Monk. Astronomer. Artist

First written on 11 August, 2016, on Facebook.

 

Monk. Astronomer. Artist. Architect. Priest. Psychologist. Lawyer. Monk. Historian. Writer. Physicist. Painter. Actor. Activist. Academic. These, at different times in my life, are the things I have wanted to be, or have been pushed to be, or now am, or know that I would one day be, or one day want to be, or will never be.

In the beginning, it was Astronomer, because child years of Discovery Channel made Mars so cool, until I learned I needed to know Mathematics for that and so I let it go. Through childhood, it was also Artist, because I could draw, still can draw: a solid dream. Then it became Monk, because I’d stumbled upon St Gregory the Great’s biography of St Benedict, a life-changing booklet called Life of Saint Benedict, Benedict who remains my favourite saint. Then, without leaving Artist and Monk, I moved on to Architect, because an aunt studied it and I heard architects made cool money.

All through this time, people were pushing hard: you go to church everyday, Block Rosary every night, you’re so quiet, you need to be a Priest. But Psychologist walked in instead, because another aunt had studied it and moved to London and I felt I just had to go to London to know what London People were thinking, because that was what psychology was in my world: a people-reading manual. Then teachers and classmates put Lawyer in my head because students who are good in arts subjects have to study Law. Then Monk returned: but one evening in 2012, after a conversation with my mother, it fled forever. And Historian took over fully: “Professor of International Relations” would look cool on my resume.

Then in June of 2012, while reading Half of a Yellow Sun, Writer, an inchoate want that had always been there since childhood, became serious. Still is serious. But Physicist remains a dream I will never fulfill, never helped by that film The Theory of Everything. And Painter is a world I would be fully alive in. And Actor, because Cate Blanchett and Daniel Day-Lewis blow my small mind. And Activist, because this world sucks so fucking bad. Months after I first wrote all of the above on Facebook, Academic strolled by and, boy, I grabbed it.

Months on, nearly two years on, I still want.

A Night with Aaliyah

Written on 25 August, 2016, on Facebook.

 

Strange. In the past few days, I’ve taken to replaying Aaliyah—“Try Again,” “More Than a Woman,” “We Need a Resolution”—only to make an unexpected discovery today: that today, August 25, is the 15th anniversary of her death. She died in a plane crash, in 2001. Even though I must have seen her with Jet Li in Romeo Must Die, I remember Aaliyah more as a singer, as I imagine most people would, than as an actress. I remember that her songs were my introduction to pop music, that were it not for her I may never have had an ear for pop music. Aaliyah affected me. Aaliyah contributed to the beauty of my childhood and was, until her death, my favourite musician.

2001. And then, in 2003, Beyonce, already turning my head with Destiny’s Child, landed with “Crazy in Love” and replaced her. And then, in 2007, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” happened and every other love folded into some aging archive. But without Aaliyah, nothing would have happened, nothing of the magnitude of pleasure I derive from music.

This is to the slender woman in black whose dance moves I once imitated in front of the TV. Even if her face is fading from my memory.

 

 

Image from Flickr.

A Bit of John Berger

I am with friends, those ones who have become family, when I realize that the book on the marble table is John Berger’s and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. A small white book whose particular existence, out in the world and in this room, I have been unaware of. It lies there, beside the glass plate of oiled, peppered roast plantain sprinkled with utazi, in danger of being stained by oil as we eat and talk. Minutes ago, the book is open in my hands, the sentences filling my eyes:

Paintings are static. The uniqueness of the experience of looking at a painting repeatedly—over a period of days or years—is that, in the midst of flux, the image remains changeless.

But to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.

I have known his name for years, mostly as the author of G. who donated half of that novel’s Booker Prize winning money to the Black Panther Party in the U.K., but it was when Teju Cole, if I recall rightly, mentioned him last year, following his passing, that I became interested in his work. I still haven’t read him, not one full book, but it would be impossible to not acknowledge Berger’s meditative mastery of time and space after just a handful of sentences—in my case, just one:

The sexual thrust to reproduce and to fill the future is a thrust against the current of time which is flowing ceaselessly towards the past.

