Saturday, 25 January 2014

Writing while healed

“As empathetic or emotional writers, we write better when we are going through it.”

---- PradaPrincipal

When I started this blog in March 2012, I was in a phase in my life where I felt absolutely compelled to write. I would be going about my day when I would suddenly be hit by strong and vivid thoughts and memories, along with words that I had to write down. They would be so powerful that sometimes, I would have to stop in my tracks.

That was two years ago almost, and things have changed since then. Change is good, and I am very relieved to have moved on from what was a pretty dismal point in my life. But change is uncomfortable, too, if you’re a creature of habit like me. I’m referring here to the change I see in my writing. I find that I’m writing for very different reasons right now.

In a recent post on the Romance Meets Life blog, a reader posted a comment, erroneously assuming that Myne Whitman (the blogger) might have written the post out of guilt. Myne corrected this impression, indicating that, in actual fact, she shares stories ‘to connect’ with others. This statement deeply resonated with me because in my current phase of life, I feel like I should continue to write for that same reason. To connect with others. And yet, there is something about this rationale for writing that I’m not yet completely comfortable with. I’m sure it’ll pass eventually, but for now, I’m a bit unsettled about it.

I struggle with a feeling of ‘inauthenticity’ because I’m no longer necessarily writing about where I’m at. Rather, I am reaching back in time and writing about where I once was. Ordinarily, there should be no problem with that, and really, there isn’t. But I do feel uncomfortable sometimes – guilty, almost – about eliciting emotions in response to a long-gone situation. I question how ‘authentic’ I’m being because, in reaching back, I end up writing about what I felt rather than what I feel. I realize that this is sort of irrational. I mean, you should be able to write about whatever you want, right? But it is something that I am dealing with right now.

When I mentioned this to my sister, she immediately got it, saying, ‘I feel you. As empathetic or emotional writers, we write better when we are going through it.’

(She’s such a brilliant girl!!)

I replied: ‘I love that expression (emotional/empathetic writers)! Never heard it before. Yeah, we write better when we’re going through …’

If you are an emotional writer, you need to have a deep connection to what you’re writing in order for it to feel ‘right.’ Without that connection, you are uninspired, even though that doesn’t necessarily stop you from writing. I think this is why I have mentally boxed myself in when it comes to writing fiction. I have convinced myself that I can only write about what I have felt (or seen, or touched, or heard, or smelt, or tasted …) – that I can only really write about what I’ve experienced and connected with, rather than about what I’ve imagined.

But I’m now in the process of coming to terms with the fact that there’s no one reason why I have to write. My life is evolving and I need to give myself permission to have my writing evolve right along with it.

When I wrote Our Song, I didn't think I would post it. I held onto it for a day, convinced I would let it go, and then thought, ‘You’ve written it, so you might as well post it.’ When I got Teddy Teddy’s comment in response to the blog post, I was quite taken aback that something I had planned to discard was actually what someone out there needed to hear at the time. (So, thank you, Teddy Teddy, for reaching out!)

I think sometimes, we tend to feel like we can/should only do stuff when we are ‘under the anointing.’ But if we have a desire to do something (even if we feel like we can’t really hack it), maybe we should take a step of faith and do it anyhow. For it is God that works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13, NIV). Maybe when we act on the will that we have been given, the grace simply follows.

I just realized that this is the blog’s 100th post.

Here’s to writing and all the reasons why we bother to do it.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Our Song

We didn’t really have a special song that we labeled as ‘ours.’ I might be wrong, but I’ve always thought that if I couple did have a song that was considered ‘their’ song, it was generally because the female partner chose it and then declared it as such (J). It’s no wonder that I don’t have one ‘special’ song even now, as I am surprisingly indecisive about many things.

For instance, my daughter asked me yesterday what my favorite color is. I told her that I like too many to pick out just one. ‘I don’t really have a favorite color because I like a number of different colors. I like pastels, though – anything that’s pastel-colored works for me.’

‘Oh, yeah – I keep forgetting,’ she said.

It’s the same thing with songs and books. I love far too many to really be able to decide which ones I like ‘best.’

My former husband was keenly aware of my indecisive nature, and this is probably one of the main reasons why it took him forever to believe that the relationship was over. He was used to getting his way in the relationship and, for the most part, I really didn’t mind too much if he got it. I think he was certain that there was no way I could’ve completely made up my mind and that the passage of time was sure to change things.

