Monthly Archives: October 2014

the problems,

For any meaningful project of self-improvement to occur there must first be substantial reserves of self-loathing.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. I spectacularly fuck up and brush myself off not learning enough from the pains of the fuck-up to avoid future repeats. For a long, long time I thought I could I solve all my problems by drinking less. Not quitting, just drinking less. There has to be a middle point where I don’t consistently get so fucked up that some of the night disappears in a haze, where I’m not so drunk that the next day is a half-life I stumble through until a moment comes when I jam my fingers down my throat and force myself to puke up what I put down the previous night, I need to never again wake up to the sun  without my phone or wallet in my pocket, my bag on my back or my shoes on my feet. These are the simple things. The simple steps I know I need to take in order to make my life better.

I got robbed again and I realised with a sick, sinking feeling that I don’t get robbed because Nairobi is an unsafe city filled with unsavoury individuals whose sense of entitlement and greed triumphs over their respect of private property. I realise that I get robbed because I inhabit the body of a man who does not know when he has had enough to drink. Who has never had enough willpower to turn down that last drink or that first one on an inopportune day or any ever. These are the facts, the fundamental problems of being me. The alcohol and the hold it has over me.

On the day I woke up shoeless I lay in bed in the afternoon and attempted to get to sleep. It was hard even though I was so tired I couldn’t read anymore my eyes watering and red from the attempts I was making at this in bed. I shut my curtains and turned away from the light and immediately I began shivering, it was cold so cold and I felt sad. There did not feel like there was enough air in my lungs and so I had to take these deep, deep breaths. Panicky breaths as I shook in my duvet because it was so cold, so, so cold. I was wondering what was wrong with me. I was thinking about my father and the heavy disappointment he must feel in me. All the words he said to me recently have been laced with it. And I was thinking about how right he was to feel the way he was feeling, to say what he was saying. Because I had passed that age where I could be disciplined with more than words and was not yet at the stage where being kicked out is a serious consideration. I felt sad for him because I could see that I was still leaving him no choice, living in his house and flaunting his rules regularly and thoroughly. I touched my wounds at the place I fell either under the influence of alcohol or a great big blow before they took away everything, even my shoes. They were raw and felt like punishment. I felt like punishment and so I imposed a solitary confinement on myself: two days in my room. Coming out for food. Avoiding everyone I live with and love like  because I was convinced that they felt disgust towards me. In the end unable to fall asleep because of all these thoughts I put on some music. I told myself, I actually told myself that I needed some escapism that I couldn’t handle being alone with my thoughts right then and so I turned on the music on my laptop and really listened to the words as I let myself drift away.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. And I don’t even know if I can convince myself that I am still happy. Sure there are things that give me satisfaction and contentment. I still laugh and love to read. I love to watch TV and movies and to listen to music and more and more I love to sleep. The whole week I’ve been thinking about the word somnolence not sure why but I finally looked it up. It’s apparently a great desire to sleep. I know that great desire because when I get into bed at whatever time I don’t want to get up. The morning is fine because I have somewhere I need to be but my evening and afternoon naps have gotten longer and more frequent. I get into bed and tell myself it’s just for an hour and then I can’t slip myself off of that feeling. I need more than that hour, I need two or three more. There is always music playing in the background and the songs mix into my dreams and take me on these wild adventures that I can’t play back when I am awake. It’s almost like I’m not hearing just the words anymore but also the symbols behind them. The lyrics become images  and I feel myself slip in and out of consciousness before the first song is over and slip deeper into the darker and, at the same time brighter world of the images until its night and there is no need to pull my curtains any longer because the night has let itself in. then  I open the curtains to get a look at the dark grey of the night sky and lean back in bed and listen to some more music because I’m hungry and I am not yet ready to go down and serve food since I feel too ashamed to see anyone I know.

