Friday, 7 March 2014

60. On Memory



My mother always complains about how younger generations (read: Millennials - myself included) are so obsessed with Facebook albums, lengthy Instagram feeds and Flickr accounts that we forget to appreciate tangible photos. The kind that one retrieves from the photo shop once the dial on the disposable camera is all wound out. The kind that one digs out during seasonal period for all of the family to pore over. I recently made a large order of hard copy photographs, and spent most of my evening flicking through them with my mum - laughing at poses and furrowing brows trying to re-piece the names of people and places looking back at us.

Today marked the 57th anniversary of Ghana's independence. I recognise and treasure the significance of this day, although the hefty gap since my last visit to my country of origin may suggest otherwise to the outsider looking in. I have translucent memories of my time there, but somehow I know that the spirit of my home from home manifests itself within me, somewhere between my Debussy repertoire and unabashed love for British hymns.



It is so important to remember the past; whether positive or negative, I believe that all things of the past have the capability of explaining our present. 57 years ago today, Ghana officially became the first African country to become independent from colonial rule. My only hope is that I can look up from the gadgets and apps, and take the time to reflect conscientiously what is most definitely an invaluable fragment of my own cultural past.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

59. Make Believe


The Internet is a funny thing.

If you see enough "evidence" of something, you're bound to eventually believe it. I can make you, dear reader, believe a number of "truths" about me that may not necessarily be true at all, simply from my choice of words and photographs. Of course, many of you reading will be people that I already know - from school, university or work. But what of the category of persons not slotting into any of those descriptions?

If I quote enough Wordsworth or Rushdie or de Beauvoir, I could make you believe that I'm miles more well read than I actually am. If I constantly redirect you to my Facebook and Instagram feed, but not before carefully curating both to display only photographs of tropical holidays, luxury acquisitions and nights out, I could make you believe that I have more money than I actually do. If I chose to speak exclusively of my successes or accolades during this project, I could make you think one of two things: that I am extremely lucky/gifted/intelligent/all of the above, or that I am a narcissistic, attention-hungry fool.



During this project, I have been lucky enough to engage in thought-provoking discussion with people whom I have never met, and for that I am incredibly grateful. But based solely on this past two months' worth of content, what do you believe to be the solid facts about my person beyond my name (which floats cozily between "what" and "thought" at the top of the page)? More interestingly, is there anything which you, dear reader, may wish to call my bluff on? Do you think I've lied, or at least exaggerated, somewhere?

Comment below - anonymously, if you wish.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

58. The Concepts of Beauty, Pt. II



"If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun / If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head."
Shakespeare, Sonnet 130


"I hope that...you will feel the validation of external beauty but also get the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty."
Lupita Nyong'o, ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood luncheon 


"Clara Bowden was beautiful in all senses except, maybe, by virtue of being black. The classical.
Zadie Smith, White Teeth


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

57. The First


Illustration from Munsch 1980 book.

The first proper book that I ever read was The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. I will never forget the day that I read that book; Linda, my teacher, took my hand and walked me from our Reception classroom to the Year 5 library. In my five year-old mind, that journey from one side of the school to the other was like a kingly crusade; not more than 30 seconds but feeling like 30 minutes. I am certain that my face bore what would most probably have been a partially toothless grin the entire way.

The first book that sparked my passion for literature was A Passage to India by E. M. Forster - a book which introduced to me the key ideas of colonialism and postcolonialism, and which would later influence my final dissertation four years later. While I always loved studying English at school, I had never before been so excited to get to a class each day. There is nothing quite like recognising yourself - your culture, experiences, and history - in the very thing that you love the most. Writers and thinkers who followed through this newly-opened door include Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureishi, Hari Kunzru, Edward Saïd and Ngugi wa Thiong'o to name a few. The phrases "ontological crisis", "boum" and "the sky said, 'no, not there'" (which I would subsequently incorporate into every day conversation amongst school friends, whether or not sensible) remain etched in my memory and will always remind me of sixth-form English class.


