Friday, 14 October 2016

...that Utopia is Inexistent

I have been wondering about sad books for a little while now. I think it started sometime in August when I finished a novel called My Sister’s Keeper by Jodie Picoult, a novel which just shattered me into a million pieces. Currently, I am reading a book called If I Stay by Gayle Forman and I am hardly fifteen pages in but I am already getting heartbroken. I am just going to share a paragraph from it here to give a feel of the first few pages of the book:
“I see Dad first. Even from several feet away, I can make out the protrusion of the pipe in his jacket pocket. “Dad,” I call, but as I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower. I know what I’m seeing right away but it somehow does not immediately connect back to my father. What springs into my mind are those news reports about tornadoes or fires, how they’ll ravage one house but leave the one next door intact. Pieces of my father’s brain are on the asphalt.”
Here’s something else: the narrator is not ‘intact’, she’s also extremely hurt but I will leave it at that for the time being.
So why do we like sad books?
I feel it is worse for me because I tend to seek out sad books. I make conscious efforts to search for and find sad books. On kindle I search for the tag ‘sad’, I go on and search for books before buying, I look for quotes that seem sad, I find sad taglines and such things. When I go to bookstores, I read blurbs for hours of a plethora on books to seek out which ones I envisage could be the saddest and buy them. I am a sucker for sad stories. And here is the thing, I am not alone. Many people prefer heart-wrenchingly, paralyzingly sad books to the happier, sugary ones.
I have a few things to say on this.
There’s a Greek term in the field of dramatic art called Catharsis which basically describes the effects that tragedy (and comedy) have on the audience. The dictionary defines Catharsis as I would like to describe it for the purpose of this post: ‘the act or process of purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art.’ For me, I see it as this: We come to sad stories because we want to be relieved of something even if that something may only exist in our minds or in our thoughts. I read sad books because they tend to have this ability to cleanse me of infirmities that are only emotional in existence. I am purged when I read a sad book. It is a somewhat difficult concept, I must confess.
Also, when things are too happy, they seem unreal, unnatural. A sad book is something that is likelier to happen in the real world because the world is actually a sad, messed up place where bad things happen to good people. Life is not a bed of roses and sad books remind us of this. Happily ever afters, most of the time, only ever happens in fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White and Rapunzel (and Shrek).
I enjoy a book that takes my emotions on a rollercoaster journey. I need characters that are flawed, just like me, broken, just like me. I want to be able to sympathize with a character in a book because life is happening to him, because life is happening to her as it happens to every other person. I want to be able to question the things that I have accepted with open arms before and I want the writer to give me a fantastic reason to question those things. I want to be told by a good story that many times, life is no utopia: that utopia is inexistent, that happiness is not a butterfly and that it is okay for things not to be perfect.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Happiness Is Not A Butterfly