We used to be really into Bebe and Cece Winans in the early years of the marriage. I’m still into them, actually. We would play this duo’s Different Lifestyles and Relationships albums to death as we drove around just for fun. We would look forward to Bebe’s solo on the Relationships album – ‘These What-abouts.’ We never actually discussed the song but I was really drawn to it and I think he was, too. It just seemed different from the rest of the songs on the album. Maybe it’s because it was slower, with a haunting interlude of instrumentals that really spoke to me. The instrumentals were beautiful and messy and painful and confusing, and they made you stop and just listen.

It’s a tragic song, actually, and if I had to choose my ‘divorce soundtrack,’ this would probably be the one. It could easily serve as the soundtrack for the tail end of my marriage as well. The lyrics were almost prophetic now that I think about it. In the song, the protagonist frantically tries to reach out and connect with his lover – with little success, though. We’re not told what exactly caused the rift between them, but we can tell it’s something serious. It’s one of those ‘too little, too late’ scenarios. He realizes it’s way too late, but he tries to appeal to the memory of the hopes and dreams they once shared as a couple:

‘Cause what about the plans we made?
What about the dreams of cascades?
What about the vows we pledged?
Are they still alive or dead?
And what about the promise to stay?
Can I still believe it's okay?
Can we somehow talk about these what-abouts?
These what-abouts

But these are the wrong questions to ask. The problem with ‘what-abouts’ is that they are just about appearances if you all you do is refer to them without taking ownership of how you got into your current mess. It’s not about the what-abouts. It never is – unless you think about the what-abouts beforehand and hopefully allow them to steer you away from actions you’ll later regret.

During my days as a master sleuth, I came across a series of text messages on my then husband’s phone. It was a conversation between him and one of his relatives – someone who later tried to act as an intermediary between us, and with whom we both ended up communicating extensively about our issues.

‘Be careful,’ he warned my then husband. ‘She sounds more convincing than you.’

‘Should I tell?’ my then husband asked him in return. (I’m paraphrasing now as I don’t remember his exact words.)

‘No. Don’t tell.’

At first, I was taken aback by these words. But much later, I thought about it and came to the conclusion that in advising my then husband to withhold the truth from me, this person may not have meant any harm. I’m convinced he thought that everything would eventually blow over and that it was in everyone’s best interest for my former spouse to keep mum because the truth would hurt too much, destroy too much. I was a Nigerian woman – a Christian one at that – and I wasn’t going anywhere (he must’ve thought), so it made sense to just let sleeping dogs lie.

My ex-husband was an adult, though – capable of figuring things out for himself, so I cannot use this piece of advice as an excuse.

And when the outcome turned out to be what they did not expect (what even I did not expect), it was because I wasn’t Nigerian enough. My not being born on Nigerian soil had somehow suddenly tainted my Nigerian-ness after all these years. A ‘real’ Nigerian woman would have known how to handle this matter with more decorum, how to value her marriage. A ‘real’ Nigerian woman would’ve known how to expect less.

I find it really sad, though, this mentality. The usual thing would be to be sad for myself – sad about the fact that they would want to assign me to such a position. But that’s not even where I’m coming from right now. I am just saddened that they appeared so comfortable doing it and did not seem to give any thought to what that made them if that was what they expected for me and from me.

Apart from the interlude of instrumentals, this is my favorite part of the song (Picture Bebe crooning in a desperate, tortured tone, accompanied by equally desperate violins.):

Can we somehow talk about?
Somehow work it out?
Can we somehow find a way, find a way?
Can we somehow find a plan? Somewhere there's a plan
Can we somehow work it out, somehow work it out?
Somehow find a way, somehow find a way?
Somehow talk about it, somehow talk about it?
Somehow there's an answer, somewhere there's an answer
Can we somehow work it out, somehow work it out?
Can we somehow talk about these what-abouts?
These what-abouts
Can we talk about these what-abouts?
It won't hurt to talk about
These what-abouts

The problem with ‘these what-abouts’ is that they’re meaningless when they come way too late.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Something Old, Something New

My Bible is about as old as my marriage turned out to be. I was (legally) married for 14 years to the very day. (That sounds almost ‘biblical,’ if you know what I mean: ‘The length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt’ [Genesis 12:41-42, NIV].)

My Bible has got to be either 12 or 13 years old. My then husband bought it for me as a birthday present when we were married. I had always wanted an Amplified Bible. I think I developed this desire from the days when I used to watch Joyce Meyer regularly. So on my birthday a year or two into the marriage, I was presented with an NIV Rainbow Study Bible.

