Thursday, 27 December 2012

rmj on Since My Divorce

Mandy Walker of the Since My Divorce website collects divorce stories and somehow pulls out nuggets of wisdom from these stories that we can all learn something from. She did an interview with me at the end of October to learn more about my own divorce story. It was an enjoyable, hour-long interview. At the time, she planned to feature pieces of this interview on her website in February next year, but I learned over Christmas that she had decided to do so this week instead. Strangely, even though I know we had a really great conversation, I can now only remember bits and pieces of exactly what we talked about. All the more reason why I’ll be checking in to see what it was we discussed and what she managed to pull out from whatever was said.

I do remember she ended the interview with a warning that when her interviewees read their individual stories as told by someone else, they're always a bit taken aback by the sound of their 'voice.' What she meant was that when her interviewees read about themselves or about what they've said, they usually feel it sounds nothing like them at all. I have no idea what I'll think. I'll just have to wait and see.

She typically shares portions of the interviews in a series of about 3 different blog posts or so. If you’d like to check in, too, you may do so at The first rmj-related blog post, though, can be accessed right here:

Happy Holidays

Saturday, 22 December 2012

If You Were Mine

No, no, no – not what you’re thinking (let’s get our minds outta the gutter, people!!).  

What I really meant was ‘If you were Myne.’ If you were Myne Whitman and you had an amazing website devoted to the convergences and collisions between romance and life, which rmj blog post would you choose to feature on your website?


And once you do find out, let me know: What d’you think of her choice? Same thing you would've chosen? Or would you have chosen something different? How come?

Happy reading (or re-reading).

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Benefits of Regret

I should’ve played basketball when I was ten.

Not attempting to do so is one of my lingering regrets, even though I realize that holding on to this sentiment thirty years later makes little sense. It’s just that I can’t count the number of times I was asked back then if I played basketball for my secondary school, with everyone that asked just assuming that I did.

I was tall and lanky and looked like I played a sport. I also had a history of being a die-hard tomboy who played soccer with my brothers and their friends just as roughly as they did. When it came to baseball, I was a ‘feared’ pitcher as the only girl on our informal basketball teams. My brother had groomed me well, teaching me how to pitch a deadly curveball, corkscrew, and fastball.

Then I spent my tenth year of life at a girls-only, Catholic secondary school and moved on to a mixed boarding school the year after that. Both schooling experiences cured me of my tomboyishness. I learned what it meant to be ‘a girl’ at one, and these lessons were reinforced at the other where girls and boys largely lived in two separate worlds within the same school compound.

With the realization that I was ‘a girl’ and an enhanced understanding of what this meant, my natural shyness grew exponentially and, for the first time, I became shy about participating in sports. Painfully shy. And not just about sports, but about pretty much everything else, too. This is not a complaint about the schools I went to, though (I look back and I’m convinced they were both great schools at that time). It’s merely an observation.

I still wish I had played basketball, though, because I really did want to at the time, and I believe I would’ve been good at it. Plus, playing a sport comes with many benefits that I would’ve been happy to carry into my old age.

One of the reasons why I hold on to the memory of this regret is because it reminds me to push myself. I have this fear of not living up to my potential, of not making a difference. Of ending up like the proverbial wicked servant who, instead of putting the ‘little’ he had to use, buried it out of fear and low self-esteem.

Over the years, God has REALLY helped me with my crippling shyness. I’ve come a long, long way, but I have by no means overcome it. I have done many things afraid, with my stomach churning, trembling on the inside, doubting myself, unsure and far too worried about how I would be received.

My work has been an excellent training ground for managing this annoying trait of mine. Its very nature demands that I stretch and step into the unfamiliar all the time, that I multi-task and juggle far more than I think is humanly possible. It has created a situation where I have so little time to focus on the fact that I’m terribly shy. I’m forever meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth, and once I’m done with one task, it’s time to get up there and speak (for instance), and as the waves of shyness hit me and try to bowl me over, it’s too late. I’m up there already and I have to say what I came to say within a limited amount of time and move on to the next thing.

I consider it as one of my greatest achievements that few people I meet today believe me when I say I really struggle with this. They’re shocked to learn this and I’m shocked that they’re shocked. It proves to me just how much I’ve worked on ignoring it and just how much I’ve been helped.

When I finally decided to take the plunge and contact a publisher, I did it afraid.

For my 40th birthday, among the presents I got were two copies of the same book (from different people) – a book by a Nigerian author based in the UK who published her novel (which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize) in East Africa. When I started examining different books to figure out which publishers would be best for my sort of writing, my eyes were drawn to these two birthday presents. I looked at the back of the books and wondered: Why would a Nigerian woman based in the UK choose to publish her book all the way out here?

I looked up the address of the publisher online and found out they were practically in my neighborhood. This was really strange. I could literally get in my car and be there in 10 minutes or less. Not wanting to deal with a possible rejection letter, I called instead. The people I needed to speak to were out of the office, so I was asked to send an email. I sent a link to the blog on October 4th and waited. And waited. I waited impatiently for a couple of weeks before finally getting a nice (if non-commital) response, asking that we set up a time to meet. That meant more waiting because of our busy schedules and because I suddenly had all these trips to make. And then I didn’t hear from them for a while. We had agreed to set up a meeting, but hadn’t actually selected any dates.

Should I wait for them to follow up on this? I wondered.

I swallowed my fear of putting myself out there and of ‘bothering’ people and contacted them again, letting them know my availability. We set a date, but then there was some hitch that required our postponing the meeting. Needless to say, I was on edge the whole time.

I finally met with the publisher on November 20th. We had an amazing, hour-long conversation which easily could’ve gone on longer if not that we both had to get back to work. He was fine with my using a pseudonym and asked me what name I had in mind, with his pen ready to write it down.

‘Nnenna Ndioma,’ I said.

‘Nena Ndioma,’ he said, trying it out for himself. And he proceeded to write it down (as ‘Nena,’ I later discovered). I explained the meaning of each name to him. ‘Ndi oma’ means 'good people.'  ‘Nnenna,’ on the other hand, literally means ‘father’s mother.’ It’s a common name among the Igbo, who traditionally believe in reincarnation, and who often feel honored that their mother, for instance, has come back into the world as their child. My father firmly believed that I was his mother and I always came up with counter arguments demonstrating why I couldn’t possibly be. He chose not to give me a name reflecting his belief, but when a reader on the blog referred to me as ‘Nne Nna,’ it occurred to me that this was actually the perfect pen name.

‘That’s the perfect name, actually,’ the publisher said pensively, after I told him what it meant.

‘How d’you mean?’

‘Well, Nena [he said, mispronouncing it again] in Kiswahili means Talk or Speak it out. And from your blog, I can see that this is essentially what you’re trying to do. And Ndioma [mispronounced, too] could easily be a name anywhere in East and Southern Africa.’

He pronounced ‘Nnenna Ndioma’ as one would pronounce it if speaking Kiswahili (a language widely spoken in East Africa). Delicately. It gave the name a nice ring, but totally messed up the meaning. In Igbo, it is pronounced with much more emphasis on the syllables and with a certain kind of deep tonality that’s hard to describe – you just have to hear it.

But I was extremely pleased with the name, however it was pronounced. I was even more convinced that this was the perfect pseudonym for me. I was totally enamoured with the idea that this Nigerian name could pass for an East African one and I saw it as a way of paying tribute to my father, but at the same time, of paying tribute to a region that has been so good to me professionally. I packed up and moved to East Africa 8 years ago and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. This region has given me an extremely rewarding career, and now it has given me another great opportunity.

