The Magic of Readers

There are no awards for readers, at least, none that I know of, but there are awards for writers. Readers buy the book that wins the writer a prize, and yet without readers, there would be no writers.

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know. ― Alberto Manguel

I am indebted in no small measure to you because if you did not read, I would not write. Yes, I would scribble in my journal, but without the focus, discipline, excellence, and tenacity of the past four years. I would neither research nor stretch myself beyond the world I know. You inspire me to look for the gem in the mundane and tell it as creatively as I know how.

What Lee Hall wrote about the play, I find to be true about writing. “Whether you are a writer or an actor or a stage manager, you are trying to express the complications of life through a shared enterprise . . .  And live performance shares that with an audience in a specific compact: the play is unfinished unless it has an audience, and they are as important as everyone else.”

I view with suspicion, every writer—by writer, I refer to anyone who crafts words intentionally on a platform that another can access—who claims, “I don’t care if anyone reads what I wrote.” The search for significance is a universal pandemic and writing is one way we ask, “Is anyone out there? Can you hear me?”

Sometimes, I have wondered about this business of writing and questioned my destination, but you were there to assuage my vulnerabilities and validate my journey through your comments or private messages. I learnt to count on your consistency as much as you did mine, and I am a better writer because of you.

When I conceive an idea, the meaning is clear to me, but the challenge is to get you to see it. You complement me by filtering my words through your experiences and adding depth to them that I did not recognize. Like the time I wrote a silly story, about two lovers and you showed me that it was about immigration and integration. And you were kind to me. If you thought stories like, Six Is Just A Number, echoed my life, you did not judge me but kept your perspective to yourself.

When members of the London Poetry Society asked Browning to interpret a particularly difficult passage of Sordello, he read it twice, frowned, then admitted, “When I wrote that, God and I knew what I meant, but now God alone knows. ― Ralph Keyes

Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “Readers are not sheep, and not every pen tempts them.” That my words have drawn a few is humbling and empowering, a weight of responsibility I have been proud to own.

The best part of writing at Livelytwist these past few years, was knowing that you were going to read what I wrote and not being disappointed, Sunday after Sunday. I cannot thank you enough for your uncanny generosity.

Thank you.

 

 

 

P.s. I stop blogging on this platform today.

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

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Any Seven Stories From My Life: The End

the-end

 

1.
Reading What You Are by Katelyn Hemmeke inspired me to start the series, Any 7 Stories From My Life. The brevity of her stories, the economy of language used to tell a long long tale, impressed me. In justifying his 2500-word story, which he published on his blog, a friend told me he needed that many words to tell his story, to build tempo and descend to a satisfying finish. Maybe he is right. I saw as I read that he could have used fewer words to tell his story. But what do I know? I have a bias for the short short story.

 

2.
I do not say other people’s no for them. This means I am bold, unapologetic, and convincing when inviting others to contribute to a series on my blog. However, I kept talking myself out of approaching a particular writer because I thought the writer would decline. An anticipated no was bruising my ego and plummeting my confidence. Finally, I contacted the writer, who as it turned out, was delighted to contribute to the series. Two letters could have kept me small. When you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

 

3.
The task before the writers for the series was deceptively simple. Fashion a beginning, a middle, and an ending using about hundred words per story.  Regardless of whether all seven stories have a theme or are sequential, each one must be able to stand alone as a complete story. For all of us, it required practice. Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.

 

4.
Aspiring writers should know this: I am not in and of myself interesting to readers. If I want to seem interesting, work must be done to make myself interesting. I agree. It means I must dig deeper within my experiences to find that kernel of truth that transcends race, sex, religion, and geography. Writing one hundred words about my life may be easy. But do readers want to read it?

 

5.
My friend tells stories that everyone wants to hear. Although the stories are interesting and often times meaningful, they are not extraordinary. The way he tells them is beyond ordinary, a meaningful inflection, a pause, a suspense-filled crescendo, a slow denouement peppered with reflections. Writing is more than a good story. Like theatre, writers should keep the audience glued to their seat until the final curtain call.