In the book before me, my friend has underlined many lines, a poet-friend whose philosophical awareness I trust, so I simply read the lines:

And the naming of the intolerable is itself hope.

A waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall.

But what these lines bring back to me is an urge I first felt a week ago, a prod to perform language in my own work, to be able to locate meaning and musicality and untie it to progression:

How then can poetry so perform language that, instead of simply communicating information, it listens and promises and fulfils the role of a god?

 

 

Image from NearSt. 

On Billboard’s “100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century: Critics’ Picks”

I should begin by confirming that I’m neither a music critic nor a video expert.

Billboard has been my go-to, as it is millions of music lovers’, for not only charts and stats but also for how to engage with the work of certain artists who I’m unsure of, how to think about sounds and trends in the grander business of music history. But lately, I find myself disagreeing with their pieces on the legacies of some artists. It started with that piece arguing Beyonce’s comparison to Michael Jackson in terms of performance ingenuity, and continues with their “The 100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century: Critics’ Picks,” published on 24 July.

I can’t help but disagree with the ranking.

Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” directed by Francis Lawrence, lands at No 1, deservedly so, followed by Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” directed by Dave Meyers; D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” directed by Paul Hunter; Beyonce’s “Formation,” directed by Melina Metsoukas; Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” directed by Bryan Barber; and Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” by Metsoukas again—at Nos 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively. But my happiness that Metsoukas is deservedly recognized for her best two videos was cut by seeing Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” directed by Joseph Khan, at No 7. I understand that greatness can be found in a video opening on an aeroplane, with Britney as an air hostess, and in flashy shots in which Britney is dressed in shiny clothes and is a futuristic heroine, but I do not understand how that video is this one. Especially when this one places ahead of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” directed by Jake Nava, at No 8. The Top 10 is completed by Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” directed by Spike Jonze, at No 9, and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” directed by Hiro Murai.

After Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis,” directed by Spike Jones, at No 11, and PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” directed by Cho Soo-Hyun, at No 12, the ridiculousness returns. At No 13—one spot ahead of Lady Gaga’s Beyonce-featuring “Telephone,” directed by Jonas Akerlund, and two ahead of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies—is a choice I’m not even accepting as the artist’s best: Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” directed by Joseph Khan. For real? How is “Blank Space,” with its trite angst of a wealth-spoiled, angry lover, even in the same space as, not to talk of being ranked ahead of, “Telephone” and “HUMBLE.,” two modern classics by artists whose music and video legacies are among the greatest of the current crop in the business? How is a show of opulence and jealousy anywhere around these two which merge serious art and social consciousness without compromise? I suspect that, as with Britney at No 7, Billboard’s critics have mistaken Swift’s huge celebrity for video artistry.

Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” directed by Meyers, sits at No 28, and Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers,” directed by Wolf Haley, is at No 32, four spots ahead of Rihanna’s Jay-Z-featuring “Umbrella,” directed by Chris Applebaum, at No 36, with Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” directed by Colin Tilley, at No 37. Kanye West’s Pusha T-featuring “Runaway,” directed by West himself, is at No 39, and—this is blasphemy—Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” directed by Akerlund, is at No 40. Question: How did these five videos end up behind Katy Perry’s Snoop Dogg-featuring “California Gurls,” directed by Matthew Cullen, at No 23?

Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” co-directed by Rihanna and Megaforce, is at No 61; Missy Elliot’s “Gossip Folks,” by Meyers again, is at No 64; Kendrick Lamar’s “I,” by Alexandre Moors, is at No 75; Janelle Monae’s Big Boi-assisted “Tightrope,” by Wendy Morgan, is at No 73; Gotye’s Kimbra-assisted “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Natasha Pincus, is at No 77; Madonna retains her video relevance with “Hung Up,” by Johan Renck, at No 79; and Miley Cyrus scores a second entry with “We Can’t Stop,” by Diane Martell, at No 80, after “Wrecking Ball,” directed by Terry Richardson, zoomed in high at No 19.

