Monthly Archives: January 2014

Writing Companions

“La Danse” (second version, 1909-1910) by Henri Matisse, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

When I was a teenager and I still had an already old fashioned record player, one of my favourite albums from my parents record collection was a record of Ravel’s “Bolero.” The cover was the second version of Matisse’s painting “La Danse.” (I would love to take credit for my great knowledge of art, but I actually found it by first googling “Ravel’s Bolero record” and then “red men dancing impressionist.” It’s amazing what google can do.) The painting and the music melded, and I remember lying on my bed, eyes closed, floating on the sinuous threads of the ballet, as the shiny black record undulated under the needle. The music starts out softly with a single flute and snare drum and then a clarinet, so softly (pianissimo I whisper) you can hardly hear it, and as each instrument takes up the Bolero theme, the orchestra grows louder and more rowdy until it finally ends with a tumbling crash.  

I would play it as I daydreamed and as I read and as I wrote little stories that I never finished. It is sensual music that pulls at your body so that you have to follow its rhythms, follow Matisse’s red dancers even if you are lying down.

I think this is the same record. Photo courtesy of Positive Feedback Online, Issue 14.

 

Sensual. It is a word that comes to me every time I hear Ravel, as does my old Jos room, with its fluttering blue curtains, and yellow record player on the floor, the shimmer of the large flat disc as it spun. A dizzying array of senses: circling vinyl, circling red nudes, circling bolero theme, whirl of instruments.

I have recently discovered Spotify (unfortunately not available in Nigeria), with its endless fields of free music. I write best when I am listening to rhythmic, wordless music, so Ravel’s Bolero is at the top of my “writing music” playlist, followed by a whole lot of Bach. I sway. I type. The orchestra circles and crescendos, trumpets blasting and drums marching.  I still get chills.

Outside the windows tonight, there is a mist that shines red in the security lights. The polar vortex with its arctic temperatures has given way to the more gentle Atlanta winter, and the rain comes and goes, tapping against the wood walls. The mist and the rain make me feel safe, provide a companionable solitude. I try to write but I think more of process than content, of memories rather than analysis, round and round with the clarinet.

I am alone tonight, but for two little writing companions, insects that look like knight’s shields, with a delicate inlay of filigreed gold, painted with tiny spots of red and brown. They explore my charge cords and my wallet and patter along the top of my screen with stalk legs, extending their patterned wings out from under their shields to whir away when I startle them. I wonder where they come from, these little beings, in all this cold. I think–I should write about these creatures, but I keep pushing the urge away–attempting to work on a chapter about censorship–until the music and the rain and the living things overcome me and I run through the cold corridors of the house to find my camera and wish as I hold my kit lens close, “Oh, if only I had a macro.”

(c) CM

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Escape (c) CM

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The Polar Vortex welcomes America into the Arctic Circle

Guess what this image is.

What is this?

What is this?

I arrived in America just in time to enjoy the coldest winter in almost half a century in some places (Reuters says Atlanta is having the coldest weather it has had for 44 years). Even in Florida, one of America’s sunniest southernmost states, as I left my sister’s house yesterday, her poor hibiscus bushes looked shriveled and sad, flowers translucent with cold, which at some points of the night got down to the teens Fahrenheit (around -7 Celsius). Still in Florida, we passed a fountain that had frozen over while the water was running, looking like something out of the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film, rather than Florida. Arriving in the Atlanta area where my grandmother lives , we were welcomed with the news that the pipes were frozen. Fortunately, there was still a trickle of water coming out in the kitchen sink and the front bathroom, but the hot water heaters were not working, and the back bathroom was completely frozen up.

We put our bucket bath skills to work, my dad and I going outside to draw water in a small bucket from a creek that runs close by and heating water for dishes on the stove. However, we realized how helpless most of us living in America when faced with power or water outages as compared to Nigerians. First, we just aren’t used to such things and don’t have battery back-up systems or generators for power, or even proper-sized buckets or cisterns for collecting and storing water. Moral of the story being, great infrastructure is great, but it does sometimes leave people a little too comfortable, unable to cope in emergencies. Second, the weather is just so much harsher–North America is not a terribly friendly continent to live on without having a solid house and heat–, so that when such shortages happen, people suffer more in the short term, although the expectation is generally that things will soon be better. I imagine futuristic scenarios where America’s economy continues to spiral downwards into another Great Depression, combined with climate change, and people are left without electricity and water again for long periods of time. In such a scenario, poor people in Africa are much better off than poor people in northern countries, as this exciting new Kenyan science fiction series, Usoni, imagines. (Africa is the only place in the world where the sun still shines, prompting reverse immigration southward). And speaking of science fiction, check out these photos from Chicago!