‘Oh …’ I said, when the birthday present was handed to me. ‘… Thank you … I thought we talked about getting an Amplified Bible, though.’

‘Yeah, but I went to the bookstore and noticed this one. I thought it was better. It’s all color-coded and everything, so it’ll make a better study tool.’

‘Oh … okay. Thanks.’ I swallowed my disappointment. It was just a Bible, after all, and I could always get myself the Amplified version some other time. I decided to look on the bright side. It was an NIV Bible, and that’s the version I’m most comfortable with. I’ve used this version since I was 17, which is when my mother somehow got a good deal, came home with a whole stack of NIV Bibles, and gave me one. Ever since then, I abandoned the almighty King James Version, and I’ve just been hooked on the NIV, which I find so much easier to understand, but still elegantly written.

I have never gotten round to getting myself an Amplified Bible. I eventually forgot all about my wish to have one; and today, with easy access to the internet, I can look up whatever I need to in the Amplified online in a matter of seconds.

I haven’t missed not having one, frankly. Even though I’ve never paid attention to its color-coding system, my NIV Rainbow Study Bible has served me just fine. It has allowed me to remain in my comfort zone, which the NIV represents. It’s in a disgraceful state right now. Between two kids who were both intrigued by my colorful Bible during their toddler years, this Good Book has suffered: a few pages half torn out and then badly taped back in, holes in a couple of pages, some scribbles and words in my children’s toddler hand-writing, my own notes and scribbles and underlining … Its front cover got torn off, so I sent it out for re-binding, giving instructions for a similar, leather cover to be used. It used to be a sort of auburn color. By the time I got it back, it was a shadow of its former self: an unattractive hard cover in pitch black. I was aghast, but figured it was better than not having any cover at all. Then, that cover eventually got ripped off and it’s been that way for the last couple of years, which means the pages are starting to get all curled up as well. A total mess.

I never seem to remember what shape it’s in though, until I get to church – especially when I have some sort of public role to play. Last Sunday in church, I tried to straighten out the curled up pages to no avail. I wondered why I didn’t simply start using one of the new Bibles I have at home (at least in public). I probably have about 3 new Bibles lying around. I never use them, though. It’s hard for me to leave my good old Rainbow Study Bible behind. I can find anything I need to in there, and the nice print is easy on the eyes. The other Bibles that I pick up on a whim because of their attractive jackets or shapes simply can’t compete.  

I really just like my old things. I like new things, too, don’t get me wrong. But there is a certain comfort I find in familiarity; in the deep, thorough knowledge of a particular thing.

Back in the day when I was searching for answers – anything at all – to help me make sense of all that had occurred in my marriage, I stumbled upon a particular woman’s story. The woman is married to a recovering sex addict who had acknowledged his addiction, sought long-term professional help for it, and was bending over backwards to get help and to try to be husband and father he needed to be. In her analysis of what it was that made her husband seek out and sleep with random and not-so-random women (or have other inappropriate interactions with them), she came to the conclusion/understanding that it all boiled down to her husband’s quest for ‘newness’ – the one thing she couldn’t give him. They’d been married for several years, so she wasn’t ‘new’ anymore, and she reasoned that, much as he wanted to be committed to her, he had this compulsion to seek newness elsewhere.

I was really struck by this analysis and I still wonder what proportion of men and women it would resonate with. I mean, we all like new things. New things are exciting: a new car, new house, new clothes, new books, new dishes, new silverware, new love … But all new things grow old.

I’m one of those people that are really okay with that, though. Because, if you think about it, ‘old’ is a kind of ‘new.’ It’s no longer exactly what it was originally. It’s changing, while remaining essentially the same. It’s comfortable. Cosy. Tested. Proven.

I’m intrigued by the notion that the need for newness can prove so powerful. I actually like the ‘oldness’ that marriage, for instance, often represents. You know: the rituals that become rituals because you’ve done them over and over – yet, with joy. Knowing what he’s going to laugh at, or say next. Knowing for sure who’s yours and whose you are. Knowing how to make your spouse’s favorite meals just right, ‘by reason of use.’ You just become an ‘old hand’ at it. (I marvel at the grace I used to have in the kitchen during my marital years. Without any exaggeration, I used to cook like an absolute maniac. All kinds of stuff to ensure there was variety and that there were pleasant surprises. This ‘anointing’ mysteriously lifted after the marriage ended. I look back and I’m just amazed as, even though I still cook, I’m no longer able to muster anywhere near that amount of energy.)