David Bowie comes in at No 87 with “Lazarus,” directed by Johan Renck, as does Aaliyah at No 93 with “Rock the Boat,” by Hype Williams. Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” directed by Nabil Elderkin, is at No 96; Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” by Sam Brown, is at No 97; and Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever,” by Francis Lawrence, one of the videos of my childhood, arrives at No 99. The list is closed off by Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down,” directed by Matt Lenski.

 

 

Image collage from Billboard.com.

The Coo of a Blue-Plumed Bird

1.

When I write prose fiction and poetry, the sparks that birth my words ignite from within, a thing riotous and chaotic, kindling and kindling until cooled, but when I sketch essays or anything else, it all begins with a small, calm flame outside of me, a gathering glow out there in the world. Mornings, evenings, I take walks, on still-sleepy streets, on bubbling roads, in wild bushes, my mind ajar, ears open, eyes searching, all my senses in brazen awareness. On these walks, I am alert to the forms that my sparks of inspiration might assume: the slide of a drop of dew off a lemon leaf, the unsettling slither of an invisible animal in the grass, the tilt of a palm tree bending in the wind, the waning gold of dusk light, an excited child scampering along the sidewalk with a wrap of roasted corn, the blinking headlamps of a foul-mouthed driver’s vehicle, the low coo of a blue-plumed bird. Without walking, without immersing myself in the rawness of the world, I do not write. I can, but I don’t, because there’s something deepening about tossing ideas in your mind on a stroll, about knowing that the sight of a squirrel on the run might be all your story needs to set its feel, its tone, its life.

2.

In 2009, when I began paying attention to literature, it was poetry that I first wrote: politics poetry, love poetry, rain poetry: a phase of stimulation sown by J.P. Clark’s “Agbor Dancer.” Then one afternoon, Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty made me want to write prose, but instead I began a diary, until July of 2012 when I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and finally decided to write seriously, and then began my first short story that August, then left it, then completed my first full one in October, then showed it to only one person, then finally, after beginning Purple Hibiscus, I made my first confident attempt, a four-page baby called “Small Things.” In March of 2013, I stumbled onto Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow, a novel partly set in Aba where I grew up, whose prose style was instantly attainable and so eased me in. Yellow-Yellow was a turning point: it gave me permission to write.

3.

I have a complex, overlookable relationship with the word “writer.” I don’t consciously think myself a Writer. What I think is Storyteller, because before I ever knew I would write, I told stories, recitations of grand historical events that usually had my family and friends still and entranced, and so I think myself a storyteller who happens to have found his expression in writing, who had he chosen painting would still tell stories with his brush strokes.

I first read, then I wrote; I read now, then I write. And it helps greatly that I am widely and wildly interested in Things. Artsy Things. All Things. History. Physics. Religion. Biographies. Nature. Mathematics. Music. Movies. Barbing and carpentry. Diversity that grants me a flexibility of imagination, offers unrestrained utility in my writing. My writing life is hemmed around this trajectory: Reading all and reading deep, reading and pausing, reading and re-reading, pondering why the author chose a comma rather than a semi-colon, why the author refused to close a sentence soonest, chose to let it run and run, on and on, like a cultured snake. This way, I learn the magic of words, and I learn the rhythm of meaning, and I learn the truth of stories, and I surrender to their often-overwhelming power: opening Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things or Ali Smith’s “The Art of Elsewhere” and feeling elevated to soaring levels of perception, having a writer-friend tell me he felt likewise reading Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”

I cannot be without weighing words, without painting images, or crafting metaphors and similes and personification, or dressing phrases, or polishing syntax, or drafting and redrafting sentences in my head, in my notebooks, on my phone, on an okada, on my Laptop, Nnaemeka.

4.