I really don’t know what’s wrong with me. I watched Groundhog Day today, great movie about a guy who keeps repeating the same day over and over. He has some fun with it but there is a point in the movie where he feels it weigh down on him, where he feels it wear him away having to do the same things he did before again and again and again. He looks defeated, depressed, dead. I’ve felt this before. In university I would always feel this when exams were coming around and I was busy cramming for them. I would begin to wonder why I did any of it. The papers would come and they would pass and another semester would begin full of wonder and promise and quickly fill with the sort of rote routine that learning can give. That semester would have CATS and deadlines, good nights, beautiful women, desperate attempts, solid rejections, drunk nights, lovely conversations, wins and then it would end. It would come to this point where I would be cramming shitty law cases into my head for another upcoming end of semester exam. And I would wonder what the point of life was if I would repeat this over and over again for eternity. The same thing in a different pattern and again and again.

I thought that was bad then I started working and every Monday morning feels the same. I drag myself out of bed and try to put good cheer on it. I try to be happy, I tell myself a thousand things that I’m sure are repeated all over the world. Get it done one hour at a time, bury yourself in work and then it will pass faster, don’t do so much work and it will pass easier. A thousand and one platitudes but none of them is ever able to get rid of the dread that I feel as Monday approaches. The loathing I feel as I live through it. The depression I deal with every Monday, every single Monday ad infinitum. My own personal groundhog burrowing deeper and deeper into my soul with every passing week. To tell the truth how could I possibly be happy.

I think about the work itself and how little I enjoy it. How quickly I knew in my bones that this is not what I want to do every day for the rest of my life or really any other day on this earth. I think about just how little pleasure I get from my work and then I think about something else, anything else. I have another drink, I have a cigarette, I read a book, listen to music. Anything to keep myself from the mind-numbing work that I have to do. Anything to avoid seriously considering how it makes me feel. Then I get scared about how easy it is to settle for this because I need money. Money for lunch and credit, money for girls and liquor, money for internet and saving. Money for so many of the things you get used to once you have a pay check and the thought of one month without this money is enough to freeze me into an acceptance that I know is killing my soul. But human beings are not higher creatures after all. When an angel knew he didn’t want to kneel down to some imperfect creature he led a rebellion against a god that he knew to be omnipotent and omniscient yet I can’t  quit my job even though I have neither rent nor a child.

So I sat there watching Groundhog Day to take my mind off of all these things and instead it showed me exactly what was wrong. That I was doing the same thing and not enjoying it. That I was stuck in a job that was destroying my soul and that even as I write this I’m putting things in past tense as if I went ahead and changed any of this. I know what I should do. But knowing is not enough. There is a discontentment I feel and its spreading its fingers to touch almost everything in my life.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I know I have hated this year profoundly. This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the good times and the people that I have met this year. This is not to say that I haven’t laughed or indulged my appetites or controlled them at times or being over the moon happy this year. But it is to say I have really hated this year. There has been something off about the year 2014, so off that I almost write it off always thinking that we are living in 2015 and next year is 2016. There has been an inky spidery thing thrown over my life this year and I haven’t liked it. I don’t even know if I’m happy or not. Sometimes I think I am but even then I ask myself if I’m really happy or I just think I am. I try my best to convince myself that thinking I’m happy is as good as being happy and that there is no absolute value in truth. That sounds false though. And it makes me think that I know I am unhappy. That I am deeply unhappy with my life and the way I have lived it. With the things I do and the things I can’t stop doing. Maybe this fleeting joy that comes so easily to me is the problem. A butterfly, a sunset, a drop of rain, a pretty smile will give me pleasure enough that I can forget what’s going on inside until the next rush. So I don’t have to think about it.

Then of course there are the books. Volumes upon volumes, reams and reams that I consume steadily and I begin to think can be as debilitating as any addiction. I read not to discover but to escape. Because I’m not particularly enjoying what I’m feeling I lose myself in the world of what others are feeling, I allow it to take me somewhere else and have me think of a life that is not my own. Because they are books nobody will ever question this addiction i could read myself to an early grave but the fact that it’s something as innocuous as books means that nobody will ever tell me to stop. It’s probably as dangerous as booze because it’s a way to avoid reality to escape life and enter somewhere else. Somewhere where you are not a disappointment to a family that showered you with love or to a younger version of yourself that had nothing but hope.