‘I hate you, I wish to never see you again,’ she said the words as though they were meant to leave her mouth and transform into a machete and slash your throat.
The day you met her, the rain began suddenly. The clouds became dark and saturated like cotton-wool dipped in iodine. You were walking back to your off campus apartment from class and she was walking back to somewhere from somewhere. You scurried for cover when it began to rain – you found a shade by the Social Science Lecture Theatre. She joined you seconds later, she was drenched already and you wanted to ask her what the point of finding a shade was since she was already that soaked, it made you laugh.
‘What is funny?’ She asked.
‘Oh I’m sorry. It has nothing to do with you.’
‘It better not,’ she hissed. Apparently, the rain, apart from having soaked her, had also enraged her.
‘You don’t have to take your anger out on me,’ you said, ‘it’s not my fault that you got drenched.’
‘But you were laughing at me.’
‘I was not laughing at you, I was laughing at something I thought about.’ You lied.
‘Yea, right.’
‘Would you like a handkerchief?’ You said, extending your napkin to her and for the first time, getting a glimpse of her face. She looked like an October afternoon, the way her hair made a bun behind her head and the wetness glued a strand to her forehead, the way her Indigo coloured T-shirt had “Mobile Orchestra” written over it and a set of trumpets painted beneath the writing, the way her nails were polished purple and the way her black jean trouser stopped just before her ankle and her yellow, watermarked sandals had red sand on them.
She collected the handkerchief, ‘thank you.’ She wiped water off her arms and then off her face, very gently, so that she would not also wipe off her makeup, then she adjusted the strand of hair that had been plastered on her forehead so that it went behind her ear.
‘You look beautiful,’ you said. She looked at you and suppressed an urge to smile then returned your napkin. ‘How do you do that?’
‘Do what?’ She asked.
‘Suppress a smile so effortlessly.’
She laughed. ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’
‘Really, you should not do that. There are probably a million scientific researches that prove that doing that is bad for you. What’s your name?’
‘My name is Jake; short for Jacob.’
Your first date was to the cinema where you both saw an action movie. You thought it was gory and violent and had too many guns and had too many people killing people, and she thought it was awesome. Your second date was to the zoo, you liked the baby possums, their cuteness was affective, she liked the lions and she recorded the sound of their roars and used it as her ringtone.
It was after you had spent three months together that you knew she was special and so you needed to breakup with her: You were both seated on a bench under a neem tree in a park and a butterfly, the variegated colour of a snail’s shell, landed on her lap. She smiled. ‘Someone once said that Happiness is a butterfly; if you try to chase it, you may never catch it, However, sometimes, you could be sitting under a tree, chatting with the love of your life and minding your business and it comes and alights on your lap. You are my happiness, Jacob.’
You smiled because you did not know how else to react. You did not want to be anybody’s happiness the same way you did not want anybody to be your happiness. She was becoming everything, but nobody could become that because you had promised yourself that you would never let anyone get so close to you that they could hurt you. When you were eight years old, your mother left. She took off with a rich man and left you with your father. You never recovered because she was everything, she was heaven in the most golden, glorified definition of the place; she just up and left you alone and cold like a chewing gum whose flavour had been chewed off of it. Years later, you decided that life was better lived without attachments.
That morning, when she called to ask if you were home because she wanted to come over, it took you a minute to say yes, you were home and she could come, you knew you had to do it that day.
‘I’m sorry, Grace.’ You said after she had said that she never wanted to see you again and she had stood up and had picked up her bag and had faced the wall and had begun to sob.
‘Do you know what your problem is?’ She asked and you wondered if the question was supposed to be a rhetorical one. ‘You think you are immune to love. You think you are impervious. But you are not, you see? Nobody is.’
You wanted her to leave; you did not want to hear those theories of hers that she choked people with: This person thinks too little of himself. That person walks as though heaven and earth was created only for her. ‘I am sorry,’ you said again. ‘This just can’t work, you are a good girl, Grace. You deserve way better than me.’
She finally left. She left the way twilight leaves at dusk: the way darkness usurps the lavender: even though you would rather not have it, you cannot stop the darkness from taking over and so you have to let go.
Happiness is not a butterfly, you said to yourself after she left. You do not sit down and wait for it because you may be served with something that you do not want. Happiness is the prerogative of each individual. You find your own or you let your own go, maybe someone else would find it.  

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Of Small Job and Big Power

I find the complete arrogance and impudence shown by people who have tiny jobs such as security guards, cleaners, secretaries, nurses, bankers and so on mildly disturbing. They seem to love to wield power even though they have little of it. I first wrote about this three years ago in a blog post I titled Misuse of Power, you may check it out here. Perhaps that was not an apt title because these people do not really have any power, they are just angry people who like to give others a hard time.
Sometimes bankers, especially tellers, are the worst. They are like those dementors in Harry Potter, they soak away ones happiness and replace it with moodiness and edginess and an urge to snap their necks. One of the most interesting things about bankers is that none of the monies they bandy about is theirs. Can you imagine being able to see all that money but not being able to touch any of it; it is kind of like being a door. Doors are what I consider to be the saddest, SADDEST things in the history of sad things. They let people into the party but they never attend the party themselves. Lucky they have no feelings. Bankers are like doors the way they are able to see but not touch. It does often seem like such a sad job and this is why sometimes one cannot blame them when they act like utter idiots:
‘I want to deposit some money.’ Person says to a teller whose face looks like a painting palette: There’s more makeup than face.
Teller stretches her hands. Badly bleached. Black knuckles. Black wrists. Fair arm.
Person hands teller some money as well as the deposit slip.
Teller hands it back. ‘You should give me the money first before the slip.’
‘What difference does it make?’ Person says.
‘Are you teaching me my job?’ Teller says.
Person takes a deep breath: Hands teller cash, then shortly after, hands teller deposit slip.
Teller looks through the slip. ‘It is not dated.’
Person collects slip and scribbles the date: Hands back to teller.
‘You did not write the account name properly.’ Teller says.
‘It is my account, I am depositing some money to myself, besides, what do you need the account name for, your business is with the account number.’ Person says.
‘Excuse me;’ Teller shouts. ‘I will not tolerate you teaching me my job.’
Person takes a deep breath, collects slip, looks at the clearly legible account name and draws a line over it then rewrites it above the cancelled one. He hands it back to the teller.
‘I am sorry,’ Teller says. ‘This is too rough. You will have to fill another deposit slip.’
Person asks for Account closure form and closes the account. One customer bank loses one customer.
C’est Fini!
This is such a bad thing, it runs from the security guards who stand huffishly by the gate with their stained white shirts and their dark blue trousers and tell you that you cannot go inside and ask ‘what can you do?’ and ‘Who do you think you are?’ when you attempt to argue with them, to the secretaries who wear Ankara prints from the last Ileya festival to work and tell you in their saucy, impertinent voices: ‘you cannot see Oga right now because Oga is in a meeting, you must go and come back tomorrow or the day after or next year or never ever.’ Or ‘You must be stupid to think that I will let you into my Oga’s office, do you want to fight me? Come and fight me now, useless man. I will call the security to get rid of you. Nonsense!’ Meanwhile Oga is in his office and has absolutely no clue what his dumb secretary has been saying to his visitors. This impudence on the part of tiny, miniscule, insignificant employees trickles all the way up, quite unfortunately, to nurses in hospitals. High-heeled and brainless are many nurses on most working days especially in public hospitals. They spend all day shaving their nails and painting their faces and talking about other people’s businesses and shouting abuses at poor, miserable patients who have no choice but to tolerate the maltreatment. ‘Doctor is busy right now. You are going to have to exercise some patience. You are going to have to tell me what your sickness is. What are your symptoms?’ They say, as if they have anything inside their head, shaking their overly made up faces so vigorously, you fear that the makeup would fall out of the face. It is often irrelevant what the severity of the patient’s plight is. The doctor is always busy. If you can’t tell me what your problem is, then you may die here for all I care. Sometimes, nurses are the worst.
On a final note, I do have some friends who are nurses and it is fair to say some nurses, just as I am sure it is with a few bankers and some secretaries and some security guards, are absolutely delightful and lovable human beings. The problem is that it is easy to generalize when some parts are bad. I mean, what would you do if I gave ten berries and told you three were poisoned?

