Thursday, 30 January 2014

25. Something Old (Uniforms)

In keeping with the social media tradition of looking back into the archives every fourth day of the week (otherwise known as "Throwback Thursday"), I thought I would re-post an essay I wrote last summer, analysing Zadie Smith's Speaking in Tongues and exploring cultural identity.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

24. Deliberate Practice and The 10,000 Hour Rule

The laws of deliberate practice dictate that in order to effectively develop a skill, one must practice with purpose. That means not writing in a 30-minute sitting because it's what you've told yourself you must do, but rather spending ten or 15 minutes proactively, diligently and deliberately moulding your craft. That said, my tendency to over-subscribe myself has caused me to sacrifice my usual "writing time", and so I am currently sitting cross-legged at my laptop, (proverbially) ripping my hair out in last-minute frustration for want of something - anything - to say.

23. One Minute

One minute to produce a well-informed, highly researched and smartly executed essay on ex or why or Zed was not enough. Sixty seconds to share something which could inspire a mind or more was not enough, but in that time around the world were 250 births, 107 deaths, five earthquakes and three violent crimes.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

22. The Canon

As an undergraduate student, I remember spending the majority of my first year mastering literary theory as part of a module which offered "striking 'moves' that people can use in thinking about other topics [within literature]"*. Our studies explored the ideologies and and teachings of key thinkers such as Derrida or Rousseau or Saussure. Compulsory modules which followed included an analysis of the "novel" - an examination of how the novel came to be and the qualities necessary to form one.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

21. Catharsis.

Catharsis (n)


To purge with
an unspeakable feeling of unease and
certainly better than betting or spending
and (in doing so)
being released

This is my catharsis.
What's yours?

Saturday, 25 January 2014

20. Dissatisfaction.

I am dissatisfied.

I don't know enough, I haven't achieved enough, I haven't read enough, I haven't travelled enough, I'm not independent enough, my life doesn't have enough purpose yet, I don't have enough money and I'm not fit enough.

Friday, 24 January 2014

19. Makers Gonna Make

When was the last time you made something out of nothing?

Okay, how about this one: When was the last time you made something new out of something else?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

18. The Africano Brit and the Method Acting Dilemma ("MAD")

Earlier this week I asked one of my friends what he would be if he could have any profession in the world other than his own. One response was that he would be a famous actor. To end the related conversation which followed, I made the conclusion that if I were an actor and needed to use the method acting technique, I would most definitely encounter some sort of ontological crisis and eventually go mad.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

17. ...But What of the Sapeurs?

"...And then what?"

Well, for members of the Congolese Society of Ambienceurs and Elegant Persons (SAPE), also known as "Sapeurs", the answer to the above is this: "to defy circumstance, and live with 'joie de vivre'".

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

16. Things

Everyone has "things".

The stack of unread, dust-gathering fashion books for a coffee table that doesn't exist. The "investment" handbag that could have paid for three holidays. The uncomfortable pair of stilettos that cripple every time an attempt is made at squeezing them on. Or the luxury travel bag that sits, slumped, waiting to be used for its proper function.

Monday, 20 January 2014

15. What is Art?

Is art the encapsulation of beauty and all that is beautiful?

Does art aim to please the viewer's gaze?

Does art's beauty depend on the viewer's own perception of beauty?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

14. Difference (or, On Whether it is Beneficial to be Conscious of Colour)

The first time that I became “conscious” of colour was probably at the age of ten or eleven. My parents wanted my brothers and I to excel outside of the classroom as well as in it, and so most of my afternoons as a child were spent engaging in sports, playing instruments and learning new languages. I swam for a local swim team, and I remember taking part in a gala against some of the other London clubs. The gala venue had stadium seating positioned behind the starting blocks. During the interim of my own races, I remember walking along the length of the pool, looking up at the faces of all of the other kids’ family members and seeing my parents stand out against a sea of beige. My thinking went as far as ‘hey, my parents really stand out’, but I didn’t really think too much of it beyond that. And I don’t think I really have since.

During her press rounds for 2013 film The Butler, Oprah gave the following account of her understanding of race in a November 2013 interview with LBC’s James O’Brien:

James: What about the riots after Dr. King was killed? How do you compute that as a little girl?

Oprah: I was aware of it [race] from a child’s point of view…not knowing, even. Because I was always in an integrated school, not feeling the brunt of, ‘wow, I’m lesser’, and ‘I’m not going to have the same opportunities as other people’… Because, fortunately for me, I was always the kid in class who was the first one with my hand up. Yeah, I was always the one that kind of annoyed everybody else. The first one with my hand up and the one who was, you know, favoured by the teachers and all that.

James: [But] you were conscious of colour, though…?

Oprah: [*coolly*] No, I was not.

I remember being a young girl in high school, hearing Jesse Jackson as an orator come to our school… and this really changed the way I saw my life. He said, ‘excellence is the best deterrent to racism; therefore be excellent. And excellence is the best deterrent to sexism; therefore be excellent. And excellence is the best deterrent to all the ‘isms’ that confront you in your life. Therefore be excellent, because when you’re excellent it’s really difficult for people to ignore you.