I really, really don’t know what’s wrong with me. As I read and edit this right now I think its too bleak. I enjoyed today at work, it was interesting the assignment I had. The day passed swiftly and easily. I skidded around on my new shoes and this made me happy though it may be just another symptom of my pleasures taking away my pain. I made the decision to stop, not quit, just stop drinking to see if I can go the amount of time that it takes to know that its not really a problem. I realised that there really is no need to hide in my room because everything comes from a place of caring. But I also know that knowing all this and not acting on it doesn’t help anybody and so, I’m going to try my best to be better than I have been for a long time.

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in that parallel world…

Context is important. Two of my high school friends were having a fb conversation. It was inspired by a video of  a freestyle that was in turn inspired by two guys sitting on the side of the road playing their instruments. One(of my high school friends) posted a video of the freestyle and hacked back to their rap days and how this guy is almost as good as they were.

 

The reply:

I have just checked this out. You’re right… he’s almost on our level. We’re proof of what happens when a society’s education system deprioritises the arts. Who knows where EAW (currently an engineer) may have ended up had his talents been nurtured? Probably, in that parallel universe, he would be singing for change on the side of the road he built in this universe.

That paragraph needs nothing further added to it. In fact if you are in a hurry go ahead and get back to work because after that succinct, sublime, seminal string of sentences all that follows will be muddled and messy, merely marauding.

But I’ll go ahead and write it anyway because it deserves a review. This paragraph that starts off lambasting the education system we went through. Due to the society’s insistence on “practical subjects” we have no idea how many writers, actors, musicians, and designers we lost. Who knows how different our country would have looked, would have felt if we had all these people whose job it was to express a Kenyan identity. People who either knew what their countrymen wanted or who knew what they would like. Opinion changers and complacency satisfiers. A whole host of people who understood Kenya. Perhaps we wouldn’t still be grappling with the question of identity. We may not have been asking what it means to be Kenyan if there were people who understood us and had spent decades decoding it for us. Crafting a national myth and sewing together from our diversity a beautiful cloth that covered our vulnerability and healed the cracks that have been exploited over and over again in order to win elections.

Mark O’Connell writing in the newyorker says

Shelley’s famous line about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world always strikes me as giving a little too much credit to poets and a great deal too much credit to the world.

Yet another paragraph that does not need expounding. We can all with the great gift of hindsight say that if we had more art in our country we would have been understood each other better. The empathy that hearing other people’ stories inspired in us would never have let us look at our neighbours as if they were strangers deserving of being burned and hacked. Spontaneous performances of music would lift our spirits from the endless drudgery of daily life. Clothes that spoke truly of us, of who we are instead of who ruled us  once upon a time would definitely have meant that we would walk straighter and stand prouder.

This could all be true. But, and here’s the thing that it’s easy to forget Kenya is a developing country. There are basic things that we don’t have. We don’t have the best  roads or well enough built buildings, we don’t have enough hospitals, we simply don’t yet have the capacity to carry the things our country needs to carry. I mean that literally, to carry the food that needs to be transported from one corner to another, to carry the people who need it to their places of work, to carry the sick to hospital, to carry the ever growing urban population, to carry the still-ever growing but much easier to forget rural population, we can’t even carry the men with egos who would sit and rule over us.

I have absolutely nothing against art. I understand the therapeutic effect that it gives to the weary and the happiness with which it can lift a human soul. But that paragraph made me think. It made me think about what it is we really needed. What we needed at the time that these decisions were being made. I can’t help but think that the right call was made. Kenya has not moved very far past the days when we could see the holes punching through the roads in our capital because they couldn’t bear the weight of the trucks driving  over them.

The further back we look the less we can see. There was no focus on the arts in our school. The education system decidedly leans against the subjects that you excel in due to self-expression. But I can’t help but think that’s what the country needed and may still need for a while. There have to be streets before the career of a street musician becomes a viable alternative. Can anyone deny the changes brought about by the invention of m-pesa and then go on to argue that the presence of a national dress would have been more beneficial?

Today I met a guy who went to campus in the same period that I did he studied actuarial science. Now he’s a musician. He told me that he’s employed in the high school I went to. That it actually has an arts program now. That they have finally recognised the need for this in the lives of their students. We needed engineers and architects very badly for a very long time but I don’t think the need is nearly as pressing as it used to be. In fact I’m sure that the classes will be filled far beyond their capacity in universities all over the country.  Now we have enough resources to spread around. Enough money to invest in the architect and the actor, enough space to teach the future civil engineer and civics professor.

