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.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Did my hurt matter?

This post ( is the reason why I listed The Divorced Diva’s Guide to Survival on my blogroll. The blogger put into words a question that I have carried around with me for years without quite being able to articulate it. It occurred to me that listing the blog wasn’t sufficient, though. Some people might never find the particular article that I found so poignant, so here it is.

When I think of my actions in the first few years after discovering the affairs (spying around, hoping for answers from one of the other women, etc.), I realize one thing. I wasn’t necessarily hunting for the truth because I was under any illusion it would make me feel better. I wasn’t looking for the magic solution that would somehow make my marriage not end, either. My marriage did not have much going for it by the time my former friend (for instance) came along. I had gone through the motions for years. Like a robot. Not letting myself think about it too much. Ignoring the subtle stench of the dying relationship. Her appearance on the scene was just another confirmation that the union was over. She and all the others were merely a symptom of a pre-existing, chronic, life-threatening illness. I suppose this is why I found it easy to forgive her almost right away. In my mind, she had little to do with the death. She was just a symptom – an opportunistic infection (for lack of a better term) that could not have arisen in the absence of the foundational, pre-existing illness. Whether she had appeared on the scene or not, death was imminent. It was only a matter of time. If it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else or something else – and, of course, she wasn’t the only one anyway.

In spying and stressing myself out searching for the truth, I just wanted them to care. And since they didn’t seem to, I was determined to find something that I could confront them with to make them care. Or to get one of them to confess something that showed that, in the end, they did care.

I wanted my hurt to matter.

I am thankful that I am now beyond this torturous phase.  My current, even-keeled life is only interrupted periodically by some unexpected distractions. A couple of weeks ago, I got a series of five texts from my former spouse. Each arrived within a few seconds of the other. He’s been ill lately, and I suppose he was looking for some attention, and perhaps being a bit alarmist. His messages went as follows:

Message 1: “I’ve lived in fear of the uncertain the past month. It’s not easy. I don’t fear to die, but there’re so many uncertainties. Should it happen, I’ve prayed for you and the kids. 

Message 2: “I believe in your abilities. I know you are well able. Just try and bring them up in God … Please, try. My only regret is that I may not have made you as happy as I wanted. God can do what I desired to do. He can make you happy where I couldn’t.”

Message 3: “Just in case, let these be my guiding words to you. But I still believe my healing’ll be complete. I continue to feel uncomfortable congestion in my chest. People are praying. I’m praying and believing but preparing also, should anything fatal happen. No need for fears.”

Message 4: “Rest assured by God’s grace and account of the cross, I’ll go to heaven if it happens. To clear the doubts, live the rest of your life with this fact: [The Other Woman] didn’t come to your house. Your husband cared so much he couldn’t do that to hurt you.”

Message 5: “Finally, my family cares a lot about you. Of everybody, they loved you so much and accepted you absolutely. You’re still welcome any day. Keep the kids close to home. God’s grace.”

I’ve grown accustomed to these periodic, minor disruptions. My approach is to simply ignore them. I’m a pro at it these days. I leave them undignified by my silence. They show that my former hurt (which made its abode somewhere in my heart and simply refused to leave) doesn’t quite matter.

As I said in A Beautiful Mind, there are some things you just have to learn to live with.