Is this childlike indifference the right attitude to have as an adult? Is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ attitude to have when it comes to being aware of racial or gender difference? I have come across many a discussion which do a good job of disseminating the notion that it is impossible not to be conscious of difference (in many cases, of colour in particular). A statement from Sheryl Sandberg seems to concur with these discussions; in an interview with McKinsey & Company dated April 2013 Sandberg remembers how she "spent most of my career, including my time at McKinsey, never acknowledging that I was a woman. And, you know, fast forward—I’m 43 now—fitting in is not helping us." These accounts would always irk me, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why until now.

Sandberg argues that opening a general dialogue on inequality is more pressing than any individual's desire to overlook their difference. I agree with Sandberg on the importance of addressing an overarching problem, but I want to know how becoming conscious of difference can affect individuals themselves. Could a consciousness of one’s difference not also fuel an internal despair or anger towards the masses, such that the reason behind one's achievements shifts from their own merit to forced equal representation; receiving lazy customer services shifts from a lack of skill from the salesperson to deliberate discrimination; or the reason for being looked over for a promotion at work shifts from gaps in their own performance to automatic favour of the male colleague who got it instead?

I recently read an interesting observation on the perception of difference (race) which said: "...if [Obama] wins [the 2009 election], he will no longer be black, just as Oprah is no longer black, she's Oprah." And then I thought to myself, why can’t we all just imagine ourselves to have achieved that “just Oprah” status already? Oprah is “just Oprah” because her undeniable excellence and glowing career has largely acted as a deterrent to any racism that she may otherwise have encountered (but also because, in many ways, race is actually a social construct - but that's a different discussion). Her success has reached the levels described to her as a child by Jesse Jackson, with her sex and race now being irrelevant. If we re-consider Sandberg's observations on difference in the workplace then, would a "just Oprah" sense of self-belief not prompt more women to volunteer themselves for the larger and more challenging roles, and consequently increase the numbers of women in top positions from a meagre 14 percent to a more substantial figure? Change the mindset of enough individuals and you are sure, soon enough, to see a correlating change in the bigger picture.

In my opinion, each time a person notes their difference to the next person, they place an invisible barrier between themselves and the primary objective in that particular instance. The thought process becomes “there is one other black person at this Deutsche Bank assessment day so I might not get picked because they probably can't take both of us”. Or, “I want to get on to the Partner track at work but there are so few female Partners at this firm that it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be properly considered.” Sometimes, it’s even “that tutor’s always giving me an A minus when I'm sure I should be getting an A plus. He’s definitely racist.” Wrong. While (unfortunately) some instances prove that there is validity in such perspectives, I still question why many people know nothing else but to surrender to these excuses and thus fall victim to their own self-fulfilling prophecies - not securing the graduate role, coveted work promotion or stellar grades. What about making the light of your greatness so bright that it outshines race or gender or sexuality or religion or disability? What about focusing more on how to achieve excellence and less on whether or not you adhere to the “standard” in any given situation? It’s so easy for me to type this, I know, but it's the truth. “Therefore, be excellent”, says Jesse Jackson. So be excellent.

Oprah didn’t see her difference as a person of colour because she didn’t see the benefit to herself in doing so. Sandberg doesn't see the benefit in not seeing her own difference as a woman. I think I’m with Oprah on this one.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

13. Rose-Tinted

What's better: 

Living happily and comfortably as a result of not wanting to open your eyes to the not-so-nice, or;

Constantly dwelling on heavy topics because you reject the idea of living with rose-tinted spectacles on?

Friday, 17 January 2014

12. Lazy Nation

Yesterday afternoon, I listened in on a conversation about how a young City lawyer had recently made Partner after only a few years in practice. The reason for this, I came to understand, was that he worked all of the time. Working hours in the City are notoriously unsociable, and so I was interested to hear that this young lawyer "even worked Saturdays and Sundays... Sometimes he gives himself time off on a Sunday morning but that's about it. But he loves what he does so it makes sense [that he got his promotion]." The conversation ended with other listeners-in branding Newly-Made Partner either "sad" or "crazy".

Thursday, 16 January 2014

11. Check Yourself.

When was the last time someone said something to you which made you check yourself? Made you stop and question yourself?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

10. I Think, Therefore I Am (Wrong)*

Yesterday at work, my supervisor asked me a question to which I 100% knew the answer. Here was how I replied:

*Looks up to the right and feigns thought* "Uhh, I think it's [so and so]. *Looks back down, furrows brow, then half-nods, feigning self-assurance*

The second I had given the response above, I scolded myself in my head. Why ON EARTH did I even bother to deliver that weak mini-performance? Rather, why do I give those responses? My case is that of the 'People-Pleasing Thinker". When I was at secondary school, I remember wincing as one of my teachers delivered a glowing account of my progress in class to my parents. He asked me why I looked so disappointed and I told him it was because "nobody likes a know-it-all". This, my friend, is the number-one hang-up of The People-Pleasing Thinker.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

9. Quality over Quantity (the Emergence of Truth)

On some days, I think about the possibility that my daily churning-out of written content means that I am sacrificing quality and favouring quantity. Feedback? Comments?