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Blind Man's Circus

I have been a bit busy. There were things I needed to do. But I’m back now and that’s the most important thing.
How is life?
Interesting question, I think.  When someone asks how life is, I can’t help but wonder what the correct response is.  Is it supposed to be a personal question?  Is one allowed to just set off and REALLY tell the person how life is? Like, life is a blind man’s circus. It is a place, a place we hate but can't leave, even though leaving is not that hard. A place where we all pretend to know what we are doing but secretly we don’t, we are just waiting for someone to hold us by the wrist and lead us. Life is a thing, like a piece of paper, you can make marks on it and stuff, you can draw on it whatever you wish to draw on it, you don’t have to draw anything on it even, you can fold it by the edges and make it into an airplane or a boat or a gun or a flower: a rose and then you can paint it red with watercolour and you can pretend it is a real, sweet scenting rose and not just life folded at its edges. Nobody wants to hear any of these things, I don’t think. So why do they ask how life is? Why do we ask questions if we are unprepared to hear their answers?
I have been thinking about heaven and how relative a term it is and how maybe we have a wrong idea of the place. Yes, place. The first question is this: Is heaven really a place or is it an idea. I think that my imagination of heaven has changed a little in the last few years. Yes, I do think that heaven is a place, but not a place the way that the library is a place or the market is a place or the school is a place. It is a different kind of place, like, it exists on a separate dimension, a dimension different from the dimensions that every other place exists in. However, the composition of the place called heaven is what I think we may have the wrong ideas of. When I was younger, I pictured heaven as this golden republic where all the kinds of food you can ever imagine can be found and all you have to do to eat anything is as simple: think about it and it appears right in front of your mouth. What makes heaven heaven, is it the presence of everything we want or is it the presence of God? If it is the latter then we can as well say we are in heaven already, since, even at this moment, as you read this, God is with you. A lot of us have the idea of heaven as a golden republic, roads paved with gold just the way the bible describes it, but what happens inside? Other than the paved ways and golden streets, what happens inside the hugely ginormous mansions? More gold? Food? Books? God?
I have been thinking about the marketplace. The marketplace is a swirling vortex of entropy. It is chaos, it never stops: everybody is going somewhere; you cannot stand still in the middle of the market because you may be hit by a moving human body. There is something called Brownian motion in physics, it describes a phenomenon where particles suspended in fluid are in a constant state of random motion because they were unfortunate to bump into a fast moving molecule of the fluid. It is like the disorientation that occurs in your head after you accidentally hit it on a hard surface. This is what I am reminded of every time I go to the market. It feels as though everybody in the market is going somewhere even though nobody is actually going anywhere or knows where they are going. Most often, we are all looking for things and so we do not know where we are going because we do not know where we would find the things we are looking for. I think the only people who know what they are doing in a marketplace are the sellers, the ones who beckon on you to come and buy onions and tomatoes and red meat. They are strategic people, and they deserve some respect. They understand life. They understand the way in which the market works. They know that you cannot stand still, yet you cannot be sure where you are headed. They understand how life is a blind man’s circus, how he knows nothing except that there is space and so he just goes: walks and walks, aimlessly and confused, until someone holds him by the wrist and whisper’s in his ear: ‘this way.’ That is how they attract you: by telling you that they have what you are looking for, you can afford to stop moving now and go to them.
You can afford to stop moving now.
Till next time,, Keep dreaming!!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Fighting Fires

