I have a tradition, every year on my birthday I write these posts as a reflection of what I’m feeling and thinking about on this particular day. The post usually begins with the following words:
“I have a tradition, every year on my birthday at exactly 9:30 a.m. which is the time written on my birth certificate as my entry into this world I go out and I look at the sun. It’s been a year so the sun god is exactly at the same place as the last time I gave him a nod. I let him know that I am still down here and that I appreciate the fact that he is still up there steering his steeds like the world depends on it. Well, at least I lie about it.”
For the first time in my life I actually went outside to look at the sun. At 9:30 a.m. on the 22nd of June at a place near the equator the sun is coming in at an angle. It’s an angle you can almost describe mathematically. Not 37 degrees it may be 30 though, something you could draw with ease using those instruments we spent so much time with in primary school. There weren’t many clouds so I could see the rays cascade towards my eyes. They met and formed the millions of little suns, each of them dots clustering in spheres so that there were 5 multi-coloured globes around my eyes. The sunglasses I always wished I had. It’s easy to imagine horses coming down on those rays and there is in fact an ancient culture that believed the rays of the suns were carried down on tiny horses.
What I imagined though at just that moment was a sword. The end of the rays were the hilt of the sword and I turned around grabbing it. The tip of the sword was stuck in the sky though and pulling it out took a mammoth effort. It was ok though, I was the hero of that particular story. I had travelled the hero’s journey and here I was at the climax of my trip heaving and pulling to dislodge the sun sword from its place. Succeeding and holding it in my hands and then bringing it down on my foe. The sword became smaller as I held it but as soon as it was used to destroy the demon or god I was fighting it blew up and flew back to its former place. Then I entered the house.
It makes me happy that I can still have flights of fancy at my age. That a fantasy of a sun-sword can make turn around and pull at the rays coming down. There is a line in a book I read once, I can’t quite remember it but it said something like “she was stuck in a mix of loneliness and boredom that she confused for happiness.” I read this and I wondered whether there was a difference between being happy and merely thinking that you are happy. Let’s say there is, would you want to find out that you weren’t really happy but just thought it? Is that a good solution to such a problem? If people think they are happy stuck in a race for money and the things money buys them should they be told that they aren’t really happy? Isn’t it better for people to think they are happy than for somebody to tell them that they are not? I can’t say. I can say that it seems to me that life is asking for a decision on this more and more urgently. The web of alternative futures gets smaller and smaller. The differences we have with other people are less and less pronounced.
I am stuck in a tie 4 or 5 days a week. I wear a suit with a heavy coat and go to work no matter how hot it is. The decisions I used to make about myself and my life are fewer with every passing day. I mean this even literally, on Monday I have many clean shirts by Thursday they have run out and what I wear is no longer my choice. There are, because there must be, men who love to wear a suit. They put on the shirt and button up. They put on the shoes and polish down. They put on the tie and slide it up. They put on the coat and brush it down. Then they feel good. I have always understood that for some people the way they display themselves externally has a massive effect on their self-confidence. They feel more powerful with a suit. They are treated with more deference. But I hate suits. A tie is useless and I hate buttoning my shirt all the way up. This doesn’t matter anymore because I have a job now and I must bend to somebody’s will.
The older we get the more masters we have. This I guess is the way I’m feeling about life at 28, the moments of freedom seem like they are behind me. Economic freedom may be in my future but at the altar of riches or even comfort we sacrifice so much time. We let go of so much of who we are to survive, to have food in our stomachs. No more tracksuits. Colourful language is saved for later. Time is given up. So much time. I look at the time pass me by and then it’s already June and I realise that it’s almost impossible to keep hold of time. We don’t really understand the concept of time as human beings. Well I don’t. There are all these sayings about time flying when you are having a good time. I feel like tedium and ordinariness also allows time to just fly past us.
