer

We arrive at my parent’s house to meet a party in full swing. I am surprised. We hug uncles and aunts we have not seen in ages, while the girls who assist my parents with running the house cart the food and drinks my sister, with foresight, had insisted we bring along.

“I’ve been waiting for you people,” my mother beams, “some people haven’t eaten.”

How did she know we would show up with food and drinks on her birthday? Had she not said, “No, I don’t want a party; I just want my family around me and my pastors to pray for me”?

I should have known. Family for my mum means at least 100 people.

“Are you the daughter from America? UK?”

“Yes,” I reply, discounting the value of correcting them, these people who comment on how I have grown and how when I was small like this—they gesture with their hands close to the ground—they had changed my nappy or carried me or brought me presents.

And so I let myself be passed from bosom to bosom and chest to chest, squeezing back lightly sometimes, pulling back determinedly sometimes. I lose myself in the maze of people whose stories intersect with mine on account of my mother.

When people cannot eat and drink anymore and chatter dithers like a misplaced comma, my aunt says to my sister, “You need to give the vote of thanks.” A Nigerian party without a speech is an anomaly. My sister replies, “Please meet Timi, she’s the writer in the family; she knows how to speak grammar.”

My aunt approaches me and I protest, “I am not a writer,” so, my sister gives the vote of thanks instead.

I have pondered this exchange for some years now. Why did I refuse to be called a writer?

I think I felt as though I had not earned the title. Because writing comes relatively easy to me and I had a real job, writing felt like a serious hobby. However, the more I wrote, the more I saw how much like my mother I was, insisting I did not want something when in fact, I did.

I had confused being an author with being a writer. Since I had not yet authored a book, how could I introduce myself as a writer and answer the question that inevitably follows; so what books have you written? Or maybe I was afraid; if I did not succeed at writing, no one could accuse me of failing at being something I never claimed I was.

A while back, I found a definition for writer that arrests my reluctance to accept the title: a writer is someone who writes. This description frees me to allow those like my sister who want to call out and celebrate my gift, to do so.

If I have come closer to embracing the title writer, it is in no small measure because of you; you, who read, comment, like, and share my words. Our Sunday-Sunday interdependence has grounded me.

Thank you.

timi

 

 

The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. – John Steinbeck

 

Pretending to be a writer is easy… but genuinely being a writer is difficult, because you have to write something that will convince both yourself and readers. – Kim Young-ha

 

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Shifting Gears [7]

Making Good Art

eyelash
After I shared the picture above with a friend, she asked, “How much does your mascara cost?”

I replied, “17.50.”

Then she said, “In that case, you can cry as long as you want.”

We both laughed because I needed to laugh.

I cried this year, silent tears and loud tears, in the privacy of my bedroom.

And I nearly gave up, although I had begun the year high on momentum.

In his 2012 keynote address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, author, Neil Gaiman, dispensed advice on a career in the arts. His advice transcends art and spills into life.

 

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art . . . Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

 

I cried in January, February, and March. My tears fell from April through September, like the rainy season in Nigeria, a deluge that began without warning. I determined to have an early dry season beginning in October. To ease my weariness, I planned to write short stories, flights of fantasy about love and technology. It worked. October looked promising until the mid-way point.

One Thursday, after a wailing session, I stopped deriving childlike pleasure from tasting the saltiness of tears and runny snot and reminded myself, I had a story to write. I shot an earnest plea to Heaven and brought out the notes I made as a friend recounted her experience on the train. Then I zoned out everything and entered the place where stories come to me.

Before I published Bluetooth Lottery, I gave it to a friend to read. I watched him chuckle while he read and stopped holding my breath. This story, I thought, might resonate with readers. My blog posts that create the most emotional resonance, going by likes and comments, are posts I wrote from places of desperate despair or posts about the tattoos in my soul.

 

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

 

Are Gaiman’s words about making your art to be taken literally?

I heard someone say that when you speak from your head, you talk to people’s heads, but when you speak from your heart, you talk to people’s hearts. After a writer shared a heartbreaking ordeal with me, I asked her if she was going to write about it.

“No,” she shrugged, “but you know how these things work, right? Our experiences seep into our writing and wet the page.”

I nodded.

Tears became my friend this year and I did not resent her intrusion into small spaces. I realized firstly that the demons that troubled me were not new. They were conquered foes, old fears in shiny wrapping paper. Secondly, to borrow from the title of Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir, one day I will write about this place, this field of tears. I will gather my tears and then I will sit and make good art.

 

As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with pools.
– Psalm 84:6

 

©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 [6]

Marilyn Monroe

A Leggy Affair

As a teenager, I imbibed ideas about acceptable body shapes from the people around me. So, I believed that a girl’s legs were beautiful only if they were straight like bamboo stems from the knees to the ankles, with no protruding muscles aka yams interrupting the flow.

Well, I inherited my father’s footballer legs, so during my years at university and for years afterwards, I hid my legs underneath trousers and maxis to escape mockery. My insecurity over what I deemed a flaw was like a thing around my neck, choking self-approval out of me.

