Friday, 22 August 2014

On Memory, Fear and Taking Chances

There was once a chance I did not take. I’m taking it now. As I write this, I’m flushed with anticipation. The blood rush, quickened pulse and uneven breathing reminds me of the consultation with my GP last week. I smile because of two things. First it is the blissful note of the heartbeat. It is like the sweet tang of strawberries to the tongue every time I write. Secondly, I’m reminded, ironically, no doubt, that the fact that I can remember how it feels – both the writing and the visit to the GP - mean I may not be losing my marbles after all. You see - I’ve been afraid for a few years now – since I turned forty – that I could well be losing my mind. I forget things especially things that have to be done yesterday, today or tomorrow. I refuse to write things down or use google calendar on the off chance that I would remember. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. When it works, I am ecstatic. I remain blissful for a while. I remind or rather convince myself that the memory test the doctor gave me was accurate in its result and I have nothing to worry about. When my self-inflicted memory test does not pass well, I could be depressed and unproductive for weeks. It has become an obsession.

There is a reality that anchors this obsession of mine. There is dementia in my family. My dad who taught me to write has dementia. I always say he taught me to write because he showed me how to write letters when I was seven. We would write letters to family members overseas. He would encourage me to give detailed descriptions of things I’d been doing since we last wrote to them. He presided over my grammar and spelling and always made sure I got it right. We would do spelling tests and he would over indulge me with treats when I got every word correct. His signature in beautiful, cursive, long strokes - was on the newspapers he brought home. For his ingestion of the politics of the day, he would buy The Punch, Vanguard, Tribune, and The Daily Times – aka ‘the Labrador’- to get the gist from ‘the other side.’ He encouraged my aspirations of which there were quite a few, no matter how serious, frivolous or downright silly. He gave me confidence and a love so unconditional that when I thought I’d disappointed him, he'd show me how silly I was to have thought that. Such is the power of my long term memory that goes back to childhood through to teenage years and forward into adulthood. These days a smile is often enough. We can’t have long conversations anymore. Chance would be a fine thing. Our conversations reside in my memory. I try to capture this in Dance with my Father.*


Fear. Fear is a two edged sword beautiful and ugly at the same time. It is ugly because the sufferer feels unsafe and vulnerable. But it is in this vulnerability that the sufferer finds beauty and the determination to manage their fear. For me, finding beauty in vulnerability has been a long and painful process. My most conscious memory of wanting to be a writer was at sixteen. I laugh now recalling the hastily penned ditty to my first real boyfriend about my feelings for him. It apparently made such an impression that he kept it for more than twenty years until his wife got fed up with the scrap of paper and threw it out! While dad encouraged my dreams, mum was the voice of reason. She held a placard of caution to what she saw as lofty aspirations and like any concerned parent trying their best to steer an over-excited teenager off disaster course, she laughed and joked: “Is that a job? Have you ever seen a gainfully employed writer?” She has no idea but her laughter rang in my head for years. It made me feel unsure of myself and my own strengths. I don’t blame her. The intellectual climate in which I was raised back then in Nigeria in the 1980s was a pretty rigid one. As a young person you had two options: doctor or lawyer. It was an unwritten rule most middle class Nigerian parents employed to steer their wards without question. My dad was greatly outnumbered.

My father may have lost a great deal of his mental ability but he has given me something I would never lose... unconditional love and a positivity that allows my aspirations to soar without fear. It is for this reason that at the ripe age of 40 something - (with ‘50’ knocking on the door) - I embrace the opportunity to dedicate to all things writerly. I begin this chapter in my life with a poetry collection that narrates life through the lens of a middle aged woman.

On a short break in Brighton, UK. August 2012

In writing this here, I tell the world of the man who ignited my love of writing. Writing this piece bears witness that my dad and I enjoyed sharing our stories with loved ones, and that my love of writing grew out of the fact. I confront two fears: dementia and that of not being a ‘good enough’ writer. If dementia comes knocking at my door, a slew of speech and ghost writers would give it long legs to sunbathe even in winter months. It can sunbathe while my words find their place. As long as I can string words together to form a sentence the way dad taught me, I will take the chance to write in more ways than one.

972 words
‘Dance with My Father’ is one of Adura Ojo’s poems in her debut collection: 
Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.