‘Old’ comes with its own set of thrills, if you think about it. Or care enough.

Friday, 3 January 2014


‘Vulnerability is like gold.’

I made this statement during a conversation with my sister this week. The words came out inelegantly, though, I thought. I tried to figure out another way to express what I meant. We were talking about how sometimes in relationships, couples just come to what seems like an insurmountable brick wall in relating with one another. A wall that is invisible to everyone else. It’s hard for anyone else around them to put a finger on exactly what the problem is because there’s often no ‘major,’ visible incident for others to witness. The relationship involves neither physical nor verbal abuse. There’s no child sexual abuse. There’s no sudden discovery of another wife, or of a child fathered outside the relationship. None of ‘the biggies,’ in short.

And yet, for some reason, the couple just can’t seem to connect. And then they get to the point where they’re not sure they even want to anymore. There are two walls built: one around each partner. It’s no longer even clear which wall was erected first and why. It seems almost easier to each party to just remain within the confines of their individual walls – a place where there is some semblance of safety, no matter how momentary this may be. Reaching out is just too hard. Excruciating, really.

I made another attempt: ‘Vulnerability is precious. It’s like a special gift. A sacred gift, almost. If the recipient doesn’t value it, or know what to do with it, then it’s hard to keep giving it. It’s akin to throwing your pearls before swine.’

I winced a bit at the last sentence even as I said it. Not the best choice of words, but my sister got it. She understood that I didn’t mean that letting yourself be vulnerable isn’t worth it. It is worth it when the person you’re engaging with gets it, appreciates it, and knows what to do with it. I just meant that it’s tough (and probably even pointless) when the person doesn’t get it.

We could both really appreciate what it’s like being in that tight spot.

When I was married, I remember being puzzled about how my then spouse seemed to have this desire (need?) to see me cry. I honestly didn’t get it back then. With my recent reflections on vulnerability, I think I understand it better now. He would periodically remark that he’d never seen me cry (although he had – just rarely). He would say it almost in a frustrated fashion.

We’re from different ethnic groups, and there was this one time that he got back really late from a trip. We were visiting his village and I stayed back with his mother and our son. People began to wonder where he was and what might be wrong. We were all happy when he got back and the people in the compound surrounded him with greetings of joy and relief. He turned to me and mentioned casually that a woman from his ethnic group would have met him in tears. He didn’t say it in an insulting way, but the fact that I’d heard this before (‘A woman from [insert name of hometown] would be crying by now, thinking she’s now a widow …’, etc.) made me wonder if I needed to do anything differently. He would say it almost as if he felt like he’d missed out on something.

Maybe I’m just too pragmatic for my own good. It wasn’t unusual for him to get back late from such trips. It was pretty much the norm. I just got used to it and came to accept that he’d be late, but he’d be back.

I now see that crying, to him – the idea of my crying – probably signified that I’d given up myself fully to him. That I wasn’t holding back. That I was vulnerable. Maybe this was a gift that he hoped I could repeatedly give.

Now that I’m taking the time to think about it, I realize that in order to allow myself to be completely vulnerable, I need a certain level of assurance: Do you know what to do with my hurt? With whatever it was that led me to tears? Or does it make you feel uncomfortable? Helpless? When I bare my soul, when I strip down to nothing … do you know how to cover me? Or do you leave me there, naked, shivering and ashamed, because you’re not sure what to do with me?

Think before you answer.

And understand that your leaving me there doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person (although it can). Sometimes, all it means is that you simply don’t have the tools to deal with me when I’m all undressed, when I don’t have it all together. After all, I’m The Calm, Composed One. The One That Never Loses Her Cool. The One That Always Has It All In Check. The Level-Headed One.

To rub this in further (and to my greatest shock), I had just finished typing the paragraphs above when a visitor stopped by – a young lady in her early 20s. I put my laptop aside and we chatted for about a twenty minutes when she said, ‘Please don’t be offended, but may I ask you a personal question? Do you ever cry?’

I was astounded.

‘Of course I do. That’s such a spooky question, given what I was writing about before you got here. Why on earth do you ask?’

