Thursday, October 29, 2009


Many things frighten me. I'm frightened by almost everything, at least for a short time. Then, predictably, I grow used to the thing that scared me, and instead, I become bored by it. For instance, I was once scared of computers. I felt inept on many computer programs and so I avoided them at all costs.

And after five (maybe seven) years of regular computer use, it's no surprise that I'm growing--if not bored, restless--sitting at my computer, trying to market this book all the damn time. So, I've decided that I'm embarking on my computer-cation (computer vacation). Wish me luck, I'll need it. I already feel the withdrawal, the looming email collecting in folders, important things that I have to respond to right away... Scarier than Halloween.

So, I'll post Monday or Tuesday, to report on my attempts to follow in the footsteps of King Ludd, and all those who have rebelled against technological change.

In closing, here's a list of helpful Halloween Hints, lessons I've learned over the last week that might make Halloween itself a little less scary.

1. If your ice cream man comes around at 6AM, he's selling drugs. Don't take his free ice cream, even on Trick or Treat night.

2. Don't eat any candy with warning labels. (i.e. - "this might remove a filling")

3. If you're going to dress up, zombiefy your costume, it only helps.

4. Too much candy corn is truly sickening. Even if it's the chocolate kind.

5. Don't dress up like Michael Jackson, unless your going to do a damn-good job on the costume--that rule goes for kids, too.

6. Apples do not count as cady, unless they're candied apples.

7. You're never too old to dress up, only too cranky.

8. If you're going to do like me and be Rosie the Riveter, make sure you don't go into neighborhood with high gang activity, unless you happen to know they're all Bloods.

OK. Signing off here... I'm already shaking. I might have to take up drinking and smoking again without the comfort of these one-sided conversations (I mean "blog entries")


(buy Musical Chairs, if you haven't yet...) Or go here, they're giving them away.

[picture courtesy of last year's "Zombie Walk" in San Antonio]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Office Space

I'm training for a writing marathon. (Yes, I invented this event. And as far as I know, I'm the only contestant.) Here's the plan: I'm going to tear myself away from the Internet (thank you, Facebook, for preparing me), break open the Moleskines and go at it. Other than Halloween, I'll be unavailable. I'll be writing. Since I got rejected from Yaddo, this is my personal, solitary, self-imagined residency. And, I'm thrilled at the prospect. But, I don't know if I can do it.

Maybe I can prepare with atmosphere? No, I'm not going to go so far as scenic wallpaper that recreates Saratoga Springs. But, I need something better than piles of paper everywhere and the three calendars I have haning over my computer, which remind me who I need to email back.

I've read numerous books on writing, how-tos and how-to-do-it-betters. Most of them haven't been too useful, and some actually seem creatively-stifling. I enjoyed Atwood, Bradbury and King's... But the rest of them, well, there's usually one really good piece of advice for each hundred pages. And one such recommendation is that you make time. Another, which comes up repeatedly, is that the author create a comfortable and attractive work space. So, this is my training. I think that if I can make time to do this after work, I will be more than ready for the marathon.

I will have to slowly wean myself off the web. Man, I feel withdrawal just thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Taking The Reigns

Well, I need to shut up for a week or two. So, I have extended an invitation to my father, mother and sister, to contribute to this blog. You see, I wanted to dare, to offer each of them the opportunity to respond, publicly, to my memoir. It's only fair, right?

As they prepare their responses, and I attempt my lecture--that is the thing that scares me more than death--I've invited two of my favorite emerging writers to contribute blogs. I hope you enjoy their meditations.

Now, on to the Good Stuff: First up, author of Some White English Women I've Almost Known.

Mogbolahan Koya-Oyagbola was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1970. He spent his early childhood in Lagos. At the age of ten he started attending a private boarding school in England. He later studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture for a year before dropping out. Subsequently, he attended University College London where he attained a B.A. in Philosophy. He also holds an M.A. in Modernism and Modern Writing from Royal Holloway University of London. Having lived in capitals as diverse as Lagos, London, Glasgow, Tokyo, Mexico City and Vancouver, he now earns his keep in Munich as a qualified English language teacher.