I am grateful for it all – even for the shyness. Yes, it makes me ‘over-think’ things unnecessarily (really exhausting, trust me), and although I don’t recommend analyzing things to death the way I tend to, it does seem to leave someone like me better prepared to confront whatever I need to.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Guest Post: The Rest of the Way

I wish I could write like her. 

I wish I could be as honest and as raw and as unpretentious in my writing as she is.

But at the same time, I am happy that I don't (write like her, that is) – that nobody does, really.  Because this way, I (and the world at large) gain a fresh new voice, yet another story-teller – sharing her life, making it ours, without being pushy or judgmental. 

Maybe it is your story, too – or maybe just snippets of it. It really doesn't matter. Perhaps you disagree with her on some things, or you think, "Oh my gosh, she got it so right!" The point is, her writing inspires dialogue and perspective, lots of thought and, sometimes, much needed action in our lives.

This is her journey, her story, and while she certainly never set out to be the “the voice” or poster child for divorced, African, Christian women, she is undoubtedly one of them – authentic and well worthy of being an advocate, in my opinion.  And indeed, why not? I think we can all agree that her writing has filled a niche that had, prior to, never been addressed in the blogosphere or publishing world.

I am proud to present to you the writing world's newest author-to-be. 

Long overdue, since she taught me everything I know about writing (she was nine and I was six). 

Yes, she is my sister.

And mentor. And biggest cheerleader and inspiration. And soon to be best-selling author (I don't have a crystal ball, but it is easy to call this one): rmj.

Yes, rmj just secured a book contract with a publisher to go “from blog to book.”

Although some of you may now realize who she is, she has chosen not to publicize her identity and will publish under the pen name of ‘Nena Ndioma.’  I know you will love her as those of us who know her do.

Let's enjoy the rest of her journey.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Romance Meets Life

If you don't know who Myne Whitman is, you really should.

She is running a series of rmj blog posts on her really engaging website this month. Here's the first one to appear: 

I'm not sure which blog posts she'll choose to feature from here on out, but I'll be checking in periodically to keep track. It's always interesting to me to see which ones different people gravitate towards.

I use the pseudonym 'Nena Ndioma.' I'll explain the significance of this name in an upcoming post this weekend.

TGIF (almost)!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Losin’ my religion

It was supposed to be just another Sunday today. Or so I thought.

There was nothing particularly ‘spiritual’ about today. The weekend was entirely too short (as usual). I was almost running late for the workers’ service (story of my life). I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by my schedule for the day and slightly disorganized (like I said, nothing unusual). We still don’t have copies of the new Sunday School manual, so I had no idea what I was going to be teaching the young adults this morning. I meant to wake up early to plan the lesson for my teenage class, but of course I forgot to set my alarm. It was eleven minutes past 7 am and I needed to get to church by 8. I was just about to dash into the shower when I had this idea to check the church’s Sunday roster. I never check the church’s Sunday roster on SUNDAY. I mean, I may get in over my head sometimes, but I’m not that disorganized! I tend to check it on a Wednesday about once a month to make sure I don’t have any surprise responsibilities.

Well, this morning, I checked it, and guess whose name was on the schedule for September 30th to lead prayer during the workers’ service? I kid you not. There, as clear as the blue sky, was MY NAME on the roster.

I blinked and wondered what date it was on Friday. Friday was the 28th. That meant today, Sunday, was the 30th. How was this possible? The last time I checked the roster I was so sure I didn’t have to do anything else until October.

I wasn’t in the mood to lead prayer today. I hadn’t taken the time to prepare during the week as I normally would have, and it had been a challenging week. I felt depleted and, frankly, didn’t feel like I had anything left to pour into anybody else. I toyed with the idea of asking a known prayer warrior in my church to swap with me. Why do the church a disservice by arriving unprepared?

As I stood in the deliciously hot shower with my eyes closed, it occurred to me that I couldn’t be the only one that woke up and didn’t really feel like going to church today. I couldn’t be the only one that felt like I just didn’t have anything more to give. Not for today, at least. And so I decided to just go with the flow. Yes, I’m not prepared, but if anyone else felt like me today, then whatever I had to say would be for them. I was just going to have to ‘wing it.’

I got to church at 8:00 am on the dot. Not a second to even try to rustle up some ‘powerful’, last-minute prayer points. As I walked into the sanctuary, the music hit me. A young person (our worship leader) was busy playing the key board and singing a worship song to the Lord with all his heart, waiting for others to arrive. Gosh, I wish I could remember the songs he sang – they were so powerful.

I picked up a microphone and began to sing along with him as church members began to trickle in. I sang along with the worship leader and right now I can’t remember any of the songs! What I cannot forget, though, is how God met me there, standing at the altar, ‘unprepared,’ without my list of anointed prayer points, and without carefully selected scriptures to back them up, for good measure.

We took no more than three prayer points – all revolving around ourselves as ‘workers’ in the church. ‘The thing about workers,’ I said, ‘is that we tend to forget we’re sheep, too. We spend all our time pouring into other people, and we forget we need to be filled, too. And we still show up in church, and on time, too. We have to – we’re workers, after all. How we feel isn’t supposed to matter because we’re supposedly mature enough to handle things on our own. But guess what? When you’re running on empty, you’re no good to anybody …’

And so we prayed for God to fill us again, to strengthen us again, to revive us again, to meet us at the point of our needs.

I began to cry and could barely pray coherently (actually, I really started crying when I started singing). What was wrong with me? I had never cried in front of my church members. Sure, if I were particularly touched by a song or a message, I would privately blink away tears – but to stand in front of the whole church practically bawling for no particular reason … this made absolutely no sense.

My mind wandered back to the previous day to try and figure out if anything had happened to affect me – maybe this was some sort of delayed reaction.

It had actually been a good Saturday. I did absolutely no work, even though I’d brought work home with me. I had already decided not to write a blog post this weekend. I don’t want the blog posts to start feeling like work deadlines. I want to ensure that the blog remains something that relaxes me, rather than stresses me out, so I thought I’d just take a break and not think about it. I started watching a documentary and then dozed off for about twenty minutes or so. I woke up really energized. So energized that I baked two pans of brownies, walked around the corner armed with one of them to visit a good friend of mine, sat and talked and laughed with her for an hour, walked back home, and cooked up a mini-storm: a huge pot of turkey vegetable soup, a huge tray of meatloaf, and some ‘barbecued’ fish (Nigieran style). Like I said, a really good day. Nothing to set me off at all.

At the end of the prayer session, I told them I had one more thing to say. I was still crying – I mean really crying – and making everyone else get all emotional (I think they were really just more in shock than anything else). I had totally ruined my make-up – my Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner that I can’t live without.

‘I just want to thank God for brokenness,’ I said.

This statement met with a round of thunderous applause.

‘Why are they clapping?’ I wondered. Maybe they were just embarrassed. Or, on second thought, maybe they were just really happy for me. Getting to the place of brokenness can be hard, after all.

‘I have no idea why I’m crying right now. But I do want to say that I’m glad I can be vulnerable here, in front of all of you. I don’t want to come to church each Sunday like a piece of wood and not be moved. I want to come to church and be touched, and be changed. I don’t want to come here to waste my time, and you shouldn’t, either. I’m crying, but it’s okay. This is the way it’s supposed to be. Let God do whatever He wants to do in me and in you.’

Needless to say, everyone got more than they bargained for this morning. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t teach my youth class – someone else had to. I sat in my car for an hour until I’d composed myself.