 

6.
While the series lasted, I received several unsolicited contributions. I could not honour them all. Although external validation has its limits, it spoke volumes to me that others beyond my circle wanted to participate in what I was doing, that seven short stories could have meaning and impact.

 

7.
To write about your life in a way that touches others is to be vulnerable. The edits and rewrites were not merely about grammar and sentence structure. I pushed every writer to take off their mask so we could see the fear, angst, joy, love, written there. Brene Brown says that what makes you vulnerable, makes you beautiful. I believe that in good writing, this is true.

Thank you Ife, Pemi, Tomi, Samuel, Adaeze, Kemi for sharing seven stories from your lives with us.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

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Saying Yes to Nigeria [1]

nigeria

Each time I am sure that, in returning to Lagos, I have inadvertently wandered into a region of hell, something else emerges to give me hope. A reader, an orchestra, the friendship of some powerful swimmers against the tide.
– Teju Cole

Several years ago when I was in Nigeria, I wrote a collection of articles about my experiences since I had returned and received feedback from my editor.

“Please don’t be like all those sabi sabi oyibo Nigerians who come from abroad and tell us what’s wrong with our country; they won’t stay and solve problems only talk talk talk,” she said and handed my manuscript back to me.

“We know what’s wrong with Nigeria, we live it every day. We are looking for escape in comic relief. If you must tell us, satirize it, and make yourself one of us. Like this story here,” she collected the manuscript from me and leafed through it. “This one is good. This one,” she shook her head, “not good.”

I did not agree with her assessment regarding the articles she claimed were not good. They were reflections based on my experiences. Moreover, I couldn’t infuse humour or irony or both in every article, could I? Maybe I could, I am Nigerian after all.

I read Teju Cole’s book, Everyday is For the Thief, years ago. I recall feeling hectored by chapter after chapter about a Nigeria with little redemptive value. My patriotism reared its head. Could he not find many more events, which were ‘normal’ to write about? Of course, I recognized the narrator’s experiences. Some were mine too, but such truths in black and white were painful to swallow. Then I understood what my editor had been trying to tell me.

African writers in the Diaspora have been accused of writing poverty porn— stories of disease-ridden, war-torn, aid-dependent, poverty-rife, corruption-infested, and patriarchal Africa—to sell their books to audiences in the West. While these aren’t the only narratives of Africa, as far as Nigeria goes, some elements are inescapable; even in choice neighbourhoods, evidence of poverty rises to the nose from the open drains that surround electric fences.

Returning from years of living abroad, your brain functions in constant comparison mode, not only of currency and exchange rates but also of culture, infrastructure, organization, and leadership. Stories are everywhere. But, does a writer have an obligation to be an ambassador of hope if he finds none?

Recently, a friend and I were discussing relocating permanently to Nigeria.

Holding his British and Nigerian passport in each hand, he said, “Nigeria, nah.” Placing his British passport on top his Nigerian one, he said, “I can only do Nigeria in measured doses.”

Without shame, I realize that another five years outside Nigeria has almost made me one of those Nigerians. If I were to review, Everyday is For the Thief, today; I would not be too harsh.

Every time I return to Nigeria, it is not with joy; a certain coercion draws me to her. Nevertheless, I leave better for having stayed. My patriotism is sometimes shaky, needing comfort to support its grid. If I returned with resolve to build a better society, the fuel queues and sweltering heat are melting it away. Perhaps time will help me tell a different story.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Photo credit: http://www.inecnigeria.org/?page_id=373

 

 

Blogging 109 … Word Travel: combating prejudice 

travel

Mark Twain’s quote from his book, The Innocents Abroad, rings true.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

My travels overseas have shown me how little people know about Nigeria and the African continent and revealed my prejudice and penchant for stereotypes. If you never travel and watch only one TV channel, you may conclude that Europe is awash with refugees, America with gun violence, the Middle East with terrorism, and Africa with war, poverty, and disease.

