The Big, Bending and Unending River of Thoughts

On my fortieth birthday, I had a mini crisis at home. However, I do not think it ranked on the scale of a mid-life crisis. 

It was a problem that could have been easily resolved. In fact, it had better chances of resolution than arguing over. My late wife had made a careful list of the people I worked closely with. It did not exceed fifteen. She also suggested adding the few family friends we had. It was her wish to have me celebrate the big 40 in an intimate setting, with people who were close to us. Nothing wildly fancy, she assured me.

I was not comfortable with the idea. I did not know how speaking about attaining that “magical” age would make me feel. Oddly, though, I knew the people who would get the most credit for that “milestone” achievement! My wife and children. Yes, the workmates she had identified also deserved mention because they were people who gave me a wholly challenging and satisfying experience of team work. But I am not and have never been one for “parties.” 

When we got married in 1994, my wife took my “handicap” into account and suggested that we hold a garden wedding in place of a loud and flashy ceremony. Again, the operative words were “intimate and close.” My best friend and work colleague, Ray Kandawasvika and my young brothers (including my adopted young brother, Darlington), joined my wife’s three young sisters and one of my young sisters, to form the bridal chain. Ray was my best man, the trusted keeper of the rings on that 18th day of December 1994.

But for my fortieth birthday, I was resolved that it should be a strictly family affair. My wife reluctantly agreed. It was years later that I would sadly learn that the idea of a party was no longer restricted to the confines of my home alone. Apparently my wife had primed my colleagues’ wives and the family friends to prepare for a surprise party. But it was designed to be a surprise in the most friendly of ways. Nothing like being blind-folded, led into a room, and then shaken by shouts of “Surprise! Surprise!” A workmate’s wife was one of the lead organizers of the proposed shindig. He only revealed this to me years after my wife’s death, in the process, having me question that assertion that “time heals wounds.” It does not!

One witty observer has said the only thing that time does is to weaken the intensity of the pain by having us respond to it differently with the passage of time. Never to heal the wounds. I went to bed quite early last night. I normally try and force myself to sleep between the hours of 9:30 pm and 5:30 am, to get the medically-recommended eight hours of sleep. Regrettably, this remains a largely unattainable dream. I was up by 12:44 am this morning. And the thoughts began assailing me. It is a sad day for my family because we remember the loss of our dear father in February 2006. It is such remembrances that quickly set in motion a whole train of unstoppable thoughts.

As I recalled my wife’s plans for my fortieth birthday, I remembered that as I drove my children to school on the morning of the big day, we were involved in what I can only call an odd and chilling accident. Realizing that we were running late, I looked for the earliest and safest opportunity to make up for lost time in the early morning traffic. On a relatively straight stretch of the road, I saw a chance to overtake two cars. I cleanly overtook the first one and as I indicated my intentions to the driver of the second car, he suddenly turned right. My attempts at preventing a collision failed dismally. However both cars suffered containable damage. More importantly, the passengers in both cars were unharmed. Certainly dazed, but they were okay. Incidentally, the car that we collided also had two young children on their way to school. Their driver seemed rather young for the school-run. It was, indeed, instructive that after the accident, as I called the police, he was frantically trying to reach his father. He asked to use my phone.

I decided against taking my children to school after that. Having returned them home, I passed through their school to notify the authorities and proceeded to my work place afterwards. It was one of those unpleasant occasions where one finds the superior already in the office. I apologized for my late arrival and recounted the freaky accident.

Two weeks later, as I began the day’s programme, my superior suddenly stopped me in my tracks. It was almost like he sought to confirm that the accident was not a ruse to cover up for my late arrival in the office. “Some time ago, you reported that you were involved in a road traffic accident. Where exactly did it happen by the way and how are the children doing?”

Admittedly, the mind does run too fast at times. My boss may have meant well. On my part, I was still trying to distill issues, namely the fortieth birthday party which I turned down and the accident on my birthday. I  was still trying to ascertain whether they was a message I should take note of, or, were these things that were just meant to be? 

In 1999, while on a business trip to Shanghai, a colleague cryptically asked why he had not “heard” about me involved in an accident.  Was he such a bad driver?  Was I that good? I think we agreed that we could not honestly answer the question. I believe I once caught a line in a TV series or movie that says simply “accidents happen, and that’s why they are called that!” Well, two days after we returned to Harare,  I was “finally” involved in an accident. A haulage truck simply sat on the left front side of my small car. And then he phoned to assure me that his question had not in any way sought to wish me bad luck. I believed him.