I’m losing it, folks, I’m telling you – I’m absolutely losing it. But in a good way.

To God be the glory. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

On re-marriage

I often get asked if I will ever get married again. My answer to this question is that I have no idea. Sometimes I think there’s a 50-50 chance that this could happen, and other times, I think the chances are zero.

I do not know if I can truly trust again, or if I even want to, knowing what can happen. Why would I want to put myself in a position to potentially go through something like this a second time? And this saddens me because I always prided myself as being ‘marriage/wife material.’ It saddens me that the experiences leading up to my divorce seem to have radically altered my very essence. This means that I’m suddenly no longer the same person anymore and I have to get to know who this new person is for myself before I even consider sharing this person with anyone else. I really liked who I used to be. Or at least my personal notion of who I was back then. I suppose I could get to like who I am now much better (since she’s much smarter) but I don’t know her well enough yet.

When I was married, marriage, for me, was largely about giving. I am not sure that I want to give that much ever again, or to make any one person so central to my very existence. Having done it before, I now find the idea absolutely terrifying.

I would also have to learn how to demand and how to receive, and these would be new skills for me. I’m not sure that this ‘old dog’ (terribly inappropriate term, I know) wants to learn ‘new tricks’ at this age.

To further complicate matters, I’m an ‘all or nothing’ sort of person. (Remember Daouda Dieng from So Long a Letter? I loved that guy! "All or nothing.") I’m beginning to think that this a rather extreme way to be. Perhaps I need to exist within more of a happy medium between the two (i.e., ‘all’ or ‘nothing’). But how do you switch from being an idealist all your life to being a cynic all of the sudden? This, too, would be a brand new skill that I’m not sure I really want to acquire.

And who wants to go through the trouble of having to blend a family (which would be a likely reality, getting re-married at this stage in life)? Or of not knowing whether someone will love my children, or whether my children would like them? Or whether their children would like me – or whether I would like them? Goodness! Far too much trouble.

The good thing is that (surprisingly, wondrously) my primary considerations here have nothing to do with the real possibility of being alone for a VERY long time (a very valid fear for many women). My primary considerations are about whether re-marriage would be a good deal for me and my children. (I’m REALLY pleased that I’ve grown up at least somewhat.)

So there you have it. I have no idea. I’m open to being surprised. One day at a time. 

Part III: Do we dare judge?

I think that, for people who will one day judge angels, Christians need a lot more practice in carrying out judgments.

I don’t think the term ‘judge’ always has to be seen as a dirty word. The Bible encourages us – commands us, really – to judge ourselves. To do continuous self-assessments so that others don’t have to. It also encourages us to ‘judge’ (in my mind, meaning ‘assess’ or ‘appraise’) each other, when necessary, within the household of faith.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (I Cor 5:12)

Those that profess Christianity are definitely held to a higher standard.

But judgment has a unique and important purpose: to make the one being assessed better. This should be the envisioned goal. Not to make ourselves feel better, or to carry out a vendetta, or to subconsciously protect some part of ourselves.

The problem with most judgments (when we pronounce them) is that they tend to be more about us and the instant gratification that can be derived from giving our opinion about the person being judged.

Do we dare judge?

I think things have been set up so that we have no choice but to judge sometimes, and these periodic judgments are essential. When done properly, it is the responsible thing to do – to judge ourselves with the goal of self-improvement, and to judge others with the goal of their improvement in mind, too. To do so properly, though, a full set of information is required – and that’s the tricky part.

I hate appraisals at work. They come around every year, this time of the year at my office. I hate appraising others and I hate being appraised even more. I hate being ‘judged.’ But it’s so necessary. I have to admit that the knowledge that I will be appraised helps me focus on what’s important and makes me work better. And the fact that the appraisal process is actually pretty fair (and that all the information necessary to finalize the appraisal is thoroughly utilized) always makes me determined to do better next year. Rather than break my spirit, it makes me expect more of myself, want more for myself.

I think that’s what ‘judgment’ should look like.

Part II: Where is my anger (or: Am I for real?)?

For the life of me, I can’t find my Stacy Morrison book entitled Falling apart in one piece: Oneoptimist’s journey through the hell of divorce. She tells the story of how, in frustration one day, her sister-in-law asked her where her anger was. How come she was anything but totally outraged by the fact that her husband woke up one day, and, for no clear reason under the sun, decided he was ‘done.’ Some parts of the comment from the anonymous visitor in Part I make me feel almost as if I’m being asked the same question.

Am I for real?

Ha ha ha – I really did have to laugh at that question!! I certainly hope I am!

I’m trying to ‘get in touch with’ my anger as I write this – just so I have something to write here.

Where is my anger hiding?

Among the gamut of emotions I have gone through over the last few years, anger has never seemed to make it to the top five. I don’t have a complete sense of why, but I realize that its absence has the effect of making me appear almost ‘angelic’ (this anonymous visitor is not the first to use the term, frankly), when in reality, I’m anything but.

In sifting through my memories and cracking my brain, I can only remember one scene in which I starred as the angry lead.

I hadn’t had much to say in months. And then, I had to go home for a memorial event in honor of my father. After that, I spent the next three days or so travelling from city to city at a frenetic pace, trying to ensure I saw my mother-in-law and other in-laws before I left the country again. It has just occurred to me that we were still legally married at this time, although it didn’t feel like it. He and his brothers made sure they personally chauffeured me around from State to State (bless their hearts).

Maybe it was the combination of being on the road and in a different city every day, and the emotional stress of attending this memorial event. On my last day, I just flipped and went all ‘mental’ and ‘gangsta’ on everybody. I felt seriously provoked by his attempt to cover up his real feelings with deceit and a show of cockiness.

Do you think this is a joke? I yelled, not caring who heard. Do you mean she hasn’t told you she’s HIV-positive? You’d better go get yourself tested and put this charade aside!

He and his brother stared back at me – his brother, in utter shock, and him … well, I couldn’t read his expression clearly.

You know what? I continued, wanting badly to hit below the belt. My father wasn’t a perfect man. So why d’you think everybody is so torn up by his death? Why do you think people travelled from far and near after all this time to honor him? I’ll tell you why: he wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a principled man. He was an honest man, I spat at him while he walked out in annoyance for a few seconds. As he walked back in, I turned to his brother and said pointedly in a dangerously quiet tone: The last time I slept with your brother was in February 2008. I will NEVER sleep with your brother again.

My poor brother-in-law stood in the middle of the room staring helplessly at me, not sure whether to be embarrassed, sympathetic, or upset. None of my in-laws had ever heard so much as a peep out of me before, and they didn’t know what to make of this ugly, livid creature. They were used to a woman that smiled and laughed and joked all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever talked as much in my life as I talked that day. I needed to get it all out and I did just that.

My sister-in-law – an extremely quiet, discreet woman – later leaned next to me for a quick moment and said under her breath: Don’t sleep with him again O. The weight of her words didn’t strike me until I was gone. She saw him more than I did, so she knew what she meant. I took her advice seriously.

Long story short: have I had an angry moment or two? Absolutely. Could I be more outraged over the turn of events? Absolutely.

And if I’m not, then there are several good reasons why.

First, I was in a weak, sick, dysfunctional marriage, and so I was more inclined to embrace the chance to live healthier – even if it meant I would no longer be married. Why be perpetually angry over what could very well turn out to be a new lease on life?