Relinquishing The Ghetto
by Mogbolahan Koya-Oyagbola

I have eclectic musical taste. I can go from opera to hip hop in a heartbeat. These days though, there is less hip hop in my playlist. I wish hip hop hadn’t taken such a sharp turn into Profanity Avenue in the mid 90s. But I still love Mos Def, Common and the old school stuff. Give me Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul any day of the week. And if we’re on granddaddy night then bring back Afrika Bambatta, Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

Tonight I’m listening to Voglio Restare Cosi by Andrea Bocelli.

For the non-linguists, this means I Want to Stay This Way. Okay I admit that beyond the “Restare” which I guessed from my far from perfect knowledge of French, I didn’t know the meaning of this song either. Babelfish came to the rescue and now that I think about it cosi isn’t far off from the Spanish como asi. I had known about Andrea Bocelli since way back in the early 90s but stupidly I never bought anything by him. I was still locked into my British induced ghetto back then. Before buying this CD about a year ago, I remember listening to Voglio Restare Cosi in the music store and feeling liberated while letting the symphonic undulations and far off accordion (or mouth organ… not sure which) wash over me. I’m part hard-nosed pragmatist, part romantic so I am temporarily overwhelmed by sentiment every now and again. This was one of those occasions and I felt a wave of emotion well up in my chest. To be able to listen and not give a damn about any judgement that might come my way was thrilling. I had lost that ghetto feeling a while back during my travels, but a two year return to England brought it all back. During my two year sojourn my project team leader at work would tell me I talked like a book. She’d say I wasn’t personable enough, that I was too rigid. I saw through her claims and read into the subtext. All her comments came down to the fact I was polite, didn’t burst into expletives after every two sentences like she did and refused to talk like a cockney. Now given that my father was a Nigerian barrister, my mother a careerist woman and that I attended a public (which means private) school, precisely where was I supposed to have picked up this cockney twang?

I was back to the nightmare labels of the England where class consciousness is king. My two year sojourn brought it all back and convinced me I had to move on. Listening to Opera, Sinatra, Jazz or indeed just about anything outside the mainstream got one labelled posh. My public school accent got me labelled posh. My manners got me labelled posh. What manners? Well for instance I always said please and thank you. I opened doors for women. Now believe me when I say I wasn’t trying to win brownie points. I was raised with an old world outlook, as a result once I got to a certain age I always opened doors for my mum. I opened the car door for her; I opened building doors for her. If doors hadn’t been invented I would have created them just so I could open them for her. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how such a habit could develop into an automatic response mechanism that had me opening doors for all women. That didn’t mean I was trying to project gentlemanly manners or be “posh” as the Brits say. Nevertheless I was labelled posh. On the other hand I was also the threatening black man. In my teens and early twenties I would be observed with suspicion one moment then called a posh git the next. My teen years were filled with muted anger and confusion. Go back to my post about why I wrote about exile for the other half of the puzzle and a clear picture arises as to why beneath the two dimensional fa├žade I presented to the world, I was a seething cauldron of hostility.

Outside of school, being perceived as either a posh git or a mugger slowly turned me into a misanthrope. Listening to Voglio Restare Cosi again tonight reminds me of all this because while I listened at the CD store in Munich I recalled Munich’s street performances of Classical music. I remembered the Christmas markets that embraced all who wished to attend. I remembered the wealthy white woman who gave me a cheery greeting of an evening in Munich and I realised I had been let out of the ghetto of my teenage years. Neither mugger nor posh git, I was just me. Andrea Bocelli might have been singing in Italian but this was not Italian music, posh music or white people’s music, it was my music. It was my music because I had been let out of the ghetto. I had relinquished the ghetto. Finally, I belonged to the universe and the universe belonged to me. And for anyone who deemed me a posh git or mugger I now felt only pity as they stared me down from beyond the caged walls of their ghetto.

Irrespective of what anyone now thinks of me, I like me. In the grand scheme of things, opening doors for women really isn’t so bad. And despite appearances, being polite and thoughtful doesn’t make me an idiot or a push over, nor does it make me perfect. I am as flawed as the next human being but I work at being the kind of person I would like to be. So as Andrea sings his words Voglio Restare Cosi, I have to agree.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve relinquished the ghetto and while far from perfect, I really like me. Voglio restare cosi – I want to stay this way.

Want to visit the author website?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Letting Go

Over the past month, I have shared my worries and excitement concerning the publication of my memoir. To be completely honest, I was unprepared for the exhaustion that accompanies publication. I've been an emotional wreck. I fretted over the few copies of Musical Chairs that escaped with a few typos and the fear of eminent judgment and misinterpretation of my words, but this fear was not wholly due to exposure, but rather loss. You see, in releasing my book, I cannot look back. After five years of work, this is a difficult thing, to let go.