But I do remain with lots of other incidents and occurrences where I still find it challenging to know what to believe and inversely what to ascribe to the arcane world.

 

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Save The Book

image.jpegI have been pacing up and down my modest library. It is an activity which approaches near-ritual status. My collection draws largely from two sources. I follow what others in my circle are reading. I also study various book reviews to keep a tab on latest reading trends.

As I enjoy this solitary dance, I am reminded of an essay by Oliver Teale, author of The Secret Library: A Book Lover’s Journey through Curiosities of History and Lecturer in English. It is always amazing to see what a few hours of dedicated reading can yield. My late beloved father used to summarize it thus: “reading maketh a man!”

I am content with calling myself a logophile, which translates to one who loves words. However, Teale’s blog, entitled “10 Words Every Book Lover Should Know” leaves me convinced that I desperately need additional books for my collection. I have never quite decided whether to call myself a voracious or reckless reader. This small conflict arises from my desire to spread my reading across as many fields of knowledge as I can muster. It is, therefore, not surprising to find me trying to plough through three or four books at a time. Teale’s post leaves me with the amplified question of how to derive the most from my reading. Oh, and I certainly recommend the post for those scholars who, like me, believe that there is no end to learning.

In the blog, which appeared in HUFFPOST on July 9 2014, Teale transports me  from a mere word-lover to a book-lover. And so from logophile, I learn that the book-lover is called a ‘bibliophile.’ That is understood. It is not too much of a shock and I am still standing!

After that he posts a few more of his favorite words, including, EPEOLATRY (yes, spelt in capital letters!) Teale says this refers to the ‘worship of words.’ I keep assuring myself that this cannot be idolatry. Or, could it be? He is just beginning by the way. “LITERARIAN,” which describes one who considers himself or herself as ‘an educated or lettered person’ follows.

I have often argued that a message stands better chances of achieving its aims if delivered in simple language. I guess this is a part of me that remains from my early jobs. I worked first as a radio and television reporter. The biggest lesson I left with was KISS – “keep it short and simple.” Years down the line, I found myself immersed in writing speeches to be delivered by politicians to rural audiences. One of the mysteries I carry up  to this day is the refusal by all those I drafted speeches for, to have the drafts in local languages. It, therefore, became necessary to ensure that speeches were in the kind of easy-to-grasp language which could be easily translated in situations where English simply could not work.

After the lettered or educated person, Teale presents a completely new word for me: ULTRACREPIDARIAN! From his research, this is a reference to one who pretends to be lettered or educated but the truth is that the person gives opinions on things s/he does not know anything about. The word was apparently recorded in 1819, in a letter written by the “influential critic” (not surprising), William Hazlitt, when he applied the word ultracrepidarian to a critic. I encourage readers to follow up on Teale’s explanation of the origins of the word. I found it thoroughly engaging.

Another interesting word thrown by Teale at book-lovers is MOROSOPH. As I read this one, I am tempted to say it reminds me so much of moron. Perhaps, I am not that misdirected after all because the word refers to “one who is overheard mouthing about books, films, politics, or indeed anything, at the next table in the pub or coffee house. A morosoph is a would-be philosopher; a fool who thinks he is cleverer than s/he is.” I must say that I found the genesis of the word truly informative. In brief, “it borrows from the French writer, Rabelais, where the moro is from the Greek meaning dull or stupid and the sophistication from the Greek for wise. Morosophs are foolish for thinking themselves wise.”

I will not reproduce Teale‘s blog. Readers will find it under the title which I have already indicated. I will, however, throw in BIBLIOBIBULI. This is a word attributed to the American humorist, H.L. Mencken, who used it for people who read too much. Not surprisingly, Teale asks the valid question: “is there such a thing as reading too much?” He leaves the last word for Mencken who argued that “I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion.”  It is a rather difficult one to call, especially when I try to pronounce the Mencken’s term.

My last borrowings from Teale are BIBLIOPHAGIST (to describe a devourer of books). I am unsure as to how this book-lover would relate to the BIBLIOBIBULI. I would love to hear what your thoughts are. The last word, which I must say inspired the title of this piece, is BIBLIOSMIA. This refers to “the act of smelling books, especially as a way of getting a ‘fix’ from the aroma of old tomes.”

I am reminded of some of the huge volumes we studied as part of our Literature in English course. I still vividly remember the false promises we made with my classmates that we would try and “spot” which pages were unavoidable and neglect those we believed could never form part of an examination. It did not take long for us to realize that we were treading on dangerous ground.