Second, I honestly feel I have so much to be grateful for that living in anger really seems pointless. I’m writing this on a plane and, as I usually do on airplanes, I’ve spent some time watching a movie. The first time I watched Kramer vs. Kramer, I was seven years old and I watched it with my father. All these years later, it remains a timeless classic – as poignant now as it was then. It reminded me of the fact that I got a divorce with absolutely no custody battle. Now, if that’s not something to rejoice over, then I don’t know what is. I walked away with my everyday life intact and with my children to share it with me.

I don’t receive spousal support, but I don’t have to pay any, either. Not every woman in my position is this fortunate. I don’t get spousal/child support and I did not ask for any. I didn’t want a big fight; I just wanted to be able to move on peacefully. I’m also convinced that no matter what is or isn’t written down on paper, a real father will be concerned about and want to contribute toward his children’s upkeep. And at some point, I had to accept reality: my children’s father was either ‘real’ or not, and whichever he was, my children would not suffer. It would be nice to have this sort of support for my children, but I do not need it. My life and the children’s lives have not changed without it, and that is a super-duper blessing, if you ask me.

I don’t have to rearrange my children’s lives, nor mine, in any significant way because their father doesn’t live here. We are all spared the agony of having to shuttle the children back and forth between two homes.  Another reason not to be angry.

I would definitely have been devastated had I been a stay-at-home mom (which I was once) when all of this happened. I’m thankful that it happened at a point in my life when I could make a particular decision because I wanted to, rather than being compelled to make a different decision for financial reasons. Few women are that fortunate. I could go on and on and on ... but you get my drift.

Third: because this blog focuses on divorce, it is hard for an outsider looking in to have a sense of the good side of my former spouse. As an insider, I’m privy to the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ aspects of this failed union, but also to the ‘good.’ In earlier years, the positive aspects of my ex-husband’s character actually convinced me that I was ‘marrying up.’ It’s unfortunate that the ‘good’ wasn’t enough to overwhelm the other aspects. The stark contrast between what was then and what is now persuades me that something is not quite ‘right.’ But whatever that ‘something’ is, I finally had to accept that as much as I once wanted to and tried to, it was not my job to remedy it. It was his.

Fourth and finally: If I’m going to spend my life angry at him, then I necessarily have to spend my life angry at myself, too. Did he do a lot of things that I’d like to strangle him for? Sure. But out of all the people in the world, out of all of my suitors, I chose him. To be fair, I should also be angry at myself for not making a different choice, for not being wise enough, for not putting myself in a position to be wiser, etc., etc., etc.

The problem is that I don’t have the wherewithal to beat myself up forever ... and I’m certainly not going to spend that amount of energy doing this to someone else. 

Part I: Did I marry beneath myself?

There’s something really gratifying about having people respond to something you’ve blogged about. This is one of the reasons why bloggers blog, I think: to (hopefully) inspire a shared conversation around issues that are particularly meaningful to the blogger concerned.

An interesting dynamic when it comes to blogging is that bloggers aren’t always privy to all the conversations that their blog posts inspire.

Long before I really ‘got’ what a blog was, I was a daily reader of a particular blog that simply amazed me. The blogger is the mother of two small children, in an interracial marriage. Her son is autistic while her daughter is not, and her husband just happens to be a recovering sex addict. I came across her blog three years ago or so, during one of my internet searches as I tried to make meaning of my own crazy life. I went back to that blog again and again, stunned by how this blogger managed to keep it together.

As much as I admired and still admire the blog, I never left a comment. I was very content to be a regular lurker – and yet, I talked about the blog all the time to whoever cared to listen. And so, I can relate to the comment below from an anonymous reader. Someone forwarded it to me on behalf of this reader, leaving it up to me to decide whether to post it or not in response to ‘The help’ blog post.

I read it, thought about it for some days, and then decided to write several posts around it, seeing as it brings a number of important issues to the fore. Plus, I’m guessing this comment speaks for a lot of lurkers who, for various reasons, may just have decided not to say anything yet. Lastly, I just want this anonymous visitor to know that her comment is important to me and appreciated, and I wanted to thank her for inspiring a three-part post:

If this ain't something, what is? Am so entangled emotionally with this blog I cannot even bear to leave a comment. I read each post with knots in my stomach not sure what next to expect. SMH. Na wa should sum up how I feel. Bless the helps and may God save that husband-character from rotting in hell. I daresay this babe must have married beneath her in the name of christianity. The man sounds to me like "vermin". Who is to blame her? Not when we've all sometimes acted like we've been brain washed. I am talking to us nigerian Christians, yours truly inclusive. This scum of a man deserves to be beaten into a pulp for putting this angel through all this. "But who are you to judge?, I hear the proponents of "judge not" say. mscheeew. I refrain from verbally abusing this scum of a man lest I join the twerp in hell. He is a real "unam ikot". P.S  … Copy and paste this comment in the blog for me please. I fear that if I leave this comment on that blog, the blogger would throw me off her blog. She sounds too nice and may probably give me a sermon about loving my enemies one of which is this man. Reading about just how much she has forgiven makes me feel so unclean besides such saintliness. No offence meant but "Is she for real?"

I observed with fascination as ‘The help’ rose, literally overnight, to become one of the most popular blog posts. A bit suspiciously, I wondered exactly what the appeal was. Was it that the writing was any better than that of the other posts (I completely doubted this)? Was it that the ‘gist’ was just unusually ‘juicy’? Was it that I have become such a pro at painting myself as the ‘victim’? Or did it strike a chord simply because the story represented the stereotypical nightmare of the African woman – the impending one that she just ‘knows’ is coming sooner or later – and so it leaves many readers with a sense of relief that this horrible fate has so far not befallen them?

Whatever the answer to these questions, the comment from the anonymous visitor is loaded with issues that I thought I would divvy up into three separate questions:

  1. Did I marry beneath myself?
  2. Where is my anger?
  3. Do we dare judge?

I don’t think there’s a simple ‘yes/no’ answer to the first question. In my mind, it only leads to a series of other questions.

When we talk about a person marrying beneath him/herself, what are we really referring to? Are we referring primarily to one’s own money or wealth, the money or wealth of one’s parents, the social ‘class’ of one’s family, one’s level of education, one’s character … or all of the above?

My father would’ve given a blunt answer to this question (perhaps the sort of answer that many are hoping for). As far as he was concerned, I had selected a life partner who was beneath me, and he made this clear before the marriage. He wasn’t the only one that thought so.

Back then, I was deeply intrigued by this concept and asked my father to elaborate. He didn’t articulate what he meant beyond saying that my parents were highly educated and his were non-literate, and so, in a sense, I was choosing to ‘start all over’ – losing the gains my parents had worked hard to make. I didn’t get it then and (to tell the truth), I still don’t really get it now. ‘It’ (whatever it is) would’ve been crystal clear to me if I were marrying an uneducated person, while being educated myself. But this wasn’t the case. The parents of the person I married may not have been to school, but they produced remarkably high-achieving children whose accomplishments rival those of my own parents' children.

I guess I’m just of the opinion that, no matter whom your parents were or are, you still have to prove yourself and make your own name in your own generation. Having the ‘right’ set of parents may or may not help you in this regard. Coming from the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks may or may not end up being the motivator that propels one to unprecedented heights.

A young person I know recently told me that she could never marry a ‘poor’ man, being from a relatively well-off family herself. Her point was that being raised ‘poor’ establishes a certain kind of psyche that the person concerned cannot escape from, even if they end up striking it rich on their own, or rising to a higher social ‘class’ – and she could foresee this as causing unnecessary problems in marriage. I admired and applauded her for doing her own thoughtful analysis on this issue at such a young age. I wish I’d been that ‘street smart’ in my early twenties. While I appreciate where she’s coming from, I also know that strange mind-sets aren’t the preserve of the ‘poor.’ If the ‘poor’ have ways of thinking, then so do the ‘rich.’ And either mind-set could come with its own problems.