To write, for me, is to care too much, too deeply, to exist in a state of wild curiosity about the world, about life and love and longing, pain and people and prayers, questions and  meanings and fear. To write, for me, is to comb the words and look of strangers for probabilities, to prod vulnerabilities for possibilities, to wonder what story lay behind that tilt of the head, that blink of the eye, that warmth in a handshake, that unprovoked outburst. To write, for me, is to remember all that has been said, all that has been done, to ruminate and pick them apart as they are being said and done. To write, for me, is to be in deep sleep and have a seductive sentence catwalk into my head, to be torn in a consequent half-sleep between the pleasure of rest and the business of craft, to succumb to the latter and get up and open Nnaemeka because the sentence might walk out of my life if I don’t, walk away and forever.

To write, for me, is to live in an interminable stream of perception, to infuse observation with perception, to understand the boundaries of both.

5.

My writing is about dabbling into other arts, about finding inspiration in a Vogue cover of Rihanna, or in the vortex of creativity that is a Lady Gaga music video, or in the piano riff of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” or in Kelly Clarkson’s haunting contralto in “Already Gone,” or in the multifaceted tangibility of a Wangechi Mutu painting, or one by Kehinde Wiley, or one by Kerry James Marshall, or in an artistically inexhaustible book cover helmed by Victor Ehikhamenor.

To write, for me, is to find in the craft of non-writers grounded depth for characters: the majestic gait of Daniel Day-Lewis, the domineering elegance of Cate Blanchett, a moment-halting stare from Viola Davis, the sensuous swagger of D’banj, the nuanced restraint of Genevieve Nnaji, the calm assuredness of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the charismatic masculinity of Idris Elba.

To write, for me, is to indulge in a collection of ornamentally poetic, elegant, sprawling titles of works of art: Julie Maroh’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, Alexander Pope’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

6.

There breathes, in the writings of my influences, a beating, bleeding, sensitive heart: Teju Cole, Jhumpa Lahiri, Adichie, Uwem Akpan, Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Garth Greenwell, Chinelo Okparanta, Michael Ondaatje, Marilynne Robinson, Richard Flanagan, Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee.

To write, for me, is to try to recreate this heart, to endow my fiction with nuance, resist the temptation to unnecessarily “elevate characters to archetypes,” the carelessness to “reduce them to stereotypes.” Because, to me, they are people. Because their conjured humanity is the only way I convince myself that their stories matter enough to hold my unwavering interest.

7.

Late 2012, in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, just before I wrote my first story, I joined The Writers’ Community (TWC), a group of undergraduates meeting, reading, sharing prose, poetry, even music lyrics. Late 2016, we remain a literary family, mapping out careful, honest criticism, necessary encouragement to each other.

The writing life is mostly about community. And often about rooting for favourite authors and scrutinizing awards and dabbling into literary arguments. But always, always about this: the hunger for success.

 

 

Image by Dawn Ashley via Flickr.

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader

I read the book after I watched the film. It has never happened before. Not because I think films are equivalent to books—they mostly aren’t—but because I haven’t always had the pleasure of sampling a work on both page and screen. When I read books, it is because I want to read them. When I watch films, it is because I want to watch them. Never because I want a dual media consumption. I watched and enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films and the eight Harry Potter films, and both book series aren’t yet on my reading list. And while I have watched and admired Sam Mendes’ 2008 film Revolutionary Road, the 1961 novel it is based on, by Richard Yates and of the same name, isn’t yet on my list. On the other hand, most of the fiction I’ve read, a good number of them by Africans, have no film adaptations yet. But one case where I read the book and watched the film was Half of a Yellow Sun. I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel before watching Biyi Bandele’s 2013 adaptation.

Until this year, Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader sat where Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt sat: books I owned and hadn’t read but whose films I have watched. Todd Haynes’ 2015 film Carol, based on Highsmith’s 1952 novel, is my most beloved film. Stephen Dawdry’s 2008 film The Reader is one of the most emotionally exhausting I have loved, and it was during it, while pegged by Kate Winslet’s arresting performance, that I searched for Schlink’s 1995 novel. I read its synopsis and reviews. It interested me. But crucially, I loved its title: The Reader. Simple. Intriguing. Not what a writer drawn to the profound would predictably admire.