But, why “save the book?” In true, old-school fashion, I am worried that our children are missing out on the joys and benefits of reading, flipping through pages, making notes on the margins and underlining some grammatical constructions that just left you in awe. The power of words, the beauty of books. I am certainly not the only one who fears what may happen to the book. I was laughing at cartoon representations of how technology is affecting our lives.

In one illustration, a father lovingly asks his son about his day at school. The son’s answer is an almost mechanical and impersonal “you can read all about it on my blog, Dad!”  Yet another classic from “digital synopsis.com,” is the answer given by  a child when asked for his or her permanent address. This is given as http://www.facebook.com/username

New Language Lessons

I once bought a book entitled “Twitterature.” I believe the purchase fulfilled two needs, namely, my curiosity into whether the book was, indeed, about Twitter. Secondly,  I wished to find out whether Twitter has grown that much to have its body of language. I generally set aside at least two hours a day (🤔🤔🤔) – yes, just about that, to enjoy the barbs that fly between Twitter users most of the time. But some of the tweets are vintage humour. These keep me so rapt and attentive to Twitter and what I call the “New Language Lessons.”

UnFollowing Friends, Revised Thoughts and Searching Again!

I fall quite easily for the new offerings availed by social networking sites. Without fail, I go through a very familiar routine now: answer friendship requests, access invitations relayed via LinkedIn and spend all my free time, trying to record the number of friends I have across the social media networks. Then the questions begin!

Why do I need all the friends? What things are common to us all? Can I honestly carry out intelligible conversations with all my friends? What if I revisited my friendship profiles and try to prune them? How much would I stand to lose?

And, as always happens, I am up early in the morning hours, studying the “connections” I have. In the quiet morning air, I ask which ones I really would like to keep. Let us agree every friendship has a strength and the power to enrich one’s life. I value each and every one of them for the different personality traits they possess. I benefit immensely from the varied fields they are qualified in. Yet, somebody has harshly observed that “some friends bring smiles by coming, others by leaving!”

Well, not much to do there. I have picked myself up many times over when in a response to a connection I am trying to make, I get the curt and haunting “I do not know this person.” I am not sure “I would like to get to know you well would help.” Accordingly, I recently decided to try a different place of meeting new friends. A dating site. Well, the site promised that it provides vast opportunities for “online friends.” And I believed it because it is continental, thus making the chances of ever meeting the friends quite remote. I, however, still have a problem.

I use a pseudonym. However, my picture and biographical information are “legit!” So too are the specifications I make of the friends I am looking for. I am looking at just “online friends.” Converse with them, ask about their days and weeks, and  wish them well in their future endeavours. If appropriate candidates had been found, some  it would have been most entertaining to share New Year’s resolutions. I know the dating site does provide room for people to explore short- or long-term relationships. Should things go well, that difficult word, marriage or lifetime commitment is also mentioned.

Get Understanding

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I am a dedicated reader of motivational writers and equally enthusiastic follower of self-help speakers. Life circumstances added this chapter to my list of “likes.” I am, therefore, compelled to make clear that, while I find this area interesting, I cannot yet follow it with blind loyalty. In fact, all too often, my critical mind takes over. Just as well, one can always use those two small, overused but still significant words, namely, “objective and subjective.” You see, on many occasions, I am forced to ask whether the writers and speakers share the same Planet Earth with their audiences. Regardless of the magnitude and range of problems and challenges placed before them, their counsel is always positive, perhaps, unearthly. Their words of encouragement are a perfect picture of disconnectedness.

Once, during a time of bereavement, one counsellor tried to railroad me into adopting the mantra, “I am a winner, I am not a quitter, winners overcome!” The words would come out because I was parroting him. Yet, they was a lump in my throat as I produced the words, a near-sense of eroded sanity: what is “overcoming,” when I am trying to understand my loss.

But then again, that is their calling, their area of expertise, is it not? However, I fear that in trying to help the emotionally broken and temporarily lost, the self-help practitioners outdo themselves. Life is never completely blissful. It does not smell like roses all the time. And, yes, that cliche – “one size does not fit all!” But the indefatigable motivational guru has one message: “come on, get up, dust yourself up and keep moving!” I admire the oomph and effort, I truly do.  But then life’s challenges do not have a single remedy, never have, never will.

I feel challenged and angered by those who seemingly gloss over grief. I am particularly grated by those who are quick to say “you are not the only one who has suffered loss. You need to get over it.” Perhaps, they should pay heed  to the lucid and honest observation that “there is so little of life we control. Grief’s timing is among the uncontrollable.”