Monday, 13 January 2014

8. Free Speech

"When I XXXXX to work at XXXXX in XXXXX, I XXXXX really XXXXX XXXXX. I think it was because all of the XXXXX were XXXXX - not that there's anything wrong with XXXXX XXXXX - but it perhaps XXXXX my XXXXX. I remember XXXXX on my XXXXX and noting the XXXXX XXXXX: XXXXX, XXXXX and XXXXX. I had XXXXX this, to an extent, so I wasn't sure XXXXX I XXXXX so XXXXX XXXXX by it. XXXXX was, however, XXXXX to know XXXXX XXXXX had at XXXXX a XXXXX XXXXX in similar XXXXX XXXXX had XXXXX the same XXXXX of XXXXX."

Sunday, 12 January 2014

7. The Nth Thought, Pt. I

I have labelled this post as such because, even though I have reached day 7 of my project, my current stream of thought is obviously not my "7th" since last Monday. We're thinking all the time, processing information both consciously and unconsciously all the time, reading (newspapers, books, websites, instructions, advertisements, tweets, Facebook posts and the like) all the time and - for many people - writing something, however menial, every single day.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

6. Think Tribal.

"Think tribal".

I was issued the above command prior to being shown a contemporary dance routine which, according to its choreographer, captured the main elements of this word. "Tribal".

Friday, 10 January 2014

5. First Thoughts

In trepidation
rap culture

I may just have better luck tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

4. Sex, Cash, and the Afridicto Disposition

...or, Why the African Parent has the Tendency to Push their Kids into the Elite Traditional Professions

I often wonder why most African parents belonging to the older generations are so keen on getting their kids (my generation) to become doctors, lawyers, bankers, dentists, engineers, accountants (or any other job title to come under this umbrella).* I have come up with a name for this type of parent:

Afridicto (n.) /ˈæf.rɪ - dɪktəʊ

1. The African parent who is of the belief that their child's career path must be determined or heavily influenced by the opinion of the parent.

(From Latin Afri: of North African descent, and dicto: to prescribe/dictate)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

3. Penelope (Stream of Ratchetness)

She stared, scrutinising her bathroom mirror twin, edging closer and wincing. This blemish deserved its own passport and driver's licence. She would call it Molly, she thought. Molly Bloom.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

2. Autopilot

Generation Y gets a lot of stick.

We're either tweeting or Instagramming too much, we're not as intelligent as our predecessors, or we've permitted our inner Droids to roam free while we kick back on autopilot. Unjust, right? Although the fact that I'm commenting on this must mean that there are hundreds and thousands of Millennials furiously typing equally dissenting content into their Macbook keyboards.

When I function on autopilot for too many days in a row, I know that things have got to change.

Here's what Austin Kleon, author of New York Times bestselling book Steal Like An Artist, has to say on the autopilot function:

'Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.'

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to hop on the next Eurostar train to Belgium (logistics), but I'm going to at least try to shake the flakes off the ground in my snow globe world in some other way.

That's one of the main reasons for this project. I think that everyone's greatest fear in life should be the fear of becoming stagnant. How can we grow and develop as humans if we allow ourselves to perform the same tasks, be surrounded by the same people, see the same sights, consume the same level of information on a day to day basis? We need to be shaken up, made uncomfortable, forced to flick the autopilot switch to the function labelled 'OFF' instead of 'ON'. Of course, this is much easier said than done. But all it takes is a small level of commitment and an active mindset. It's a constant, not an event. So even if nobody reads this or the 363 posts to come (but I'd be really upset if that was actually the case, guys), I know that for at least half an hour of every day I will have set myself to 'ON' and had to, you know, think about something.

Take a different route to or from work. Order a book on Amazon that you wouldn't have immediately thought to buy. Go step into that random bar or gallery or boutique that you always walk past slightly more slowly to figure out what's going on beyond the window pane. I'm going to do this too (well, all except for the Amazon one - I'm on an Amazon hiatus.)

Monday, 6 January 2014

1. 60 Days of Thought

The idea behind this project came about late last year, after becoming accustomed to the many comments from friends and readers about my lack of frequency in writing on What Jasmine Thought. (In my defence, it's pretty challenging balancing a demanding full-time job, part-time learning, extra-curriculars, a social life and a commitment to regularly produce an engaging and well-written 1,000-word opinion piece!) I wanted to write more often, but couldn't figure out how to fit it all in (read: I was being lazy).

With today being a new day (and New Year - Happy 2014!) and all, I have made the decision to stop saying ("I knowww it's been aaagess since my last article, but I've, like, been soo busy, you know? I'm definitely going to write something next week") and start doing.

I want to make this as interesting as possible both for myself and for anyone who may be reading, so I may do a mini opinion piece on the African diaspora in London one day, some creative writing on nature another day, or a few sentences on something random I've seen or heard that day. No boundaries!* (that said, have a read of one of my favourite poems, Seamus Heaney's Markings)

If there's anything in particular that you think I should cover, tweet me (@whatjazzthought), and if I do fail to live up to the above, please pull me up on it?

*within reason.