The weekend marked 4 years since I graduated university. 2 of those years were great. I had adventures, I saw the world, I went back to school. The last 18 months have been about work. And there are many, many times when I enjoy my work and have a big smile plastered on my face as I do it but still…. There is something missing. The last few years have passed much faster than the ones before. This year threatens to go in the blink of an eye. It’s already June for chrissake and it feels like no time has passed. I think it’s because of the tedium. There are so many half and quarter and not at all understood scientific theories about how time and space are so similar. Space is just easier to understand. When you are in a desert you walk for miles and miles and nothing changes. The dunes look the same, the sand is just as coarse, the air as dry, the bleakness as unremitting there is no way you would know how much space you have passed. Luckily space can be measured in terms of time so you can always say that you walked for three days. If you passed an oasis however you have a marker. How far away did you leave your supplies? At the oasis. There is a reference point. Something that shows that distance has passed other than your imagination. With time there are no reference points, not when you are working. You work and it’s like walking through that desert, nothing is changing. Everything looks as it looked before. You wake up at almost the same time and wear almost the same clothes. You take almost the same route to work and see almost the same people. You do almost the same thing for almost the same amount of time and then you leave. You repeat and repeat. The oasis are the holidays. They come and pass you by. Even they have the stink of tedium. If you like to drink you will drink for more days than are healthy and report to work exhausted as fuck. If you don’t like to drink you will do whatever it is that people who don’t like to drink do and …I’m no expert on what this is but I bet you do it over and over again.
This year seems to mark the time when I question how I can keep on doing this thing other people do all the time. I can see them doing it. Every day I sit in a matatu with other people doing these things that I do. The world over is filled with this routine, most people don’t have a job that requires vast amounts of creativity and even when they do …Beyoncé still spends hours on some days signing autographs. This still happens. The working life confuses me. And this month is usually when I ask what the point of everything is.
In university this was reading time and I would read and cram and cram and read. Then I would get tired and depressed about it. I would Look at my life and imagine doing it again the next year. There was a cycle that I couldn’t see myself escaping and even when I did things went from cyclical to linear. This is the thing that bothers me the most. Things are so linear now. There is, at this point a straight line. And in this straight line there are so few landmarks. The landmarks themselves are so predictable that finding them on the road will not have the effect of fundamentally changing the texture of the journey. Marriage and wife and children can add significant pleasure to the trip. They can give a purpose to the whole linear strip that we seem doomed to walk down but it’s not enough. I don’t think it’s enough.
Zadie Smith once wrote “Not everyone wants this conventional little life you’re rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire. And when it’s time for me to go I fully intend to roll off my one-person dinghy into the flames and be consumed. I’m not afraid.”
I’m afraid. I know that this conventional life that everyone goes towards is really not what I want. I want to see the world. I want to do more than that, seeing the world is a compromise for not being able to actually live in the world. To uproot myself and be a proper nomad. To go somewhere and live there for a few months or a few years. This in truth is what I want to do. But I choose the compromise because I am afraid. I don’t know how to just go and live there. I worry about money not as much as some people and depending on the sample size not more than most. Still I worry. It’s not easy for a Kenyan or an African for that matter to pack up their bags and go. Saving the money to do that would take up so much time. Going and doing that would hurt your prospects to make more money afterwards. So I’ll try my best to see the world. Just to see. To have holidays and travel. To walk around in strange climes where people speak strange tongues and eat strange flavours.
This year I feel straitjacketed. I guess this is what’s on my mind today. That I can’t be anything I want to be. That maybe I’ll wear a suit for a very long time and hate every minute of it but still do it because life curses each of us to a thousand deaths. Only he who really doesn’t care is free. There is a way to e free but freedom is not in my future. I don’t think it is. I feel sad acknowledging that huge pleasures will be few and far between. That most of the rest of my life will be tedium and repetition. And that this realisation is what people mean when they say they have grown up. Growing up is about putting aside childish pleasures and exchanging them for adult pains. It’s a horrible bargain and I don’t know who tricked me into it but fuck them.
But I remember when I pulled the sun out of the sky. The way the sword blazed. The feeling of relief and release as it killed the god of tedium. There will be moments like this. Moments of pure awesomeness. They will be few and far between. But like the oases in a desert the water that I drink from them will be the best tasting water I had the chance to drink. Full of promises of milk and honey and nutrition so nourishing I would walk through any number of deserts to get to them. There will also be moments of passion. I can’t write off passion. I can’t write off the feeling of being alive, of truly being alive that passion can bring. The craziness that accompanies it and the blindness that allows us to walk into it. This I also look forward to.
Another year passed as they all do and it’s gone, it’s really gone. The fear is that nothing new will happen again but the certainty is that something new always happens. One thing the world accommodates is surprise. So here’s to a year full of surprise and passion and travels and oasis. But really one filled more with tedium and routine and unending desert vistas.