Franklin P Adams and Brook Noel give sober analyses of the grieving soul. Their voices need to be amplified. How is this for a reality check?

Grief knows no schedule. In today’s world we have grown accustomed to scheduling so much of life. Yet grief is one thing that will never fit in an appointment square. Add to this Charles Darwin’s acceptable observation that “it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

From the medley of voices I heard during my bereavement, I remember too many rushed words and unnecessary pronouncements. I am, therefore, thankful and heartened when I find some people who refused to be part of the noisome and dramatic scenes. They did not give weird incantations or the promise of instant healing. The sober voices taught me about the importance of closely reading the cocktails served by life and studying their respective ingredients. Where comment became necessary, it only came after full understanding of the situation.

I have used grief as my main talking point because it left me gutted. Yet in all communication, we need to fully understand the intricacies of the situations before us, before attempting to make comment. The great writer, George Eliot, left us with the great reminder that “blesssed is the man who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

When I lost my dear parents, I could try and walk on, finding some measure of solace in knowing that they saw me through school, university, my first job and second jobs. More importantly, they made me proud at my wedding. And they welcomed and spent  some time with their grandchildren. In those circumstances, I could understand the words of encouragement I received. Not so when it came to the death of my wife.

My wife passed on when I held a job where social interaction was virtually non-existent because of the hours I spent in the office. More importantly, it was one of those jobs where I had to be careful about my choice of friends. I had found myself in a place where I was a potential source of news, often, negative news. My wife thus represented the entirety of the friends, advisers and confidants I needed. She was my shoulder to cry on when stress and emotion overcame me. Besides my wife, the nearest place for friendly and trusting relations was at work.

Sadly, over time, but in clearly traceable movements, the work place relations became tainted with considerations beyond the professional call of duty. Other interests began competing with one’s earnest desire to still deliver a professional performance on the job. You see, because of the time we spend at the work place, it is only natural for one to expect relations that foster the element of team play. As happens in many other slices of life, victory is only possible when people work with a unity of purpose. Some labour specialists note that superior-subordinate relationships are unlike those between parents and children. But research culled mainly from newspaper reports shows some “bosses” (that is how they portray themselves) who go all out to treat subordinates like children. I have lost respect for them. They do not have any legitimate claim to respect.

Lies, hateful sentiments, spiteful behaviour, these are their defining characteristics. I am impressed by Daniel Goleman’s studies on emotioanl intelligence and the potential this holds for improved relations at the work place. Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is defined as “the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and to manage and /or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieveone’s goals.”

This presents a potentially stimulating area of study for me because I sincerely believe the age of impersonal relationships is long gone and cannot have a place in today’s company which must recognize the competitive environment it works in. Consequently, the  need for effective interpersonal relationships must receive the serious attention it deserves.

The Burden of Thoughts and Keeping Apace with Today’s World..

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I spend lots of time in the world, or shall I say, in the company, of books. It is, for me, an honest and dependable companion. As someone has noted, “it is better to be alone than to be in bad company.”I have to agree that there is, indeed, lots of bad company around. The following anonymous quote further underlines my interest in the printed page. It says, “between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be.”

Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was rather easy to define media and their roles to a great extent. The media educated, informed and entertained. Credible, responsible, and a builder. But over time, and particularly today, both the definition and roles of the media have undergone tremendous changes. It concerns me that we have not yet seen the last of the changes. I find it interesting and foreboding that one of the trending phrases in 2016 is “fake news.” What does it mean; what are the implications for those who may not be able to identify the “false news?” What happens to communities without the capacity to fight back at the “fake news?”

When I grew up, I used to look for my father’s one daily newspaper, a huge broadsheet, that I could read in stages. Besides that, I always tried to ensure that the radio-gram as it was called was working. At school, my classmates and I enjoyed weekly doses of radio lessons provided by the Curriculum Development Unit. Later, black and white television, which carried a limited range of programme channels came into our world.

The most worrying programmes carried age restrictions of “not suitable for under 16.” Believe you me, I did not try to find out what the programmes which were rated thus contained. My young brother and I could not contain our laughter when recalling the guilt we felt after stealthily watching a “not-for-under-13” programme. We would go through a cleansing ritual in order to remove, delete, and completely obliterate residual images from the films we had seen. Yet these were standard family viewing. Nothing compared to some risqué cartoon shows on television today. I simply cannot trust a programme rated 13 to be family viewing today. It seems the censorship board is either tired of playing its gatekeeping role. Or, is it an ominous acknowledgement that it is futile to insist on censorship in the light of the many, alternative sources of viewing? Radio is not any different; once radio presenters apologized for “the slightest inappropriate” words that sneaked into a song. Nowadays, a song is heavy, successful and “so-called dope” if its lyrics contain a few expletives.