But hopping on a plane, train, or bus and going miles and miles away from home can be expensive. However, we’re not limited by budget if we can read. Literacy and internet access provide cheaper alternatives to confront narrow-mindedness.

Like most of my friends, I remember travelling to faraway places as a girl through the books I read. The writers stimulated our senses as we journeyed with them, so we were familiar not only with the sights, sounds, and smells of places, but also with their peoples and culture. We lived in Mallory Towers and were Famous Five detectives.

What we enjoyed was a kind of unilateral intimacy. But now, the internet has not only made content readily available, but also fostered greater connection. In his book, Platform, Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt says that social media has taken connection to a whole new level. It makes possible bilateral intimacy—engagement. This means our virtual travel experiences are richer since we can confront a writer’s bias as well as ours in conversation. We can also give feedback and receive more insight from the contributions of others.

To me, one of the coolest things about blogging is the opportunity to travel—to journey along with readers to their worlds in the comments they leave behind. Every time I write, even on a subject I’m an authority on, I learn from the myriad perspectives readers bring. Sometimes I pour my jumbled thoughts down just waiting for readers’ comments to make sense of my thoughts.

It’s difficult to approach most topics with an ‘empty’ mind because our minds are usually already ‘full’. But if we’re willing to engage, we’ll see that we don’t have to agree with another viewpoint, sometimes all that’s needed is, “Oh, I see where you’re coming from; I’ve never walked that road before.”

Blogging has made travel—broad, wholesome, charitable (and uncharitable), views of men and things, possible for me.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/sign-places-travel-information-429419/

 

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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

 

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For The Love of Poetry

poetry

 

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.  – Thomas Hardy  

 

My English literature teacher confused me, but my sister taught me to appreciate poetry. She explained symbolism, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, and the difference between metaphor and simile. I got it but I did not get it. I mean what kind of person writes:

Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
Confluence of coarse cloudfleeces—my head sir!—scourbrush
In bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light—until . . .!

Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
As lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
Off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun—

THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
Interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
Beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages 
1

 

Say what? Who in their right mind reads and understands this stuff? And yet, not comprehending, I fell in love with the cadence of the words of poets.

My first recall of writing poetry was in my late teens, when I was angry at the world. I acted out behind demure verses like the girl who leaves home wearing a knee-length skirt only to fold the waistband and transform it to a mini skirt once out of sight. I flirted with nuance, condensing meaning into short lines. Ambiguity meant I could write about everything and nothing. I created word puzzles in which every interpretation fit. Words like:

His silence reverberated with rage from now to eternity

I learnt the economy of language. Still, I wasn’t very good. The story I wanted to tell balked at stanzas and writing in free verse was caged freedom. Prose enabled me to soar. My sentences rambled beyond set margins instead of stopping around the middle of the page and I welcomed breaking them up into paragraphs.

Prose is my husband ‘til death do us part, but my affair with poetry continues. When sentences come to me, they bounce with the cadence of the words of poets.

Timi @livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

 

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. – Wallace Stevens

 

My first poem was a disaster. It is only a disaster now after enough years have passed for me to look back on it. I forgive myself for it because my sister liked it. And since it was the poem I wrote in a blank card meant to wish her success in her final exams, I breathe easy.

“Why would anybody prefer poetry to prose?” my study group mate once asked me.

“Because that’s where murderers go to hide dead bodies.” I answered.

We laughed together for a bit and then he stopped midway, leaving me to see the laughter to the end of a minute.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

I expected him to get it. We were returning from a study group meeting of chemical engineers who had to fulfill a one-credit literature course. As the one who knew a thing or two about poems, I had spent the entire afternoon explaining a brilliant poem about a contract worker in colonial southern Africa.

To the rest of the world, poets go to poetry to hide things. To my cousin, every poet is a fussy genie, hiding plain language in plain sight with difficult words, like magic. Maybe it is true. After my first poem, I spent years playing detective, investigating hidden meanings in all manner of poetry.