Fortunately, the power stayed on in my grandmother’s house, though she said she had heard on the radio that it went off in some parts of Atlanta and there have been outages across the continent. According to The Independent, a power outage in Newfoundland Canada “left 90,000 homes without electricity” on Sunday. Imagine being without electricity or heat in temperatures of 20 below… And people have died, especially the homeless. CBC reports that at least 21 people have reportedly died during this freeze.

The most dramatic thing that happened in my grandmother’s house was the toilet freezing and a little flood when the pipes warmed up this afternoon. But fortunately my uncle is a brilliant plumber, so the problem has been solved for now.

Ice in the toilet-for web

ice in the toilet.

When I posted the status update “ice in the toilet” earlier on Facebook, my friend Richard Ali thought I was making some sort of existential statement about America. While it does make make a startlingly original poetic metaphor, this time the ice was literal. As Richard put it a “double entendre” from Nature.

In the meantime, I am hoping that the temperatures warm up before I head to Madison, WI, next week. Please help  me pray…. 

Transitions: Life changes and this blog’s 2013 in review

Happy New Year 2014

A lot has changed in my life since my last post, over a month ago. When I posted, I had just had a great writing day. I was about to submit a chapter. I was “raring to go” on the next chapter. I could see in my mind, the rest of the dissertation unfolding, almost effortlessly.  I felt like it was almost already written. It was a blessing, that day of writing.

The day before my grandmother in the American state of Louisiana had an accident. She ran off the road into a tree. We heard that she was awake when she was admitted into the hospital. I don’t think I realized how serious it was. I’m glad I got a lot of work done that day because by Friday, I was packing up my little house where I had written much of my dissertation in order to fly back to the U.S. for a funeral that we knew would be soon. Initially, we had reserved tickets on Saturday, which we held off on buying because we heard she was getting better. She passed away on Monday, and my parents and I flew to Lagos the next day (almost late because I was still trying to pack and organize the materials I was leaving behind. I am very grateful to a few kind friends who came over to help me and who are still helping me scan a box of magazines and other materials I couldn’t travel with). From Lagos, we flew overnight to Atlanta, and by Wednesday morning Eastern Time, we were in a rental car driving to Louisiana for the funeral. Perhaps I will write another post on the funeral and a longer post on my remarkable grandmother. But for now, here are two of the columns I wrote during that time: “A Death at Christmas-time,” and “Home for Christmas?” (and a third rather random piece from last week as America begins to eat my brain cells, “When the lights go out in America and other thoughts on the last day of 2013” .)

I have spent a few weeks with my sister in Florida, trying to continue writing in her quiet, peaceful house. It has been surprisingly cold here in one of America’s southern-most states, but nothing to complain about these days. I am nearly in tears every time I hear dramatic sub-zero weather forecasts further north and face thoughts of returning to scenes like this (Photos I took in Madison, WI in the winter of 2007).

hard beauty

hard beauty. Flowers of metal and ice. (c) CM

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Fangs of ice (c) CM

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Welcome to Wisconsin. Have a seat. Make yourself at home. (c) CM

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And yet there is life, shed of its green, waiting for the earth to tilt and the sun draw near once again. (c) CM

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And winter too has its beauty. (c) CM

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It’s hard to be bitter looking at these photos again. These crystal patterns sculpted by Winter herself (c) CM

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Her gift to those who stay inside the glass, to those who do not defy her. (c) CM

Yes, I posted too many frost pictures. Let me know which one you like the best.

I think of the homeless at times like this. And I hope that churches and mosques and synagogues and other community centres are opening their arms. I read from Facebook friends in Madison that the Salvation Army and public libraries are opening, and that some organizations are paying for hotel rooms.

I wonder how homelessness can be possible, how the homeless survive winter after winter in these deadly days in this part of the planet that is habitable only by those who can afford four walls and heat?

In the meantime, WordPress has cheered me up with their neat little end of the year report. I have been a little obsessed with SEO [the acronym for site optimization, though I can’t remember what the “E” stands for (UPDATE: Actually, as my friend Nwunye reminded me, its “Search Engine Optmization”… duh)] this year when my site hits dramatically and unexplainably decreased in November by around 70%, but as of December they have sprung back up to normal. That makes me happy. Here is the report WordPress sent me for 2013. Even with my November dip, 2013 still seems to have outranked 2012 by about 10,000 hits:

 

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 190,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.