January, In Retrospect

january-time

From my window, the strains of a fight enter my room. I have never enjoyed boxing, the punches too violent for me to stomach. I do not look out of my window, but I know the fight will not take place when I hear, “Do you know who I am? Hold me! Hold me before I slap this idiot! I say do you know who I am?” The ruckus dies shortly, and I smile. They say the time to quit is before you wish you had.

I have heard it said that time is faster in retrospect than in the present. Not for me, not in January. My January ran like a cheetah in the Serengeti, fast and focused. Projects that involved what I love, making sense of words, made me think of quitting something else I enjoy, making sense of words—blogging. As my days turned to nights, and nights, days, I thought I would surely arrive Sunday with empty hands, no blog post to show. January seemed like a good time to quit.

In Lagos, there is a choreography to a fight you do not want, your true intent masked by halting forward motion. The aggressive advance to your opponent’s eyeballs, the flexing of arms, legs too; and most importantly, the words that shrivel your opponent’s courage and makes him, and you back down; words, more effective than punches.

I had promised myself that in January, I would do my best writing. The promise, a noble thing, naively made at the cusp of a new year, looked undoable just a few days into the year. Work overwhelmed me. I had put my heart and soul into writing Love is a Beautiful Thing, for which, I received praise, and I thought, if I quit now, I will be quitting while I am still ahead.

Few people want to brawl on the street, tearing shirtsleeves and rolling in the ground, mixing sweat with dust and grass. Or else, why throw words in the air, heightening tension, for a boxing match that is not pay-per-view? Why not just fight? 

I fantasized about quitting blogging last year. I had not anticipated the upheaval that moving would bring to my routine and the loss of my support group—people like me, who wow over language and the chemistry of words. But then, ideas would come. Starting a series or surprising myself with beautiful prose would mesmerize and energize me, reminding me that writing is my core. In January, my notes—observations about people and places hastily scribbled on my phone—rescued me. From them, I crafted the stories you read.

I realize now that the fight that did not take place had only one voice. Why was the other man silent? Is that what cowards do to end a fight? What if the crowd had not mediated with, e don do, abeg, e don do? Maybe he was sizing up the aggressor to determine the cost of peace. I should have looked out of my window.

I saw a quote that said: if you get tired rest, don’t quit. January was busy; a blessing in an economy where some people can only siddon look. Someone remarked after reading one of my blog posts that writers lead the most interesting lives. We do not. We have just learned to make sense of words. I am glad I did not quit. Come quick, February.

———————————-

E don do, abeg, e don do – an appeal to stop
Siddon look –  do nothing, in this context, because of the recession

———————————

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-past-watches-timepiece-1897986/

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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

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tee-cup-drink-tableware-hot-663095/

 

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Three Years On

three

The first time I met Lanre, I told him about my blog. He says it must be my passion, the subject of my blog snakes into every conversation. He wonders, as others do, why I do not monetize my blog. I sigh. As if money is everything; as if money isn’t everything.

I asked a friend to write an article for my blog. His article although well-written lacked that something I look for before I publish a post, but he did not think so, he being an accomplished writer. We reasoned back and forth, threatening our friendship, as when friends mistakenly become lovers, solid lines become indistinct; the ease of communication replaced by silent awkwardness.

It should have been easy to reject a submission that did not meet my criteria except that doing so felt like losing a friend. In the end, I chose my blog and after weeks of reaching out won a version of my friend back. The subject of writing for my blog is taboo. We do not speak of it. Maybe one day we will.

If I did not monetize my blog, I at least learnt what it means to be human. This is what it means to write a blog every Sunday for three years—you become aware of your strengths and limitations; how far you will go for what you believe in.

Three years ago, Maurice, Mayura, and I waited at Holendrecht Station for the metro, cold air whipping through our hair and slapping our coats while trains sped by. I recited a list of possible blog names. When Mayura said Livelytwist reminded her of lemons, my sign-off was born: Take lemons, make life! I can recount incidents like this for every stage of the life of my blog; the people whose input helped me along the way.