I finished Schlink’s The Reader almost three weeks ago, and feel this soothing balm on my chest. I had read an e-copy, I who am bored easily by books not in print, but unlike the many e-copies of books I’d begun, I did finish it. The sentences carry both history and conscience, a recourse to morality that often seemed nitpicky in its efforts to exhaust.

 

Image from Bookslovereviews.

74 Songs I Really, Really Listened to in 2017

“Particula,” Major Lazer ft. Nasty C, IcePrince, Patoranking, Jidenna
“Sugar,” Myro
“Yu Zimme,” Lisa Mercedez ft. Ms Banks & Stylo G
“Untouched,” The Veronicas
“Mirage,” Brymo

“Billion Naira Dream,” Brymo
“My Lover,” Victoria Kimani ft. Phyno
“Bury Me,” Brodinski ft. Maluca Bricc & Baby Shitro
“Rains of Castemere,” Game of Thrones
“Komije,” YCEE

“Firework,” Illbliss
“Ella,” Dice Ailes
“Ella Eh (Love like Tsunami),” Dencia
“Booty Language,” Skales ft. Sarkodie
“Uba Si na Chi,” Umu Obiligbo

“Ese,” Frank Edwards ft. Bella
“Single and Searching,” Yemi Alade ft. Falz
“Easy JeJe,” Reekado Banks
“Tonight,” Nonso Amadi
“Melanin,” Sauti Sol ft. Patoranking

“Love You Die,” Patoranking ft. Diamond Platnumz
“Sweet,” Maheeda
“Said,” Nasty C ft. Runtown
“Love Galore,” SZA ft. Travis Scott
“Iron,” Woodkid

“Get Free,” Major Laser ft. Amber of Dirty Projectors
“Novule Bianche,” Ludovico Einauldi

“Suited,” Shekhinah
“Love on the Brain,” Rihanna
“Faded,” Alan Walker
“Sceptre,” Alan Walker
“Ma Lo,” Tiwa Savage ft. WizKid
“Be,” Tekno

“Come Closer,” WizKid
“Despacito,” Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber
“Angel by the Wings,” Sia
“Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B
“Me and You,” Praiz ft. Sarkodie
“Call on Me,” AdekunleGold

“Freeze You Out,” Sia
“Run Up,” Major Lazer ft. PartyNextDoor & Nicki Minaj
“Intentional,” Travis Greene
“What About Us,” Pink
“Love Me Now,” John Legend

“Ayama,” Shuleydee
“New Rules,” Dua Lipa
“Be the One,” Dua Lipa
“Dusk Till Dawn,” Zayn Malik ft. Sia
“Sicker,” Niniola
“1-800-273-8255,” Logic ft. Khalid & Alessia Cara

“Young, Dumb, Broke,” Khalid
“Alone,” Alan Walker
“Sing Me to Sleep,” Alan Walker
“Whistle,” Alan Walker
“No Fake Love,” Lil Kesh

“Baby Favour,” Lil Kesh
“Come Home,” PMO
“Live for Today,” Dennis Winslow ft. Robert J Walsh & Ronn L Chick
“Can’t Believe,” Kranium ft. TY Dolla & WizKid
“Kilamity,” Sugarboy ft. Kiss Daniel

“Mama,” Mayorkun
“Green Light,” Lorde
“Buzzcut Season,” Lorde
“Running with the Wolves,” Aurora
“Rockabye Baby,” Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul

“Deep End,” Ruelle
“Runaway,” Kanye West
“Wait for Me,” John Drille
“My Love,” Wale ft. Major Lazer, Dua Lipa & WizKid
“HUMBLE.,” Kendrick Lamar

“Gorgeous,” Taylor Swift
“China Love,” Victoria Kimani

Song I listened to most: “Suited,” Shekhinah
Artiste I listened to most: Alan Walker