I know of a really wealthy heir who doesn’t have to work (and doesn’t). At age 40, his life is spent traveling to exotic locations and doing only the things that he thoroughly enjoys. But his mind-set is, in many surprising ways, that of an impoverished man. He tends to be unusually (embarrassingly, even) stingy toward others, and (apart from the exotic trips), toward himself.

Who’s to say exactly what effect money (for instance) has, and whether this effect is consistent across all individuals? What if in-born personality has the greatest effect of all, irrespective of who one is or what one has?

As I pointed out to my Dad at the time (with my idealistic, youthful self), he was once that young man whose parents were non-literate. But nobody remembers that now because of his own achievements – so why (and how) did it matter?

I don’t claim to have any of the answers, but I do know that whatever occurred during my marriage could have happened even if my ex-husband’s parents were the President and First Lady of Nigeria (okay, maybe that’s not the best example – LOL – just kidding!). My point is, I know quite a number of people with seemingly the ‘right’ pedigree who have made really horrible spouses.

Having said that, let me also say that Christianity absolutely does (or, at least, ideally should) level the playing field. Being a Christian will often mean that you will constantly engage with people from all walks of life – some ‘above’ you, some ‘beneath’ you, and some ‘at par’ with you. It also often means that you will tend to give each of these categories of people a fair chance when it comes to marriage. Our prayer is that, whether the person we end up with is viewed by others as ‘beneath’ you or not, let it not be because of their character. And if there are any other ‘inequities’ between the two of you, they should be carefully examined before you say ‘I do.’

Friday, 31 August 2012

Great expectations

Hello, parent of an outstanding 8th grader! 

You are receiving this email because we plan to give your son or daughter an award (sports, academic or character) at this year's Middle School Awards Ceremony, and we'd like you to be there to see it!  The ceremony is on Friday, May 25th at 2 PM.  We'll talk a little about why each award is given to that student, and we hope it will be encouraging to you and to your child.  Please come if at all possible! 

One other note: we like these to be a surprise for the students, so please don't mention it to your child beforehand. 

I was terribly excited to find the above email message from my son’s school principal some months ago.

OMG, he’s going to get an award in front of the whole school! I thought to myself. I gave myself several mental pats on the back. This was my reward for all the hours of yelling, scolding, threatening, taking away privileges, reiterating, and manipulating – all in a bid to get keep my son on track. My ‘Nigerian' mothering tactics had finally paid off! This was my reward for all the hours I would spend helping out with homework after ‘work-work,’ until my schedule simply no longer permitted it.

I wondered what the prize would be for. Not sports because, for the first time last semester, he decided not to play a sport. It had to be academics. It just had to be. It would probably be for Math. So the money I spent each month on a Math tutor was really worth it! Or maybe not … maybe it was for English. That was more likely. His English teacher has always emphasized how well he writes. On a recent essay of his, she wrote: ‘You are a good writer. Please pursue it and continue on this path. It is a pleasure to read your writing.’ I put it up on the fridge (along with tons of other stuff) and it’ll stay there until it disintegrates.

Wow – maybe my son would be a best-selling author some day! Or a scholar of some sort! I could barely contain my excitement.

What if the award were for character, though? Well … I suppose an award is an award, but I wasn’t paying all that money in school fees for character, necessarily (sounds absolutely horrible, I know!). I mean, I suppose character development is always a welcome benefit one would hope for from a good school, but I teach character at home. Why pay that much for character when you can teach it yourself and save the money for college instead?

On the big day, I found myself a seat at the back of the auditorium since I would have to slip out right afterwards and rush all the way back across town again for a conference call at the office. My son sat between his two best friends on the other side of the room, totally oblivious to my presence and to the fact that he was getting an award.

My heart pounded in anticipation as they called out one student after the other, one award after the other. I hadn’t expected this ceremony to take forever. I shifted impatiently in my seat as they called out all the sports awards and said a few words about each winner. Then came the academic awards. I watched and waited, holding my breath as they called out one student’s name after the other … for one subject after the other … and as they called out my son’s best friends one after the other … and as the academic awards session ended.

What a minute, I thought. That only leaves … character.

Okay, I suppose I can live with that, I thought, quickly swallowing my initial disappointment. They proceeded to call out one name after the other, along with one character trait after the other. What other character trait could there possibly be, I wondered.

As I waited impatiently to hear his name announced, I glanced over at my son’s side of the room. I knew his two tight friends somewhat (as much as teenagers will let you know). Good kids (like mine) who had had several sleepovers at my house, eating a large dinner together, playing X-Box games through the night, talking and laughing in the dark until the early hours of the morning, and then playing some more the next day (with their unbathed, teenage selves), until it was time to go home. They were all so alike, it was uncanny – they even talked the same. After they spent some time at our house, I stopped bugging my son about mumbling all the time instead of actually talking. (Apparently, they all mumble and mutter at this age instead of enunciating properly.) How come they were focused enough to win an academic prize and my son wasn’t? Well, when he got home, I would just have to point out to him that his best friends weren’t any better than him and that I’d better see him up on that stage for an academic award next semester … This ‘Nigerian mama’ train of thought was interrupted by the announcement of his name.

All I remember now is suddenly being filled to the brim with pride as my son walked confidently up to the stage, trying not to look fazed by what was to come (in eighth grade, you do have a reputation to protect, as he’s explained to me before). I was absolutely bursting. I clapped until my hands hurt and totally forgot my previous train of thought.  

The teachers decided to give my son an award for 'courage.'

As one of the teachers explained, he’s not afraid to express himself in class and through his school work – even if he does end up going slightly off on a tangent sometimes in a bid to be creative. A ripple of knowing laughter weaved through the teachers’ section of the room. I joined them, nodding knowingly, and clapping harder. Yep, that’s my son! ‘Get ready for this one,’ the teacher with the microphone said to a ninth grade teacher. ‘You’re really going to enjoy having him in class and enjoy reviewing the work he turns in. He’s going to give you the ride of your life.’

My son received his certificate and made his way back up to his seat. To his great surprise, there I was, standing right in his aisle, waiting for him. His eyes lit up in spite of himself. I gave him a big hug and he actually (shock!) hugged me back, ignoring the disapproving stares of his fellow students. I suppose he lost some ‘street cred’ that day, but he didn’t seem to mind this time – he was so shocked to see me that he forgot to be a 'cool' teenager for a moment. I totally forgot about the lecture I planned to give and decided to let my son just enjoy his moment in the spotlight. 

I’m so proud of you,’ I whispered to him. And I was.

I thought about all my son had been through over the years, and how he had somehow, by the grace of God, pulled through.  When his father started travelling, he was three. Back then, he would cry piteously into the phone, saying, ‘Come here, Daddy!’ Wondering why he could hear his Daddy but couldn’t see him. He cried less the next year, and even less the year after that. I noticed that he stopped crying completely when he was seven. How he has gone through life seeing his dad once a year or less, only God knows. How he has made sense of his current life, only God knew. His teachers were more discerning than they realized. This was one courageous child and, boy,  did he deserve that award! Naija pikin no dey carry last, a-beg.

On my way back to the office, I pondered over how love for a child is so unconditional. Yeah, we have expectations for our children, but we can live with it if they aren’t lived up to. There’s just no greater love, I think, between humans. Too bad the love for a spouse usually can’t compare. With people other than our children (including spouses), we usually tend to expect much more, and to hold on to those expectations. At least I do.