Don Quixote sketch by Pablo Picasso, 1955

The first book that I studied on my undergraduate English Literature degree was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I saw, in the character of Quixote, much of what I love about literature - its intense, crazy, vortex-like power to transport and envelope the reader (albeit highly exaggerated in the book) into worlds which are, in many cases, completely fabricated. The fact that I can get lost in a great book for an entire day catches me off-guard every single time! The fact that strings of carefully-chosen words can deliver and draw out such emotion from writer to reader is so exciting!

For fear of sounding like a Romantic poet taking in an English landscape, I'll hold it (and the exclamation marks) right there. But as this project is soon to come to an end, I thought that you might like to see some of the texts that have shaped my thoughts and inspired my writing.

Monday, 3 March 2014

56. On What it Means to be Free



If you have watched 2014's film of the year, 12 Years a Slave, you will have heard Solomon Northup's many references to once being a "free man". But what does it really mean to be free? The Oxford English Dictionary offers some insight:

Free (adj.)

1. Not under the control of anyone else; able to do what you want
2. Not having or filled with things to do: free time
3. (free of/from) not containing or affected by something undesirable
4. Available without charge
5. (adv.) without cost or payment

With the above in mind, how can we compute the concept of freedom into our everyday life?

Time

For most, time is considered a highly valuable currency of which we just never seem to have enough. But what also occurs for most is an obligation to exchange much of that currency for leisurely activities or other motions not regularly engaged in. Generally, time can only be spent and not bought; it cannot be returned, and we cannot create or grow more for ourselves once it has been used up.


Speech/Expression

On the eighth day of this project, I wrote "Free Speech", which aimed to illustrate the impossibility of true freedom of expression - particularly within the realm of social media. As is the case with time, pure, unadulterated freedom of speech comes at a cost: harsh disciplinaries, loss of jobs, and (in some cases) even incarceration or torture. It is rarely possible for a person to speak audibly and honestly about their dissatisfaction towards a job, a new law, another person or ideology or injustice and see no subsequent repercussion. That said, one might argue that expression is not free, either.


Burden/Guilt




As a young Christian woman, I am often plagued with guilt whenever I feel there is some discord between my actions and my beliefs. The feeling of not being able to prise that guilt from one's self is a highly frustrating one, and was what originally caused me to think more about the meaning of freedom. 

How does emancipation (from sin) lie at the heart of one's religion yet feel so far away in practice? Why have we been granted free will if bad choices are followed by a sense of confinement? The same question arises in secular contexts too - classic examples of this being a sense of guilt following the exercising of one's freedom to consume junk food, an excess of alcohol or other unhealthy (but often delicious and/or satisfying) substances. Can we ever truly live "guilt-free"?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

55. To Fade

Fade | fād |
(verb.)

1. gradually grow faint and disappear: the light had faded and dusk was advancing | the noisefaded away| figurative hopes of peace had faded.

2. lose or cause to lose colour or brightness:no obj. ] his fair hair had faded to a dusty grey | with obj. ] (usu. as adj. faded:faded jeans.
3. (of a flower) lose freshness and wither.
4. (fade away(of a person) gradually become thin and weak, especially to the point of death: without help, those of us who are ill will surely fade away and die.
5. (of a racehorse, runner, etc.) lose strength and cease to perform well:she faded near the finish.
6. (of a vehicle brake) become temporarily less efficient as a result of frictional heating. the brakes faded, needing a firmer push to bring the car to halt.

Whoever spearheaded the incorporation of the verb into everyday slang as a vocalisation of one's sentiment following excessive alcohol consumption clearly did their homework.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

54. Exoticism

London in the early hours of the morning is an interesting place to be. Slurring men pursuing women for their exoticism - their alternative origin, their non-British twang, tanned or physiques and tales of warmer climates. Exoticism, to me, is almost as frustrating as savagery. In the same way that I will release a subtle sigh as a stranger draws a sinister portrait of me in their minds, I will also sigh as that same stranger considers me interesting or enchanting. Why should anyone be placed on an irrational pedestal because of their hair or accent or skin or beliefs or clothes?