Mood

Music is a mood.

My father owned an awesome collection of LPs. My favourites were the reggae albums by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. My favourite aunt, dad’s youngest sister, also owned an awesome collection of LPs. Between her collection and dad’s, my impressionable, moody, youth was bookended by songs I loved. But it is mum’s collection that truly defined what musical appreciation was, or what I could aspire to.

Mum’s collection covered all the bases: reggae, benga, rhumba, gospel, classical (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17 continues to astonish me to this day) and, believe it or not, gangsta rap. Music, sisters and brothers, is a mood.

It’s been a minute since my last episode, but I think I am going through a longer-than-usual stretch of depression; I can’t seem to resit the soothing urge to sleep and I find the taste of the things that I love less salubrious. Not even my inveterate tweeting has lifted the fog clouding my mind and sapping my spirit. I’m quite good at masking it: I know how to play at humour, social interest, and general bonhomie. But it is all a fa├žade.

Music is a mood.

So, of course, I’ve turned to music. The songs that I have on my various devices. The songs that I find online. The songs I encounter in jav’s. The songs I remember from way back when. New songs. Old songs. All of them forming a music that I pray will stave mental disaster one more day.

Music is a mood.

I found an old video of Miriam Makeba singing Pata Pata and I smiled. I found three different version’s of Black Puma’s Colours, and I smiled. I listened, once more, to the remarkable The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon, and I smiled. I’ve trod over old ground (Bob Marley’s Could You Be loved, and Peter Tosh’s Feel No Way especially), and I smiled. But not for long.

Music is a mood.

I think we are turning the corner. The signs are there. I did not look at the liquor section of my supermarket with longing when I did the weekly shopping. I’m not thinking of driving my shitbox off of the Rift Valley View Point. It’s been a minute since I thought of telling one of my bosses to go pound sand. Instead, today, I woke up at 4:30 am without praying for five minutes more of sleep. And I ate a rather lovely muthokoi for breakfast (thank’s mum). With milk tea. And honey.

Music is a mood.

I listened to a reckless mix I did some time in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 – Bob Marley, Tupac, Milia Bel, Jamnazi, Elvis Presley, Crystal Gayle, Christafari, Koffee, Clement Malola, Nazizi – and all seemed so hopeful. I’m not out of it yet. I still don’t want to talk to any of you. But I am no longer stomping around as if I wish a nigga would.

Music, I tell you, is a mood.

Going all in

I twisted my knee last night and I have been in agony all day long. I can’t leg it with the same sense of militant purpose I usually possess; I can only hobble in agony, especially up and down the surprising number of stairs I have navigated in the past with the agility of a mountain goat. Amidst it all, I almost forgot to celebrate this day, when I invaded Planet Earth with every intention of bending it to my will. I have made it round the sun one more time and I am as happy as a clam. Well…as happy as one can be in the circumstances.

We buried Dani a few weeks ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, and grieve a little. I darken back to the last time I saw her, and she teased me, and we giggled together. I am glad that her eyes twinkled and that she was happy to see me and have me around. I miss her terribly, but not as much as my mother does. Whenever mum and I talk, our shared grief is not far beneath the surface and we try, Lord knows we try, to keep it from bubbling over.

I am in the process of doing something big and expensive and risky and all the terrible things Big Expensive Risky Terrible things entail. I have procrastinated and dissembled and avoided. I can do all that no longer. I know what I want but I am afraid to take it. Anyway, it’s the birthday present I’ll give myself. Since I’m not reinventing the wheel with it, and the universe has seen it fit to give me this chance, I’ll go all in. I’m pushing all my chips into the centre of the table. It will be what it will be.

I now know a little bit more about what my professional peers think of me. I am surprised by their generosity. Don’t get me wrong; I am quite talented at what I do but I do so much to camouflage my fingerprints that when I am told my name is being bandied about (in a good way) in “high-level meetings”, it comes as a surprise. I am glad, though. It means that the lessons I drew from the people I know, the people I love and the people I enjoy have stood me in good stead, and that I need not over-worry so much about the what ifs and what could bes. If there’s a personal birthday resolution I’d like to keep it is to break the habit of self-doubt and do the things that feel right and make me happy.

Here’s to the next level in this game.

My one and only true Saint: Mama

My grandmother – Dani to the extended family; Mama to me – died, and we buried her last Saturday, and I don’t know what to feel, how to feel, when to feel. This devastating thing that has come in my life has cast a long, severe shadow. The world is more austere now that she is no longer in it. Emptier. Lesser. God almighty, but I miss her and I miss her fiercely and terribly.