When that happens it gets to be time for a change. Without proper nurturing talent will still shine through and the best of the best will be huge musicians, great actors, well paid writers. As the economy matures I imagine it gets to a point where a middling engineer can feed his family just as much as a middling musician can. It’s the future I would like to live in. Unfortunately it’s going to be a bygone generation making these decisions on our behalf. Though, since time passes it will soon be us. The education system we put in place is  a reflection of the kind of society we want our children to live in. the biggest question then becomes what society that is.

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the end of the roll

On Saturday something happened to me that i was previously so sure never happens to anyone in the real world. I felt i had to share this experience.

A few minutes to freedom time on Saturday (yes i work on Saturday and while i realise that this is not the worst thing in the world it does not make me feel better about it. Other people being more miserable than me has never seemed like a good reason to feel happier.) I decide that the best way to pass the time is to go and take a shit. I know how my body works and i know that immediately after I relieve myself I will be hungry. Many people have told me that this is not normal and that this is not how it should be but it is and the near-impossibility people display when trying to understand this  makes me worry about human empathy. If its so difficult to accept that another person’s bowel movements are more frequent than your own and have a completely different effect on his body than yours do how could you possibly understand the far more complex and slippery things that are the emotions we go through or the untangable mess that is the biases through which we see the world.

So I grab a book because I have read while shitting for almost as far back as I can remember. This time I’m reading a book called Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s a great book sample the following quote where the narrator is thinking about emotions:

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show  how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness  inspired  by  failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

Another thing I like about this book is that when people ask me what it’s about I can say truthfully “a hermaphrodite” and watch their expressions. So as I walk into the toilet I meet the big boss man leaving right after he has dropped his load on Hiroshima. I duck into Nagasaki and begin my rumblings. What was the quality of that shit? I can’t quite remember-it was a Saturday so I had been drinking the night before this usually means that there is an explosive splatter that showers down the chute leaving drops and trickles all the way down the bowl. The kind that make you realise that the guys who build and design water closets know exactly what they are doing when they make the chute leak water down its wall. But I think it was less dramatic, this was after all my third outing of the morning and by then the bile with which my body was trying to expel alcohol had reduced. In fact I’m sure of this otherwise the next moments would have been much harder to bear with laughter.

As soon as I finish I reach under the tissue box and come up empty. I turn around and look on the roof of the WC and still nothing. I check the tissue box again. Nothing. I don’t panic though. I think that I have a phone and I can call one of the guys and explain my predicament. So I reach into my pocket and find…no phone. No solution. Because this is a hilarious situation I burst into peals and peals of laughter and wonder at myself. I wonder why  I allow myself into such horrible situations.

When the laughter dies down I begin to think of ways to get out of this mess. I have this idea that’s inspired by seeing the big boss man reach in for serviettes located right outside my cubicle when he was leaving. I think that I can reach for those serviettes and wipe myself down. I have to figure out a way to keep my ass cheeks separated because it would be disgusting if they reached out for each other and mashed and meshed together in a brown filthy suffocation of shit. At the same time I have to half hop out with my trouser and my boxer around my belt and then hop back in naked and shitty hoping that no one chooses that particular time to enter the toilet. I nix this idea quickly. It’s stupid; there are too many variables and chances for abject failure.

The other idea I have is to wait. It’s almost freedom time and with freedom for most men comes relief. There will be people going to pee and I just need to hear the door open and call out. I wait and wait. I worry about the brown paint drying but all I can do is wait. Not too long later though somebody does open the door to take a piss. I gather in a breath to ask for help, then I realise that I have no idea who this is. It could be the big boss man, it could be a client, or it could be a legitimate saviour. There is no way to tell. This means I can’t indiscriminately shout.

I have another light bulb and I mumble to myself.

“we wacha kujiongelesha tu ” he says and I can hear a familiar voice that will make fun of me but help me out.