Someone once said that ‘expectation is the root of all heartache.’ But what’s the point of a relationship without expectations? Without them, from my perspective, all romantic relationships would be superficial and almost pointless. If I don’t expect anything from you, and you have no expectations to meet, and neither do I … then is that really a relationship?

Hmm … anyway. It’s Friday night and I’m too weary to theorize right now.

Just wanted to make the point that the love for a child is pure, pure love. There’s really nothing I can think of that’s quite like it.

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

What’s in a name?

“Do you plan to go back to your maiden name?” someone asked, some time before my divorce was final.

I hesitated for a minute.

I hadn’t thought about my name, frankly.

When I was much younger, I remember thinking about just how difficult it would be for me to give up my maiden name. It sounded ‘just right’ along with my first name, I always thought. Why would I want to mess that up? Later on, in my twenties, the idea of changing my name seemed more exciting and like something to look forward to – a testament to my complete trust in this new person whom my life would forever revolve around.

When marriage time came around, I recall being pleased that my new name wasn’t so completely different from my maiden name. I quite liked the sound of it, actually.

Professionally, I have always used my married name, which means that this is the name that pretty much everyone in my world knows me by. Interestingly (although no one would ever know it), I never actually changed my maiden name officially. My full maiden name is still on every official document I own – from passports and bank accounts, to pay slips and driver’s licences.

One of my sisters always figured she would have a hyphenated name when she got married – and she did. Another sister took a day off from work to go around town and fill out all the necessary forms to ensure her maiden name was changed officially. I recall admiring her energy at the time.  

I’m searching myself as I type this to figure out if there was some subconscious reason why I didn’t change my name officially. I honestly don’t think so, though. At the time, I figured that since email communication was increasingly important (and really ‘defined’ you, in a sense), and I used my married name on all my email accounts, my name was ‘changed’ without all the stress of visiting numerous offices to formalize it. I only introduced myself by my married name, so no one ever called me anything else. If I didn’t tell you I hadn’t changed it, you would never know. My former spouse never raised it, either. Everyone called me by his name, and if getting some mail with my maiden name on it bothered him, he never mentioned it.

With the marriage over, I sometimes wish going back to my maiden name were an uncomplicated process. I know that a lot of divorced women stick with their married names in order not to have a different surname from their children. I appreciate this need to preserve order, but don’t personally think I’d feel terribly uncomfortable using a different surname from my children. For me, it’s more about avoiding professional confusion. It would be confusing (for others) at this stage to change my name professionally, and so the idea is not appealing at this time for that particular purpose.

For some other purposes, though, I find the idea of reverting back to my maiden name quite attractive. Maybe I should’ve hyphenated it to begin with, or used it as my middle name. That way, ‘shaking off’ my married name would’ve been much easier. I now marvel, in fact, that I was ready to give my maiden name up so quickly. There’s a lot about my maiden name to be proud of, and I now wonder that I didn’t hesitate even a teeny bit to have no one call me by it ever again.

Good thing that as long as we know who we are, we’re always what/who we are, regardless of what anyone else calls us.  

A dozen things I’m grateful for

Just off the top of my head, in no particular order:

  1. My two, beautiful, healthy, ‘normal’ children (who drive me crazy sometimes).
  2. My thirteen year old BMW (a ‘tokunbo’ buy that runs as smoothly as ever).
  3. The inordinate, overwhelming amount of support and non-judgment that I have always felt from my family, friends, and church.
  4. That I was a single parent long before I officially became a single parent (made my transition to divorce much ‘easier’ and less scary than it might have been).
  5. My health.
  6. Employment.
  7. This blog! (a much-needed outlet; a life-saver)
  8. My treadmill.
  9. A place to call home.
  10. (for women with BIG feet like me, who can’t find decent shoes anywhere).
  11. My close relationship with my sisters.
  12. My optimism (I really believe tomorrow will be even better than today).

Friday, 17 August 2012

Not the same category

Me and you no dey for de same-u category
Me and you no dey for de same-u category

Not de same category O …

--- Fela Anikulapo Kuti

My church is trying to re-vamp its Women’s Ministry. This particular department has been limping for some years now and my pastor’s wife was on a mission to find out why. A meeting was called for older women that served in certain key areas in the church. The purpose of the meeting was simple: to give us a chance to think about and respond to the question of why we thought the Women’s Ministry wasn’t thriving. There was a two minute-long, pregnant silence as we sat in a group, avoiding each other’s gazes.

I was puzzled by the silence. This was not a difficult question. This was no mystery. Did we honestly have no inkling of what part of the problem might be, no personal opinions about this, or were we all too shy (or just pretending to be)? Had we never thought about this issue privately before?

Two minutes were all I could bear, and so I asked myself why I, personally, rarely attended any women’s meetings or events. I looked around at each of the women at this meeting and decided that Ms. Big Mouth needed to speak up and ‘save the day.’

“Well, I just took a look around at the 8 women here and I noticed something. Let’s just go round the circle,” I said, pointing to each woman one after the other: “Married; not yet married [single parent]; married; widowed; not yet married [single parent];  no longer married [yours truly]; married” – and, lastly, there was someone in the ‘it’s complicated’ category, but I didn’t say so!

I pointed out that those of us present represented the [my] wider church. This is how diverse we were, if we really took the time to think about it. And so, if by “women’s” meetings, we really mean “marriage enrichment” meetings, then we need to be clear and upfront about this so that potential attendees are targeted properly, and so that those that aren't married understand from the outset that while they can certainly learn a lot from the meeting, the meeting was not necessarily planned with them in mind. 

There’s nothing wrong with marriage enrichment meetings. They are clearly important and sorely needed. But if we really want to reach more of the older women in the church – at least in my church – we have to pause and ask ourselves who these women are and what their needs might be. The needs of other women have to stop being an afterthought – a last minute, hasty add-on of a few words (or a last minute adjustment to the meeting title), to hopefully cater to their needs.

The problem with this approach is that it insults the intelligence of those that the hasty add-ons and throw-ins were meant to assuage. When your needs are an afterthought, you know it. It shows.

Who says we all have to be in the same meetings all the time just because we’re all women? That’s another part of the problem, I think. It’s okay to say that we’re different. Sometimes, a small meeting for older women who have never been married, for instance (as opposed to a youth meeting which older, unmarried women are expected to attend, be enthusiastic about, and perhaps even grateful for), is exactly what’s needed to do the trick. Sometimes, married women need their time together to hash out and pray about their own unique issues.

When ‘general’ women’s meetings are the goal, though, a thoughtful approach is needed to focus on (as one married woman – the only other one that spoke up– said during this fact-finding meeting) 'those things that bring us together.'

How refreshing, I thought.

The truth is: we’re not all in the same category. And that’s perfectly okay. 

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Why I have no social life

‘Do your children attend church with you?’ he asked curiously.

‘Of course, they do,’ I replied, bristling a little at the insinuation that they might not. I wondered for a second if my indignation made me come across as rude. He was a pastor, after all, and was really only trying to be sociable.

He stared me right in the eyes as if trying to see deep into my soul. He was clearly seeking for a word from the Lord where I was concerned.

After a minute, he finally said sagely and with conviction: ‘God will do it.’

‘Amen,’ I replied politely, after a moment’s hesitation. I had no idea what exactly he was referring to, and I suspect he didn’t, either, but I’m always open to being blessed in any area of my life, and so I went along with it.