Poetry is sensual word craft, as painting is to photography or music is to speech. A word, a sound, a sight, a smell, a breeze, the rain, any of these can trigger a poem. If a poet catches that trigger, the poem will lead them to a place where its gems are found and where everyone else will need to be a detective if they will find the poet again.

I wrote poetry long after I had written much prose. When I write poetry, I do not write with the intention to mystify. To me, writing is as much an attempt to discover a theme as I hope reading the poem will be for my readers. I stack a word after a word, speaking not to the entire poem, but speaking in that instance to the next word, the next line, and maybe eventually to the entire poem.

For example, I fell in love with Somali poetry in 2013. Due to the country’s difficult history, Somali writing is in a phase that births literature with heart. Triggered by romance and tempered by distance, the product of that literary love was poem after poem after poem. One day I shall sit on the shores of Mogadishu. We will forget all that has been. There, we shall talk about love.

 

I think about you, Mogadishu    

You star in my nightmares
You seduce in my temple
You challenge my sleep.

You keep me up till 11:30
Then you wake me at midnight
You should leave in the morning
You should leave in the afternoon
But by evening you’re still here
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You hide many secrets in your hijab
I cannot unravel nor understand
Your smile is brighter, embarrasses the sun
You frown darker than night.
When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

Read the rest of the poem

Dela @ African Soulja
© Delalorm Semabia 2015

 

  1. Soyinka, Wole, To My First White Hairs, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 282.

Photo credit: JovanaP/ https://pixabay.com/en/reading-old-newspapers-dusty-888864/

 

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.

 

 

Time to Read

Blog articles on my WordPress Reader started appearing with an estimated reading time (ERT) tucked at the bottom left-hand corner, about two weeks ago. So, for example, my blog posts looked like this.

 

ERT 1

 


ERT 2

 

Many writers I know, including myself, lean towards verbosity. We are in love with our words. When you are in love, words are harder to kill. A blog post may therefore take hours to complete. As Samuel Jackson notes, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” At first, it was jarring to see work that took me seventy-two hours to produce reduced to a three-minute read, word count notwithstanding. But this is the reality of life online; writers have much to share, readers have little attention to spare. Erik Qualman caps the average person’s attention span at seven seconds, one second less than a goldfish’s eight seconds.

If the first three sentences of an article is followed by: read 1827 more words, only several things make me continue reading—familiarity with the author, curiosity occasioned by a superb opening line, the title, prior knowledge or interest in the subject, or a referral.

Time is like a loaf of bread, there are only so many slices I can cut. My life is characterized by acute time rationing—ever heard that time waits for no man? It is as if the world is spinning faster and faster on its axis and I am getting dizzier and dizzier from information pollution. How long, thus becomes a valid question.

I mean, if completion is my goal, then time is often the decider between a three-course meal and a sandwich-to-go at lunch break or between a 500-page novel and a collection of short stories on a one-hour flight. Would you watch a YouTube video without checking its length?

I find myself liking ERT appended to blog articles. ERT on platforms like Longreads and Medium helps me narrow my plethora of reading options. ERT even trumps word count in my view because it makes mathematics unnecessary i.e. dividing total number of words by average reading speed.

Similarly, in making a case for why we find listicles appealing, Maria Konnikova notes that an article written as a numbered list, “. . . promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—. . . And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”

 

listicles

 

She writes, “The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it. The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again—even ones we hate-read. The social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who made his name studying the connection between emotion and cognition, argued that the positive feeling of completion in and of itself is enough to inform future decisions. Preferences, goes his famous coinage, need no inferences.”

I cannot help but draw parallels, unscientific they may be, between these observations about listicles and the value of knowing ERT upfront. Hampered by time, ERT helps me choose what to read now and what to save for later.

When Slate introduced ERT, this 3.5-minute video mocked Millennials’ propensity to want to know everything now.

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/ppx1hm/slate-s–minu tes-to-read–feature 

Two years on, and I think Slate was on to something. Do you think blog articles should display estimated reading time?

 

©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.