I have been suffering from Writer’s Block for a little over a month now. I used to like to think of Writer’s Block as a convenient condition where a writer is consistently not able to come up with any type of content, mostly because he can afford not to. Although, no matter how much I try to dismiss the idea, Writer’s Block is a real psychological condition where the writer simply loses his ability to come up with new work and its duration could vary diversely from a few days to years, and that is usually the problem, isn’t it? the idea that this might be it, the fear that your writing days may actually be well and truly over. As a writer, it is a horrendous situation to be in.
I finished a novel called My Sister’s Keeper on the 4th of August, it is written by Jodie Picoult. One of the characters, Brian Fitzgerald, who is the main character’s father, is a fireman and, well, a part time stargazer. His first statements in the book: for every nineteen degrees hotter a fire burns, it doubles in size... Then: It is the biggest mistake rookies make: the assumption that fighting a fire means rushing in with a stream of water. Sometimes, that makes it worse... Then: A fire can't burn forever.
Fires, as I intend to look at it in this post, could be several things.
The first fire is feelings. I have been talking about feelings on the blog for the last three or so posts because I think that our feelings are not things that we ought to hide from. Feelings, just like fires, are subject to a lot of assumptions. Just the way Brian Fitzgerald opines in My Sister’s Keeper that rookies have the wrong assumptions about fighting fires where to them it only involves rushing towards the fire with a stream of water, people also have very inaccurate assumptions about feelings: that Person A feels this or that way about them, that Person B would react in such and such a way when confronted with such and such a comment or such and such a threat; that Person C would get angry when they say this to him or Person D would love them when they do this for her. This is probably why people act the way they act towards other people and it defines even more important characteristics such as goodness, friendliness, kindness. These characteristics are interesting because they are subject to what different people consider them to mean i.e., they are also relative. However, a good person is probably not going to intentionally attempt to act in a way that would make Person B react unhappily or cause chaos in Person C’s countenance.
The next fire is pain and it is very different from feelings. John Green said in a vlogpost titled On Pain, ‘language is always inadequate in the face of pain.’ I have known a bit of pain and so I know that John Green cannot be any more correct about it. Words just do not cut it, there just aren’t words invented (this is assuming that words are actually invented) yet that even comes close to describing pain. This indescribable thing could be either emotional pain, the kind you feel when you lose a loved one to death or to over-inflated ego, or corporal pain, the kind that makes you writhe. However, just the way Brian Fitzgerald says it, a fire can’t burn forever, Pain can’t hurt forever. There comes a period, either due to passage of time or an effective medication, when pain just ceases, it just stops. A second thing about pain is its irreverence. Pain, no matter how used to it you get, is never, ever your friend. And this reminds me of a beautiful novel I read once called Life of Pi written by Yann Martel, where a young man named Piscine Molitor (Pi) Patel, after a shipwreck, sails on a life boat for 227 days in the Pacific with nothing for company but an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. For 227 days, Pi and the Tiger sail together, they get used to each other more than anything else so that by the time they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker, so extremely unceremoniously deserts Pi, the only living creature with whom he has spent the last 227 days. He wandered off into the forest. Richard Parker was never Pi’s friend, He was a Tiger, Pi was a man. This is how Pi describes it, I wept like a child. It was not because I was overcome at having survived my ordeal, though I was. Nor was it the presence of my brothers and sisters (fellow humans), though that too was very moving. I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. It is the same with pain. Pain is not your friend.
And the final fire, perhaps inevitably, is fear. Fear, just like feelings is very relative. Therefore, the fact that Person A has a fear for such and such does not mean that Person B would have that fear even if Person A and B are twins. This means that it is unlikely that fighting fear can be a group thing. Even if A and B have the same fears, the steps that A would take may not be the same as those that B would take. The absolute thing about fear is that it is a side effect of thought. You can only feel fear for something that you think about, and in this way, fear can be seen as a sort of clairvoyance, with your fear, even though it is mostly seen as negative, you are predicting what the future can be. Say Person A is terrified of snakes, and she finds a snake in her wardrobe, she becomes afraid because she is predicting that the snake she is so terrified of may harm her, this allows her to take some steps to avoid being harmed, it could be running away, getting people to help her get rid of it, etc. Brian Fitzgerald said for every nineteen degrees a fire burns, it doubles in size. The size of our fear becomes based on how long we let it burn. If Person A does not act quickly about the snake she has found in her wardrobe, her fear grows and grows until a point where her prediction becomes true. Fear is a rather complicated subject. Is fear a fire that we should extinguish, like the flames from a burning house? Or is fear a fire that invigorates and inspires and motivates us, like the flames of love? I will end with a quote I found by W. Clement Stone, Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.