‘Oh, I guess it’s because I just see you as so strong. I seem to cry about my problems all the time, and I just see you as such a tough person – like someone who is able to handle her life so well …’

‘Nothing could be further from the truth, though,’ I protested. ‘I’m actually extremely sensitive and not tough at all. I cry like everyone else, even though sometimes I feel like I don’t have the time to. I might not create a lot of time for it, but I do have my moments when I just let the tears come for a couple of minutes.’ I’m pretty good at not giving myself an excuse to wallow in depression, but I’m just like everyone else.  In fact, those that know us well (including my sisters) would describe me as the ‘softest’ and the most emotional out of all the 4 girls in our family.

I don’t think I convinced her, though. I then realized how difficult it must be to see me and come to terms with a different side of me when you already have a totally different perception of who I am. How hard it is to allow me to be all the other things that I am, too. And so when I do dare to show a different side of myself, you’re thrown for a loop. It’s a vicious cycle: you’re thrown for a loop and therefore unable to treasure my gift. I take that as rejection and decide to keep my valuables to my sweet self. Without understanding exactly why, you sense that even though I’ve poured myself out to you, I’m still withholding some important drops. This makes you withhold a part of yourself, too. And the cycle continues.

Thinking about these things led me to look up the word ‘vulnerability.’ Someone defined it this way: ‘Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.’

Bull’s eye!

This explains why it was so hard (impossible, really) for me to really share my father’s death with my husband when I was married. As badly as I felt about it, I just couldn’t bring myself to cry in his presence. The ability to do so actually seemed beyond me. My tears would just automatically dry up. I felt like he hadn’t earned the right to see my tears. I felt like when he’d seen them before, he hadn't quite known what to do with them. I felt like I had been left uncovered and alone. Therefore, I didn’t understand why there was the expectation that I would put myself in that position again and again.

Vulnerability. It’s like gold.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

It’s here

Nara ekene na otito
Nara ekene na otito
Nara ekene na otito
Nara mbuli elu …

[Translation, in summary: ‘Receive thanks and praise; receive exaltation.’)

That’s the song that came to me when I woke up this morning. It was just ringing in my ears and so I got up and sang it and sang and sang it. I literally had to force myself to stop. It feels so good to sing.

What a beautiful New Year’s morning this is! The sun is shining and I can hear birds chirping and the majestic church bells chiming from the Catholic Church in my neighborhood.

Of the many text messages I’ve received this morning wishing me a Happy New Year, one captured my sentiments completely. ‘Phew!’ it said. ‘We made it!’


My sentiments exactly.

I worked myself to the bone in 2013. Harder than any other year. I guess I keep saying that every year, but it’s always true. Each year seems to require more of me. I worked up until yesterday and I can now finally take a bit of time off. So, PHEW!

An incredibly busy year, but also an extremely rewarding year. I can honestly say that I got out of 2013 what I put into it, and I’m very grateful to God for His grace.

Sometimes in 2013, I’ve had to work so hard that I wanted to cry. I just never seemed to find the time to, though. It was that tough sometimes. Now that I have some time, maybe I will (if I still feel like it)!

Is this what it takes, Lord? I asked many times in 2013. I didn’t know that it had to be so hard sometimes.

This week, I read something that Laurieann Gibson said. I regret not saving it because I don’t remember the exact words and can’t find them even though I’ve spent the last hour searching. She said something like, “Until you come back empty at the end of the day, you have not put in a day’s work.” Something along those lines. This statement really resonates with me because that is often how I feel by the time I get home for the day – like I’ve poured out everything I have to give.

For the longest time, I have thought that this had to be abnormal. But when I examine the lives of people that have made a difference, that did anything great, or excelled at anything, I realize that it’s actually the norm. Other quotes (tweets) from the inspiring Laurieann Gibson are as follows:

You can’t get around working hard in this game and when u stay committed, success will come!

Rehearsal hard sweat blood tears … Brings out da best.

I work hard cause that’s what it takes

That’s what it takes.

In 2013, I was more fearless (or less fearful). I fought battles – boy, did I fight in 2013. I fought and I prayed and I thought outside the box. I was humbled in 2013 by the fact that I didn’t always know all the answers. Those humbling experiences made me open up my little box and think more expansively. I teased out the stuff that wasn’t working and hunted doggedly for real solutions. … And I experienced the sweet victory of winning.

My faith has been strengthened. I’ve gotten to know new dimensions of myself. I didn’t realize what I was capable of if I only submitted myself to some serious stretching. I know more than ever that I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. I know more than ever that God is mighty.

But I’m tired.

Thank you, Lord, for a little bit of time for refreshing.

And the year 2014 is finally here.

I plan to walk into it with joy, faith, and courage.

Too legit to quit.

Have a Happy New Year.