Last time we sat together, she pinched my side and made me giggle like the child I am whenever I was in her presence. She’d done that decades ago when I first sat down with her and she always found a way of teasing me for not speaking a sufficient amount of Dholuo. God almighty, I miss her something fierce, something terrible.

She was truly loved. Her legion of grandchildren from very many corners of the world were there. He children, suffering the same pain, maybe more, than I, were there. Here sons and daughters in law were there. Her siblings, cousins, friends, fellow-worshippers from her parish, and the dozens upon dozens of people she touched by her generous spirit were there. We were united in our grief – and the utter joy of having been in her life.

Though my heart is broken, I am not in despair. She wouldn’t have found that useful. She would probably pinch my side and say something mischievous and get me to buck up and do something important with the sadness – like eat. Or dance. Or sing. Something joyful. Because she was, in every respect and in every way, a joyful and joyous force of nature. I will miss her, but I will carry her memories of us, together, giggling, for the rest of my life.

She is and remains, truly, the last true saint in my life. I loved her and always will.

Don’t have a stroke

Have you ever listened to someone yelling at you and thought, “I wonder if you are about to suffer a stroke”. I often do. My ability to irritate to the point of incandescent rage is unmatched. It is not deliberate, I assure you. I am just not well-suited to deciphering most social cues, especially in work situations. At work, the preference has always been written instructions. If the instructions have to be supplemented by verbal hints, I will more often than not miss the verbal hints. Specificity, dear friend, is my jam.

Specificity is especially important in my line of work. Any error in instructions poses terrible risks for my clients. Therefore, it is vital that when we exchange instructions, we are talking from the same official script, singing from the same professional songbook. Speculation is not encouraged. Insider jokes about so and so are unlikely to translate into clear instructions. In short, say what you mean without innuendo. Say it plainly. Please.

I am always baffled every time my instructions are mixed with anecdotal, unwritten asides about the motives of our clients. The presumption is always that I know what my instructor is talking about. That presumption has led to moments when we are on quite different professional planes, mistakes have been made, miscommunication has occurred, and professional umbrage has been occasioned. And so I sit there as someone vents about something I should have intuited and corrected while I sit there, curious as to the likelihood of a stroke.

Sacrifice and anger

Every now and then, when the sun goes down, I wonder at some of the things I have sacrificed, and for which I have nothing to show, save for anger. This day is one of those days. The things that I have given up today just to see the end of the day make me angry. Very angry. The anger is magnified because of the assholes I have had to deal with. If any of them were on fire, I’d sacrifice a little more and buy paraffin so that I could pour it on them. If one of them were being eaten by a pack of hyenas, I would whip out my phone and film the spectacle. I feel uncharitable towards them because they are selfish assholes. They deserve nothing but my scorn and unremitting anger.

Catharsis

One of the most difficult things to do is to admit that you can’t do it all on your own. It means admitting to oneself that you need someone else. It matters not what that need is for. I am not good at this. I never have been. I don’t struggle with the issue anymore. I know what I am. I know what I want. I know what I don’t want. I know what I am afraid of. I know what my fears are keeping me away from. And I’m OK with it all.

My peoples, though, are struggling with my latest choices.

As the eldest of three, I bear the expectations of my parents and my siblings and my society. I have failed to meet many of those expectations. It is likely that I will never meet many of them. I’d never had expectations of my own. I used to think that their expectations were automatically my own. The pressure to meet them was enormous. I couldn’t escape the quicksands of failure. As soon as I met one expectation, the next one reared its head, consumed me, and quite often defeated me.

I’ve decided to take time off for myself. I’ve decided to re-examine my needs, wants, desires and hopes. It’s a frightening hellscape. But it has to be done if I’m to live a fulsome life. But as I work through my issues, I’m terrifying my peoples. Because I’m doing it in my own way – alone and apart. Until the job is done, however long it takes, I can’t worry about their terror. I can only hope that they are understanding. But just in case they are not, I hope I can live with that too.

My burden to bear

I’m not sure I know how to say this without sounding some typa way. It’s been a minute since I self-medicated with unhealthy amounts of alcohol. It’s actually been two hundred days, give or take, since I drank. And seven hundred since I gave up on trying to get emphysema and lung cancer. The journey has been revelatory.

I am not the man I thought I was. I am not the human I though I was. I am not the person that I portray. These revelations don’t come as a surprise; after all, you can’t change behaviours without some truths emerging. Something else, though, has revealed itself. Every year, around this time, a dark cloud descends on me, pervading everything, overshadowing everything, infusing everything with a sadness that is sometimes overwhelming. I didn’t use to see it for what it was because when it happened, I drank harder, smoked harder, hid everything from everyone – and even from myself.