Like a child force-fed by her determined grandmother, I spent my twenties swallowing popular beauty ideals of the society where I lived. They became the yardstick for measuring myself. I felt inadequate whenever I spotted a pair of bamboo legs. I considered the owner a lucky winner of the anatomy lottery because to me, having straight legs made one outstanding, special even.

In retrospect, that was laughable because straight legs do not shield their owners from life’s troubles. It is not as though those with straight legs can flash their exclusive Bamboo Club gold membership card and Life would say, “Aww, perfect pins, move along then, no troubles for you today. Next!”

Bamboo legs conferred no special advantages that I could see.

Still, at my old gym, when someone complimented my well-defined calves, I had to stop myself from peering at my legs, with lips turned downwards and eyebrows arched, as if to ask, “Me?”

I don’t know how I finally adjusted my beliefs regarding what is acceptable or not acceptable as far as my body is concerned. I suppose that as I approached my thirties, I began to ponder the whys of life even more stubbornly. Moreover, I realized that my legs would never change their shape; in fact, they would become even more muscled due to my new-found love for exercise.

My epiphany hit me like a clap of thunder. I woke up one day and suddenly every leg-concealing piece of clothing seemed revolting. Out went the trousers and maxis, and in came the short girly dresses and skirts that I’d always looked at longingly but felt I shouldn’t wear.

Recently, the instructor at my new gym praised my toned leg muscles; he wished he could devote more time to Leg Day as he assumed I did. I stifled a cheeky chuckle and in my head I sang, baby I was born this way.

Does clarity come with age? Or is this delicious comfort I have found in my own skin, this assuredness, my way of sticking my middle finger at my overdependence on external validation? Perhaps, I now understand that my quest for courage to set my personal ideals begins with embracing the things I am powerless to change.

These days, when I walk into the gym I spend a few minutes at the mirror-panelled walls, looking at my legs and smiling. I’ve come to love my legs especially the yams, which lend character to them. Not unlike the multiple perspectives that the angled mirrors provide, I can see either flaws or two healthy limbs to walk and dance with. Gratefully, I choose the latter.

I have one life to live and only this body with which to live it. The warmth of the sun and fresh air brushing my legs is wonderful; the prospect of a Marilyn Monroe dress-flying-in-the-wind moment is even more wonderful.

© ’Nedu Ahanonu, 2015
’Nedu blogs @ Nedoux.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 [5]

adrift

Adrift

For the most productive parts of my year, Marilynne Robinson’s words were my Mantra: “Frankly, you get to a certain point in your life where you can do unusual things with your mind. So then, I think, do them.”

What Marilynne doesn’t explain is that doing stems from being; that our being is tied, irrevocably, to our interactions, our relationships; that in reinvention, we shed our pasts and people in them to emerge into new forms of ourselves. There is something visceral, violent even, in leaving friends to gain new frontiers.

In August, I was added to a WhatsApp group of my secondary school classmates. My first comment was a rant. Someone asked why I was speaking as though I did not attend the same school like everyone else. Even I am a stranger to the boy they used to know.

It was easy to severe secondary-school ties. I used to be good at that. The secret is to avoid nostalgia, excise memories, and dull the mind with new experiences. I did this without guilt. I often say I am content in solitude and enjoy being an island, but when I entered university, I made new friends who showed me friendships are not just bridges that can be burnt at will and reconstructed. They are anchors that prevent me from drifting.

Trying to describe the loss of friendship, Murakami wrote of the titular character in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage:

“The pain he felt was, if anything, more intense, and weighed down on him even more greatly because of distance. Alienation and loneliness became a cable that stretched hundreds of miles long pulled to the breaking point by a gigantic winch. And through that taut line, day and night, he received indecipherable messages. Like a gale blowing between trees, those messages varied in strength as they reached him in fragments, stinging his ears.”

Towards the end of the year, my life began to imitate art; Tsukuru’s story came alive with vivid intensity. In striving to be the kind of person who can do the things I now think my mind is capable of, I was drifting away from my friends.

Last month, I spoke to one of my best friends. I asked her about work.

“You are so out of date,” she said with laughter in her voice.

We spent hours trying to fill the yawning void between us, trying to get back to the way things were (the way they should be?).

Time is the tie of friendship, affection its strut, and these I do not possess in infinite quantities.  Having severed, at will, friendships in secondary school and anchored myself to friends in university, I’m learning as a young adult that it is okay to drift away from some friends without angst or guilt.  To build new bridges some of the old ones have to be dismantled.

I walk through the phantom space where bridges used to be, hoping there is enough muscle memory to take me past the awkwardness of encountering old friends; you know, matching faces to places and names to dreams. Nonetheless, I am grateful for friends—past, present, future—who anchor me to reality and to whom I owe bountiful debts of love.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola, 2015

Ife blogs @ ifenihinlola

 

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.