Health experts, religious and lifestyle leaders talk about “detoxing” dirty content from the  mind and body. Now, as in the past, our biggest challenge is that we keep falling into the same snares or traps of the programmes we do not want to see. It is a shortcoming that afflicts us without end. You see, the biggest problem is that the undesirable programmes are the addictive ones and the very foundation of talking points which prove that one is “current and with it!”  They represent an element of belonging. Indeed, I find it illustrative that certain so-called mighty preachers sound current in their viewing of the seemingly repulsive material. Yet ordinary worshippers, the laity, are given stern warnings against succumbing to the temptation. On many Mondays, these films are conversation starters, whether at school or the work place. If one misses weekend viewing, Monday is sure to be a big yawn.

Looking back at how technology has impacted the world, I chortle when I recall that some years after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, an international electronics company established a presence in Harare. The company reported that it would be manufacturing “monochrome” television sets. I vividly remember that one reporter misunderstood this as “the arrival of colour television!” You could understand the reporter; after all, the country had been watching black and white television sets. What was “monochrome?” You could extend it further and ask how a reputable electronics giant could come into Harare for “black and white” television monitors again. Yet, when I looked up monochrome – (and I believe many other viewers did too) – it does in fact refer to black and white!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines monochrome as “a painting, drawing or photograph in a single hue, that is showing images in black and white, or in varying tones of one colour.” I am intrigued to discover that Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on December 28, 2015 that nearly ten thousand people in the United Kingdom still watch black and white sets. They may be a variety of reasons for the choice, but one revelation is that black and white TV licenses were frozen at 49 Pounds until 2016. I am curious to see how the license increase will affect the number of black and white “aficionados.”

While it was a useful and certainly “eureka” moment, the confirmation of the meaning of “monochrome” left a sour taste in the month. As a young, impressionable mind, I too had wished monochrome could mean more than just black and white. That way it would have made the list of big words for my vocabulary! Remember, I said during my early years, the media simply educated, informed and entertained?

As an old school relic, I am disappointed that both the definition and roles of the media have undergone inexorable transformation. Today, we go beyond choosing from an array of shapes and sizes of colour television sets. For a short while earlier this year, I remember developing a love-hate relationship with my set after reading international news reports that certain television models may actually record household conversations and transmit them to – heaven knows where! Regrettably, I was not able to follow the story to its end. I would be grateful for any updates. It is my view that the mere suggestions contained in the news reports I referred to, are useful in reviewing the journey from where a single newspaper provided total coverage to today’s changed scenario, where one searches for every possible news outlet (especially online news sites) in order to compare the treatment of the day’s stories.

With the growth of satellite television, one is stretched further in terms of what media experts term “time-geography!” I mean, what does one watch, when, where, why, how? The 4 Ws and the H now do not only identify a good journalist’s report. They challenge incurable news consumers and followers of television series (soap operas?) to literally keep diaries of their viewing schedules.

The newspapers and television are still with us, recognizably advanced in their offerings. Yet the emergence and unprecedented growth of social media has opened whole new possibilities in the media world. One expert has noted that advancements in mobile telephony mean that the average smart phone user carries a virtual mobile studio in his or her pocket. Clearly, for old school parents such as I am, this is where fear returns. We clearly cannot track what our children are up to these days. I joined Facebook, frittered with Twitter, tried to keep pace with Instagram. Then I heard about SnapChat, Hangouts, WhatsApp and a host of “apps” (applications) which enable movie and music downloads.

The amounts of information available on the Internet simply leave parents powerless to have a say in what their children access. The new media does not know any borders or restrictions. Sadly, the word etiquette seems to have been rejected by many users of social media platforms.

I can only end this piece with a conversation between a father who asks his son about his day. In reply, the son, busy on a computer game, replies “you can read all about it on my blog, dad.”

Sounds like Samuel Beckett’s world..the futility of human existence? Maybe not quite there, but….. 

 

 

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Life recited, experiences remembered, thoughts tell tales, word play, recreational writing, give feelings an thoughts an outlet, attempts at editing and proof reading. It's a WORKSHOP!

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