This year has been hard, and this dark period has been harder. The temptation to hide from my mind is strong and the temptation tells me that a large gin and tonic is the appropriate shroud. I can’t let myself succumb; I no longer take the easy way out. These days I confront my problems, identify their causes, solve them where I can – and ask for help where I can’t. I have relied on family and a few friends. I am blessed in this regard.

But not this one thing. I may not be the only who is afflicted in this way. But I’m not yet at the point where I want to share this burden with my family. You, dear reader, don’t count. I don’t know you. I’ll probably never talk to you or meet you. This is my burden to bear. And when it is time, I may ask my peoples to bear it with me.

Have you met Hadi?

When I first started doing the thing that I do these days, I met one of my seniors for the first time. Then at some point, he stopped coming for the annual thing of ours, till last year. But even then, we didn’t say much; we shook hands – can you remember that, shaking hands? And we went our separate ways. But he always had interesting problems for me to solve – problems that almost always made me think a little bit harder than I ordinarily would. He is my senior, so he always has interesting problems, but the ones he gave me at that place had that extra bit of something that made them truly interesting.

I didn’t think about how smokeless sobriety would affect how my relationships would change. I definitely didn’t think that the decisions I made post-smokeless sobriety would affect my relationships the way they have. I sent out a bunch of emails in the aftermath of The Decision; one of the few people who responded is my senior. To call him generous is to diminish how vital “generous” is to the things we do for the people we do them for. He has offered wisdom and guidance – and opportunity – in ways only those who give without malice are capable of giving.

Because of my friend’s generosity, every now and then, I’m able to pay it forward. There was a moment last year when I was unsure about where I stood in the grand scheme of things, whether I had the capacity to hold steady for a minute, an hour or a day. But whenever I talk to my friend, and he gives me the chance to do something truly revolutionary, I’m reminded that Almighty God does not put people in your life without a damn good reason. So when I open myself for the benefit of others, I say a little prayer that my friend, senior, mentor, benefactor and all-round professional saint, will see the right side of tomorrow with grace, wit and joy.

It will be a good year

It’s my birthday.

In the last year, my life has changed. Some of the change was painful. Some of the change was hopeful. Some of the change set me back and some of it built me up. It was a mixed bag of a year, yet I would have it no other way. When I write my memoirs and I arrive at this point, I will be very dramatic, but for the keen readers among us, you will be able to see that I put forward my best foot and leapt into the unknown, fearful but confident of some sort of safe landing.

I’ve seen you, too. I’ve paid attention to what you are and why you are. on a few occasions, I have judged you unkindly, and I beg you to forgive me for my sins. You have been so generous with me. You have stood by me. You have prayed for me. You have comforted me in my hour of despair and celebrated with me in my fleeting moments of triumph. But most of all, you have encouraged me as I have purged my body of toxins and expanded my waistline with home-cooked meals. You have been true to me, and I pledge to be true to you. I love you for that.

I face a hard choice, now. I’m always facing hard choices. But this past year has taught me to face them without wavering, though my heart be filled with great trepidation and turmoil. I have no idea if the future is for me but I know that my path has been lit for me by Almighty God – and you. I will triumph. We will triumph. It will be a good year.

My podcast Damascene moment

A year ago, if you had suggested that I would be listening to podcasts, I’d have assumed that you were mocking me for my apparent Luddite-ness. I’d see many of the people I follow on Twitter extolling the virtues of podcast series they listened to and I’d roll my eyes, sometimes not internally. Listening to podcasts, to my mind, was the sort of pretentious thing someone said they did on Twitter in order to garner more klout.

If you’re reading this, obviously, my media consumption habits have undergone a transformation. When I first started listening to podcasts, it was a more scattershot approach. I’d see something on Twitter or on the many news and opinion sites I frequented, and I’d start listening to that. My Google Podcasts and Apple Podcast libraries were brimming with different sorts of podcast series focussing on so many different areas, that at some point I deleted them all and started afresh.

Now, I listen to a mix of current affairs, business stories (especially stories about rivals), history and podcasts on TV shows and movies. I choose those that I can get through in about an hour – my typical commute home in the evening after work. I choose podcasts that have a mixture of voices. I avoid podcasts that seem to be designed for the more paler residents of Manhattan. All in all, it has been rewarding. There is so much to learn from how people see the world and how they express themselves about their views of the world.

I won’t make “best of” list of the podcasts I listen to; it’s better if you worked out for yourselves which ones tug at your metaphorical heartstrings and which ones don’t. But I promise you this, when you find your groove, it will repay you in many unexpected ways.