“AAAAh ni wewe” I shout to my saviour

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faebook deaths

I vaguely remember my first after-Facebook death. Death is one of those things that we know about because it happens all the time, that we are intimate with because we watch the news, that we know because death is part of life. But then it’s so far away and unreal until it hits. There are a lot of first deaths that hit a person and remind them that the world is just a temporary staging area. The first time someone in your family dies and it hits you that this thing is real, that it’s entirely possible for a person to be here one moment and gone the next. When I was a child I wouldn’t accept it I thought that there was a witness protection program at play, I had dreams that resurrected these people. The finality wasn’t really there. I remember the first death of a person my age. That shakes your concept of mortality to the core. You realise for the first time that you can die too; it’s not a thing for people older than you it’s simply a thing for people.

But I’m here to talk about Facebook deaths. By this I mean a death that happened after we all joined Facebook and the person who died was also on Facebook. What follows is an outpouring of grief, empathy, and feeling that can restore your broken faith in social networks. The first thing I thought about after someone died was what would happen to their profile. No one can wipe out my profile but me, doesn’t that mean that there must be all these ghost profiles floating around in the ether with no one capable of deleting them, nobody to control them. When you think about what goes into a profile then these e-ghosts would have a pretty good handle on what this person was. It may have coincided with my watching of Caprica a science fiction TV show set a long time in the future or the past but very, very far away. In it someone’s daughter dies, he’s distraught but he’s also rich and brilliant and he realises that he can solve this problem. Had this been sci-fi from another age it would have been about her clone but we live in the digital age and what he does instead is take all her online data-Google, Facebook, twitter, links, likes, follows, porn, stalks, direct messages and much much more this being a sci-fi they live much more online than we do now. He uses all this information about her to make a digital clone of his daughter.

I don’t think digital clones are possible but I found it weird that there must be these profiles floating around. Someone writing them messages every once in a while or posting on their wall. I thought that, given my predilection to superstition and the existence of magic, this kind of activity carrying with it all the time all these moments of the person that he had kept from other people: secret groups, chat messages, stalk activities would definitely mean something to that other world that lies just beyond the curtain and on the other side of the mirror. Then I found out that profiles are taken down by the site managers if someone is reported dead. All that magic was a bust.

On another note those messages of….well I’m not sure what they are surely not messages of condolence because those are to the people grieving. What is the definition of an RIP? It’s a message to the other side. To a person on the other side. Writing on a person’s Facebook wall or writing to them on Facebook (I’m almost 100% sure that some people write the dead person an inbox expressing their feelings on the passing) is an activity that got me thinking about how much we talk to the dead. The fact is people always have. We tell them we miss them, we ask their advice, we turn to them with a thought in our heads that we are sure they would appreciate before we stop ourselves at times we don’t stop ourselves. This is the way it has always been. We talk to the dead. We do it now, we have done it forever. We pour out a little liquor and make speeches at gravesides.

I’m not sure why we do this. What belief system were we brought up with that taught us that the dead are there listening to us. Most of the people I grew up around were raised Christian a few lost their faith but there is nothing in either of these traditions that tells us there are people waiting to listen to us. Except maybe the catholic tradition of saints and purgatory. Otherwise most of the Christian denominations believe that when one is dead they wait for the second judgement before they are raised. I think that even most Catholics don’t consciously believe that their dear departed can hear them or read their Facebook messages.

Yet we continue to do this. I’m not sure it’s just denial. Denial of a dead body is especially difficult once you lay your eyes on the cold corpse and realise that all that’s left of that life, those jokes, that personality is a cold slab of meat. Only in memory can this thing ever be animated. A dead body reminds you of this fact, it drives it home. Yet we don’t stop speaking to those that we know are dead. I think there must be a part of us that knows they aren’t really gone. There’s a part of us that tells us our father will give us the guidance we need, our mother the comfort we crave if we just ask for it. There is a part of us that believes that our old friend will see our message if we just write him on Facebook. It makes me think of the traditional concept of ancestor worship, the putting into concrete belief a fact that almost all of us feel in our hearts to be true. That the dead can hear us. That just because they are gone that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a shout. That we can relieve ourselves of some of our loneliness if we invite them in and in turn relieve them of some of theirs.

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