Our weekly home fellowship had just ended and we were all spending a few minutes greeting one another before going home. He was new and hadn’t met me before, hence the curiosity. There were a number of children present, along with both of their parents. The absence of my own children from this meeting naturally made him wonder if they went to church with me at all. Given that I barely knew him, I didn’t think it was worth it to explain that, just like all the men present, I had arrived straight from work. Unlike the men in attendance, I didn’t have a partner at home to transport my children to the venue separately, and I lived too far away to pick them up myself and come all the way back before the session was over.

That Sunday at church, he turned out to be our visiting speaker. He delivered a good sermon and issued an altar call at the end for different categories of people. One of the last calls he made had to do with a troubled marriage:

‘There is someone here: You’re a married woman and you have had problems in your marriage. I want you to come out here, let me pray for you.’

Hmmm … I wonder who that could be, I said to myself, my eyes closed in prayer.

He repeated the call more forcefully. ‘There is a woman here who needs God to intervene in her marriage. God is a God of restoration; there is nothing impossible with Him. Come out, let me pray for you.’  

There was a hushed silence.

Well, that can’t be me. (I had already filed for divorce by this time and was satisfied with this decision).

‘They have snatched your husband away from you and you don’t want to pray. Come out here, let us pray for you,’ the pastor repeated with a hint of irritation.

Did he really go there? I asked myself in disbelief. If everyone is waiting for me to walk out to the front of the church, they’re wasting their time. Am I the only one with marital issues? Besides, nobody ‘snatched’ my husband from me. Where is this gist coming from now?

I put two and two together and figured that his curiosity must have led him to find out more about me from others in the home fellowship with whom he was well-acquainted. My former marital challenges led many to the conclusion that my husband was taken away while I stood there, wringing my hands and watching helplessly. The idea that a Nigerian, Christian woman could proactively choose my current path is almost inconceivable – much too unusual for most people to imagine that I even had a choice.

Apart from the fact that it's inaccurate, I simply didn’t like this portrait of myself which I presumed was being painted by others. I didn’t like this idea, either, that I (or whoever else) only ‘deserved’ prayer if I walked out to the front of the church. For whose benefit, I wondered? Was this an absolute requirement from God, or was this more about personal ego? If God had indeed given some revelation about someone, why couldn't we just pray without any fanfare? I wondered if those around me (who expected me to obediently identify myself) were secretly offended by my stubbornness. I clearly must have lost a few popularity points that day.

Maybe I was just being unnecessarily sensitive.

I know my views aren’t exactly popular, and I’m sorry (sincerely) if I come across as irreverent or unspiritual. I’m very sensitive to the reality that I may come across this way and so I try to make things easier for everybody.  As much as I love to relate with people, I now subconsciously steer away from too much social interaction. I steer away from married women, for example, to spare them the discomfort of having to decide whether to befriend me or not. I do this with a full understanding of what it’s like to be married and have your husband tell you he’s uncomfortable with your friendship with a particular girlfriend. Rather than have this situation arise, I maintain a noticeable distance, while being polite and friendly. That way, anyone that actually wants to be a friend of mine has to deliberately seek me out, understanding what they’re getting into. That way, there are no hard feelings if I’m not sought after – and, hopefully, no feelings of guilt on the part of others for (understandably) deciding not to seek me out. That way, I avoid potential accusations (from husbands) of attempting to negatively influence their wives (something that’s typical of my people), just because we happen to be having a conversation – and accusations from wives of my being interested in their husbands.

My divorce aside, I’m also cognizant of the fact that I live a very different life from most of the married women I am acquainted with – and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. While they are in this country as a consequence of their husbands’ jobs, I happen to be here because of mine. I therefore have to work as hard as any of their spouses (if not harder), leaving me with much less time than I would have had, had I accompanied a husband to this post instead. The limited amount of time that I have (and my absence from social circles as a result) could give others the impression that I’m aloof or even arrogant. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. I, in fact, think about their lives with a tinge of envy sometimes, wishing I had the luxury of being a ‘kept’ woman, too – and I sometimes see a flash of envy in their eyes as well, when they look at me, imagining (erroneously) that I lead a glamorous life as an ‘independent career woman.’ The grass always looks greener on the other side, I suppose.

I guess I’m fortunate that I’ve never exactly been what you could call a social butterfly. I’ve always had ‘hermit-like’ tendencies, so these new adjustments to my life aren’t really that much of an adjustment. This doesn’t mean that I’m not absolutely crazy about people, though. My relationships have always been few because my relationships have always been deep. I pour my soul into them. I give my all and don’t hold back. And that’s why when I’m ‘done,’ I’m really done. I only get ‘done’ because after giving all that I have, all that I am, I honestly have nothing left to give. I have few relationships because I don’t know how to do relationships superficially. Maybe that’s not such a good thing. Deep relationships require energy, and there’s only so much energy to go round.

But what happens to women that are wired totally differently from the way I am? Divorced, African, Christian women that also happen to be extroverted? Women that really crave social interaction but can’t get it because of all the barriers I’ve mentioned and more? Where do we talk about this? When something like this happens, where do you go?

Where do you turn when the world you gave your life to is suddenly no longer tailored for people like you?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

How I write

It seems a bit ‘arrogant’ to be writing about this – sort of as if I’ve now officially pronounced myself a ‘writer.’ The title seems to suggest that I’m presuming I can write, but in actual fact, I’m only taking this on because I do write.

For my fortieth birthday, I got two copies of Abidemi Sanusi’s book, Eyo, from different people. I devoured it over the next few days. It turned out to be the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. There is not a single ‘smile,’ not a single moment of respite in this tragic, powerful book. I have a tendency to go back and read good books (or my favorite portions of them) again and again. I have not been able to do so with Eyo. I have no desire to relive the protagonist’s horror. I highly recommend this dark, yet tragically beautiful book if you’re looking for a seriously good read.

It was actually Abidemi Sanusi’s blog that got me thinking about this question of how writing comes about ( I think it’s an interesting question. How do I write?

For me, there is no standard, linear way in which I come up with a blog post, but in thinking about it, I realize that I always ‘write’ parts of the posts in my mind for a period of time ever before I type them out on my laptop. The first month I started blogging, I could hardly type fast enough – the stories just ‘flowed’ one after the other. But that was because I had carried those initial stories in my head and my heart for a very long time. There was no need to agonize over how to begin because the stories were almost fully formed in my mind. I had told them to myself over and over again in my mind. All I had to do now was tell them to others.

In subsequent months, I began to record my thoughts on my laptop, no matter how disjointed. I still do this. When I get an idea that I think might be interesting to write about, I type it out as a bullet point as fast as I can, before I forget. And as more, related ideas come to me, I type them out, too, under that same bullet point, and then try to pull them into a coherent story line. I have a list of six bullet points right now – initial thoughts just waiting to be elaborated upon and written up. Most are really messy. For example, here is a bullet point that I’m about to delete because I’m now done writing the full post:

  • I have no right to be writing this right now. Not with all the deadlines I have. I’m supposed to be working. I’m much too busy. I need a vacation very badly. I don’t have time to take one. Can’t imagine how I can possibly squeeze it in. But I’ll make a way. You have to pay attention to your life. The way I haven’t had time to look into my finances. How good it felt to pay attention. Realize it was doable. Almost done paying. Without a plan your life will pass you by.
And yet another:

  • Mother-in-law, Dearest: He sent me a text last week telling me how ill he’d been lately, how he’d been admitted to the hospital, etc. Do my in-laws expect me to respond? And do they plan to penalize me in the future for not doing so? How I called her three times and she suddenly wasn’t available. How I eventually got the message. The struggle of divorce when you still love your mother-in-law. How I was hurt they didn’t tell me she went to the US. But do I really have a right to know anymore?
I get quite a number of ideas while sitting in traffic (which I hate – or ‘intensely dislike,’ to use my son’s correction). I suppose my mind wanders during these times to cope with the frustration of sitting in one spot when I’d rather be zooming back home after work. Sometimes, I draw inspiration from something I read, or from an incident that occurred in my life that day. Other times, I have a sudden, vivid memory of something that happened in the past. It’s usually a seemingly ‘small’ thing that begins to develop a life of its own the moment I start thinking about it, taking myself back to another time in my mind.  A small thing such as my wedding ring, a phone conversation, a dream, a prize one of my children won, or a prayer meeting. I make a concerted effort to go back in time and try to remember every little thing I felt at the time or about the object in question, and then I quickly type up my description of these feelings.