Then again, it seems that the hardest journeys are sometimes fruitful. I have no delusions about the fact that my book is still far from perfect: I make mistakes. However, publishing, releasing my work into the world, is not one of them. I wanted to be upfront about my post-traumatic publication worry because I found very little in other author's blogs about the subject. (Believe me, I looked.)

That said, I am ready to move on, creatively. Many generous writers have assured me that this anxiety is normal, especially when an author bares her soul in her writing. Yet, the reason I wrote that memoir in the first place is because I have huge respect for other memoirists: Tobias Wolff, Phillip Lopate, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary Karr, and on and on, for their bravery; their willingness to share, at many times in my life, made this reader feel less alone. It's my turn to (wo)man up.

So, while the reviews trickle in, I have decided to return to the essence of what motivated me to begin writing in the first place. It is no exaggeration for me to say that my love affair with reading and writing has saved my life, and I cannot stop now.

Today, I am coming full circle. I have begun to return to my stories, my fiction and essays, and I am ready to begin this cycle again, to begin a new book. It has always seemed the most difficult part of writing--the beginning, and so I thought I'd share this journey as well.

Armed with the store of knowledge I have gained at Bennington's Writing Seminars and the process of writing my first book, I have found solace in the fact that a new beginning seems less intimidating. I have begun free writing exercises. These have always helped me achieve a cathartic, even raw feel that drives my characters and scenes from ideas to realization. I do this in ten minute spurts, a trick I learned from a good friend Jennifer Roberts, one of the first people to support me as a writer. We used to go to a coffee shop, pick a sentence, a prompt, and set the timer, not allowing pen to leave paper for five to ten minutes at a time. What would come out was hardly a story, but these exercises sparked something more innately artistic and genuine. The essence of story. The beginning. I highly recommend this exercise and I wanted to share it. Here are the instructions, as we used them:

Grab your favorite book.
Open randomly to a page, point at a sentence.
Set the timer.
Write the sentence.
Keep going, no matter what.

Pen does not leave paper until the timer stops, regardless of what comes out. Often, for me, this would be something along the lines of I don't know what to write, I don't want to do this exercise, I have no idea what to do, my hand itches... but eventually, something would come. It is written meditation. It is a beginning.

Cheers, to new beginnings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"A Year to Live" My Thoughts

I purchased Stephen Levine’s A Year to Live a few years ago, after it was recommended by a teacher and friend of mine. The book is a 175 page guide to living as though you know you will die in 365 days. It begins with the author’s reason for writing the book. Levine, a teacher and meditation guide, has worked with many people with terminal illnesses and he reports having seen many people really begin to live the lives they’ve always dreamed of after receiving the diagnosis. So, he proposes that his readers “practice dying.”

“Having observed the renewal that occurs for so many people because their natural wisdom inspires them to open more profoundly to life, I offer an experiment that amplifies your potential for healing by living the next year as if it were your last.”

He then expounds on his theory for a few pages before offering a series of meditation techniques interspersed with the author’s reflections on death and renewal. Theoretically, I am incredibly driven to try this, to live this year as though it were my last. I have read this book a few times, and although I have not fully engaged the techniques outlined, I do believe that the premise is important to share. When a person accepts the fact that death is eminent, waiting for us all, an obvious thought that is often pushed mechanically out of the mind due to fear, an amazing opportunity for personal reflection is spurred.

I have not yet mastered the act of meditation; in other words, the result of my personal experimentation with this exercise has not come to fruition. However, the idea of this book is awesome, it seems driven by a kind sentiment: that we needn't wait for a terminal illness to live the way we would if we were given a deadline (sorry, really bad pun). I recommend this book, but I have to wonder, how many people would use the sense of urgency to act out, to go binge drinking or whoring around, to over-consume or act impetuously, without reserve or empathy?

It’s an interesting sentiment, one that causes me to recommend this book with a disclaimer: those that have a tendency toward self-destructive or reckless behaviors probably shouldn’t try this. For those that have a clear dream, who have their priorities in place but have failed to act, feared trying, I think this book might make you think… perhaps act.

purchase Musical Chairs here

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...