To Live in America

American flag

At the height of a restless phase in my life, I lived in The Netherlands at the time; a friend asked if I would be interested in relocating to The States. I replied that I had a teenage son and he is black. It had been years since I visited America. Where did I get the idea? Think of a country that you have heard of but never visited. What picture comes to mind? Now, ask yourself why.

Yesterday morning, during my ten-kilometre trek, S, who is black American talked about the recent racially motivated police shootings in her country. There were times we slowed our pace subconsciously to match the heaviness in her heart. She made the stories more than news I followed on social media, still they were not near enough. I shared her sorrow the way I do when I hear of bombings with casualties somewhere in the world—pain, anger, helplessness, and resignation.

My plan was to rest after the walk and then complete the short story I had been working on for my blog. However, when I sat at my desk to finish the story about two women and a boy called Yellow Pawpaw, desire had fled from me. Since writing is 80% discipline and the plot lay pencilled on post-its around my desk, desire was inconsequential. I battled feelings of irresponsibility. Do you sleep when your neighbour’s house is on fire? At least not with both eyes shut because fire is greedy for oxygen, sucking oxygen wherever it finds it.

But I had not written about the fire in my backyard either. Is it not hypocritical to write about what you do not know, a phenomenon miles and miles from you?

Here is what I know. I think about America the way I do because of what I see, hear, and read. Despite the negative portrayal of Nigeria in the news, I do not buy into all the hype because I have lived in Nigeria and interacted with Nigerians.

I write in general terms, why do white people feel threatened by black men and why do black men feel anxious around the police? Is it not unreasonable to tell people to overcome their fears when we keep feeding them fearful images?  The notion of independent thought is a fallacy. You believe what you see or hear all the time and under pressure, act it out.

So, would I relocate to America?

I should know better because I am familiar with the power of the pen or images to shape opinions and the insidious ways narratives are concretized. But fear is an irrational thing.

Perhaps, it is time for a new kind of summer blockbuster. Aliens can take a break from invading the earth; they have not succeeded so far anyway. Humans can take over IMAX screens to confront problems in our communities that resemble chewing gum stuck to the heel of shoes—messy, sticky, and tricky, and we should make superheroes of the men and women who bridge the divide.

Am I for real? Will such films require jaw-dropping special effects or guarantee millions at the box office? Why change a winning formula?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

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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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.

 

Beauty, A First-Class Ticket

beauty

I knew I was intelligent before I knew I was beautiful, for I won academic prizes throughout my primary school years from the time I was five up ‘til ten. This external validation, reinforced by the circle of people who shaped me, became my inner truth.

My mother was the first yardstick I used to measure beauty by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. But what did that mean?

At my girls-only boarding school, we giggled and bit our nails when boys from the nearby school attended our social events. Being beautiful meant that I was asked to dance and not forgotten on the bench. It meant my classmates said I looked like Yinka, a girl two years older, whom everyone called Black Beauty. Much later, it meant that I tweezed my eyebrows and applied mascara like the models in Vogue.

My mother told me hard work and a good education would secure success. She did not tell me beauty could be a first-class ticket. You see, once when I tried to register a business campaign, my efforts stalled under the weight of bureaucracy. Then a friend scolded me, “How can? A beautiful woman like you? Don’t you know what to do?” Appalled, I went back and talked my way through.

But her seed grew. I studied how people, men, responded to me; after all, they saw me before they heard me. I remember being singled out from a long line of tired and impatient passengers at an airport. As I crossed the gate having passed Security, the officer said, “You’re very pretty.”
I would be naïve to assume that any preferential treatment I receive is because of beauty alone. It would be naïve of you to assume that I don’t receive unwanted attention or worse still, endure suspicion or dismissal on account of my looks.

Recently, I watched a YouTube video about the changing face of beauty, with a friend. “I wish I were born in a different century,” she said touching her generous hips and rubbing her round belly. I just happen to live in an era where my features coincide with what some consider attractive. I’ve come to know that beauty is leverage and the temptation to abuse it, real.

To me, my looks are secondary. But here’s what I know. A beautiful woman on a man’s arm makes him feel taller. In a world of selfies, people soon forget how you look because they are consumed with how you make them look.

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. ~ Anais Nin

 

©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 Should I Write About?

EB WHITE QUOTE

This question never leaves me. Suspended in my subconscious, I answer it every moment, every day. The events of my life and yours, past, present, and a future I envision, are being stored somewhere in my brain cells. To write, I start with a title, which provides direction. Developing the story resembles opening a wardrobe and sifting through clothes, pulling one and then another from the rack, admiring, discarding, until you find the perfect outfit for the occasion. Most times, my wardrobe is full, so full that choice is the problem.

Another problem arises from the opinion of others. How many times have you asked someone, what do you think I should wear, and they picked an outfit that was just so not you? Or asked the question that makes the people we love dance around the truth—how do I look?

But, input from external sources also comes without me soliciting for it.

“I definitely think you should write about it,” Toyin said quietly.

“Mmhmmm.”

“This is an issue that touches the heart of the nation. Can you just imagine . . .”

She was right. Newspapers and social media channels brimmed with the controversy over section 29 of the Nigerian Constitution and legitimising child marriage. I had skimmed a few articles but had neither researched the issue nor signed the child-not-bride petition. Like her, I was upset, unlike her, I had not yet reached boiling point. A couple more friends called. I felt the steam from their whistling kettles, so I caved in. Between midnight and 2 a.m., I wrote an opinion piece centred on an imaginary conversation with my daughter in 2025. It had many holes that I could not fill.

That Friday, I stumbled on an elegant piece written by a lawyer. Wading through the tide of emotion, he separated fact from fiction and proposed platforms to channel the wave of mass hysteria. Hearsay and conspiracy theories belong in fiction novels, and so, I was relieved that Sunday was still faraway. I would have sent my article to the recycle bin, but for a few sentences I felt I could use in a future post.

I have not let people convince me to use my “voice” to “talk” for them since then. Although I read political articles, I rarely write about politics because I don’t have the resources to carry out investigative journalism that would result in balanced pieces.

When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence.                              – Samuel Butler –

My blog gives me freedom to wear anything I like from my wardrobe. Four criteria guide my choice, inform, entertain, inspire, and provoke thought. Oh, and try to keep it short!

Someone accused me of misleading readers since the tag line of my blog, because life happens to all of us and sometimes we get a second chance, isn’t reflected in the posts I publish. Perhaps he is right, and only I see the redemptive theme woven in my stories or maybe, you see what you want to see depending on the strength of your lenses.

So, what should I write about? Anything that catches my fancy, which I think will add value to you. Including this piece, which on the surface isn’t about redemption, but if you reflect on it, a large chunk focuses on wrestling my voice from peer pressure and speaking a language I understand. Second chances? Maybe, maybe not.

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper.  – Isaac Bashevis Singer –

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

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.