Sometimes, it all begins with the very first sentence. By this time, I have already pondered over the issue I want to write about, but the first sentence can often be key for me. Sometimes, a ‘good’ opening sentence just comes to me as I’m going about my business, with a particular blog post idea in the back of my mind. I find that the first sentence can be almost magical (if I feel that it sounds just right), propelling me to write an entire blog post. Coming out of the bathroom one day (‘T.M.I.,’ as my sister would say), the words ‘There’s a reason why I’m still not on FaceBook’ came to me. I had struggled with how to write the A Beautiful Mind post, but with this first, magical sentence, I suddenly felt free to just write. In bed one day, the phrase ‘There’s something wrong with my church’ came to me and I just knew I had to use it. At the time, I thought I would just use it as a sentence somewhere in the post, but I later decided to use it as a title, too. Today, as I tried to squash my misplaced feelings of guilt for not working on the weekend, the opening sentence I have no right to be writing this right now suddenly came to me.

Sometimes, when I’m done writing and I read a new post over before putting it online, I’m surprised by how well certain paragraphs seem to hang together, or by the logical interconnection of some of the ideas - especially because it often happens without any planning on my part. I only see the coherence after I’m done and I wonder how it happened, given the scatter-brained fashion in which I started out writing it. Of course, I'm not always coherent, but I just decide to write and post, anyway!

Sometimes, I struggle with the title of the post. With Far from the Madding Crowd, I initially uploaded it as Far from the Maddening Crowd and, immediately after, asked my sister if she thought ‘Madding Crowd’ sounded better. She went for ‘Madding Crowd,’ pointing out that those who had read (or heard of) the Thomas Hardy book would probably appreciate my sticking to the original title. And so I changed it. With A Beautiful Mind, I was torn between using this title and using (Almost) Becoming the Other Woman. My sister suggested I find a way merge the two. I opted not to, in the end. I realized that having a title with ‘the Other Woman’ in it would probably generate more traffic, but I loved the symbolism behind the A Beautiful Mind title.

I recently started displaying a list of the 8 posts that have received the greatest hits on the blog. It’s fascinating to me to see the posts that people are drawn to the most – especially because few of them are my personal favorites. I like the post about my mother-in-law, for instance, but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as one of my favorites. And yet, it almost immediately became one of the top blog hits, unceremoniously kicking out some of the others which I thought were 'better.' It’s really interesting to see what appeals to different people.

For all you authors, writers, bloggers, tweeters, poets, essayists, FB-ers, etc. out there (both in and out of the closet): How do you write?

Pay attention

I have no right to be writing this right now. Not with all the deadlines I have. I’m supposed to be working. I’m much too busy. I’m tired. My body literally aches from sheer fatigue. I’m battling a cold and under the influence of piriton and ibuprofen. I need a vacation very badly. I don’t have time to take one, though. My children are out of school right now and if I don’t go on vacation during this period, there will almost be no point until December when they’re out of school again. I can’t imagine how I can possibly squeeze in 1-2 weeks off when everything is due yesterday and has been since the beginning of the year. It is humanly impossible.

But last night, I firmly decided that I’ll have to make a way. I have to stop this cycle of not paying enough attention to my non-work-related affairs – to myself. I’m grateful to have a job and I don’t take it for granted. I’m appreciative of the fact that because I work, I can take care of my children and other things. But I’m realizing that a lack of attention to one’s self (brought about by being too distracted by work, for example) comes with a price.

Several months ago, I picked up a new friend of mine on my way to see a mutual friend of ours. She needed to put something in the trunk of my car. I opened it confidently only to find it was too full of junk, and so we put her stuff in the back seat instead. ‘I’ve been carrying this junk around for the last two or three years,’ I mused.

‘Sometimes, the state of your car is a reflection of the state of your life,’ she remarked casually. I stared at her in astonishment, holding on to what she had said.

‘Gosh, you’re so right,’ I replied slowly. There were actually two boxes of junk in my trunk: old parts from my car that I had since replaced, but for whatever reason, I never took the time to throw out the boxes. I had always meant to. And then I just got used to carrying them around. It got to the point that I no longer really noticed them. I rarely opened the trunk of my car, anyway, so they ceased to be a real bother – or so I thought initially. But when I thought about it some more, I recalled the many times I would experience a few seconds of irritation when I went grocery shopping and had to put everything in the back seat instead of in the trunk, simply because I hadn’t taken the time to discard these two boxes.

I threw the two, huge, rectangular boxes full of old car parts out of the trunk and into the trash the next morning. It felt good. I still rarely open the trunk of my car, but I feel better knowing that if I ever need to, I will find space in there for useful things.

And then, yesterday, I was talking to a good friend about my student loan. I had actually intended to pay it off two years ago. I had a solid plan for doing so, but then somehow forgot about it and instead fell into the comfortable routine of paying more than the minimum, yet not enough to knock it off in a few months like I had originally planned. ‘Just pay the thing off,’ my friend advised. ‘You don’t want to be carrying baggage around.’

I thought about it and asked myself why on earth I hadn’t  paid the loan off by now. I realized that the only reason under the sun was that I didn’t make the time to look into my finances. I stopped paying attention and just went with the flow, without a plan. My student loan had become like a familiar friend, a buddy that I was used to having around. It was a relationship I could manage, one that didn’t bother me too much. I was making my monthly payments, after all, and paying substantially more than the minimum. So I had every reason to feel righteous. But I wasn’t doing the best I could do. I knew I could pay it off in 8 months or less without a struggle. So why hadn’t I done so? I was just too busy to sit and to plan and to do.

After this conversation, I resolved to pay more attention to my life. All the good intentions in the world won’t help me achieve what I want to achieve. I have to do something to get where I want to go and stop using busyness (though I really am busy) as an excuse to not confront my life and sort out my affairs. As I thought about the student loan, I realized just how doable it was to get it over with and felt a bit ashamed that I had somehow slacked off from paying it down sooner. Again, there was no good reason. Without a plan and without action, your life will pass you by right before your very eyes. As we say in Nigeria: If you don’t plan for your money (or anything else, for that matter), other people will plan for it.

Today, as I lie in bed fighting off a cold and toying with the idea of working (rather than just working, like I should be), I have resolved to start finishing up my unfinished business. I’ll start with my finances, and then move on to other areas of my life. I’ve listed four financial issues that I have to look into in order to improve my present and my future. I could ignore these areas and still get by quite alright in the short-term. But that would be pretty dumb. With just a little attention, I can make a big difference in my life.

Yesterday, I went to the bank and transferred the first batch of funds toward my eight-month goal. One month down, seven more to go.

It felt good.