Friends sometimes ask about the number of stories I’ve written ostensibly to check if I have a collection large enough for a book. Some days I want to write a book. Some days I do not. Three years on, the relationships, I have forged because of my writing matter more. Each article I’ve published has a behind-the-scenes story—where I was, my state of mind at the time, and who helped make it happen.

I have evolved since my tentative beginning in April 2013. The stories I did not write the way I had wanted to tell me so. You see, when you keep friends up until 1 a.m., seeking their opinions, it seems unfair to discard their recommendations at 2 a.m., when you realize your story no longer resembles you.

I’ve been tempted to revisit the stories, you know, to remove this, and to add that, to make them fully my own. But I leave them as they are, wincing every time I read through, as reminders of a time when although I knew what I wanted I did not have sufficient courage to articulate and execute. I leave the stories on my blog to remind me how people-pleasing distorts what I sound like.

Writing consistently for three years has made me a better writer; I am more skillful with my pen. But skills do not keep you warm, people do. At the heart of every story on this blog is a person or group of people who believed in me. None more so than you who read this blog Sunday after Sunday; you who I fight for with my pen, jeopardizing friendships. If I make it to a fourth year, it will be because of you.

Thank you!

© Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

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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

 

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.

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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.

Two Years On

Two

My blog is one way by which I measure time. April marks two years since I began blogging. The earth spins on its axis as it revolves round the sun. The moon pulls the oceans and lets them go. If I did not write, the earth, sun, and moon, would not have stopped for me and I cannot imagine what else could have filled my days so.

Self-discipline is the hallmark of my journey. It is the ability to make yourself do what must be done.

When I’m in the zone, I could write forever. Ideas ooze from me and words tumble out faster than I can type them—I abandon current thought and scroll down the page to type perfect sentences and beautiful dialogue, falling from heaven like gold dust.

Many times, I’m out of sorts. Experiences burn me and disappointment visits nearly every day. My head hurts and my emotions are pink like cut salmon. I sing, tired oh so tired, and I’m too tired to compose a new song. I question which direction to take my blog or if I should quit. And most of all, I don’t feel like writing. Not writer’s block, but an insidious lethargy, which is akin to living with a low-grade fever.

I’m not unique in this regard. This is how we sometimes feel about our jobs and responsibilities. When did the things we love become a prison that we long to escape? But we show up at our jobs and dance on the stage of our lives anyway.

 

One Friday evening I’m moaning about how I don’t feel like writing.

My friend nods in understanding, “No, you don’t have to, it’s your blog. Not like anyone is paying you to. I’m sure people would understand.”

She is right. However, I can’t miss a Sunday post. Maybe it’s because growing up, my mum pushed me to outdo myself. Or it’s the result of my school principal repeating at assembly, “What is worth doing is worth doing well.”

“Yeah, but I have to,” I say.

 

So, that night, I discipline myself to write about an incident involving a friend and then launch into a broader conversation about what we value as a society. Disciplining myself to write means that I turn down many invitations, adjust my sleeping habits, watch less soaps, and read more stuff.

I muster all my skills and still feel as though the article could be better. Bloodshot eyes and new streaks of grey; five hours later, I know I have nothing more to give.

Eventually the article resonates with readers as reflected in the comments and shares.  In a sense, this is the reward of diligence—pushing past inner and outer turmoil and insisting on excellence from myself. The discipline of writing weekly provides momentum for those times when I’m flat. Still, I shake my head. I know this, and in fact all I’ve achieved, isn’t my doing. A wise man said:

The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant
or favour to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

If this is my time, then my blog has been my chance. And self-discipline would mean nothing if I didn’t have readers like you encouraging me week after week.

Thank you!

 

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/digits-pay-123-1-2-3-series-705666/

 

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.