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.*

source

 
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. It is available on Amazon now.

21 comments :

  1. You have put into words, so eloquently as well, what a lot of people feel but won't admit too. I admire your courage in penning those words. You have a great talent for the written word, be proud of yourself, everybody else is. It is a lovely tribute to your father as well, what a great man he is to see your potential.

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    1. Thanks Sally, for your kind and encouraging words. My dad got me started on that journey. I stumbled for a while. I am now back up and continuing what he started. Life is not easy...and for those of us who have made it to middle age and beyond, there is a lot to be said for that. It's sad that when one is this open, there are people out there who want to destroy a newly found confidence. Fortunately for me, they are too late. I have earned my stripes...I'm here to stay:)

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  2. I really don't know why you will feel that your writing is not good enough because just this piece shows that you are a beautifully talented woman. As for fear while growing up, I can relate to the Nigerian middle class upbringing and phobia against the 'arts' in general. But we live, learn and grow. And I'm glad you've chosen your own path with writing.
    A big hug from me. xx

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    1. Thanks, sis. It has been a learning experience for us as well as our parents. Our parents did their best according to their knowledge at that time. I'm enjoying the warmth that radiates from you...as always. Yours is a generous soul...a rare gem. I admire you immensely. xx

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  3. Excellent story. My father taught me a love of writing and literature, but neither of us ever considered it a viable career choice. Funny now that I think of it. I have spent my whole life writing and reading and when it came to making a living, I chose technical writing although I always kept striving to master fiction writing. It's good that you have made such a deliberate choice.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed reading, Linda. Parents are often a major influence when it comes to career or intellectual pursuits their children choose to take up. It happens a lot and it is a good thing.

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  4. I envy you your relationship with your father. With me it was my mom who encouraged and was always there. I didn't get along with my dad at all. First born girl to a man who wanted a first born son. Dealing with him made me stronger.

    Your post is a different take on the challenge and expresses your love well. Dementia is hard to deal with. I've written some posts on dealing with our elders on one of my blogs (Life Issues). Enjoyed your heartfelt post. New follower too.

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    1. You're welcome to my blog, DG. Thanks for folllowing:)
      Glad you enjoyed reading my post. Will check out your blogs.
      The encouragement given to a child to help them to grow is important. Some of us get on with one parent more than the other. It's great that your mum was there for you. My mum has been supportive in other ways. She gave up a lot for us and gives so much to others. She is one of the most selfless people I know. She's just a realist I guess, lol. I find that I'm more like her as I get older...a bit more pragmatic than the dreamy young me. But I'm also holding on to that idealist streak I got from my dad. I need both of those elements to be as healthy an individual as I can be.

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  5. Adura, I had to hold back my tears at the poignancy and honesty of your writing. What a beautiful thing to share something so special with your father. He did a wonderful job...you know I have always been a huge fan of your writing, both poetry and prose. You do have some health issues, and I pray you will overcome these and dementia never knocks at your door.

    I loved your peek into your book today. Can't wait to read it.

    Thanks for posting to WEP. Was a real blast from the past.

    Hi to Kiru too!

    Denise

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    1. Awww....Denise! My sister said the same thing. She actually cried. I had no idea it would be so emotional. I just wrote what I felt in my heart. I accept I'd have to be more open about my emotions to really write the way I want to. I do have some health issues which I'm glad to say have reduced considerably over the last two weeks like we discussed, I can only hope this continues. It has made so much difference to my quality of life and the ability to pursue my goals /projects for this year. Thank you for looking out for me, Denise. Your support has been a rock for me to lean on from day one. You are a tower of support in the online writing community, special to me and to the many people you bless with your friendship every single day.

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    2. Can't wait to get your feedback on my book, Denise. Hope you really do enjoy reading. It's a mix of old and new material. Some of it would be familiar, others completely fresh:)

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  6. Not only do I love the title of your book, but I'm very touched by your words here. My father also instilled in me my love of writing. So nice to hear about your father and your tender love for him. Please, since you are embracing your writerly self, use lists! That IS writing, and not setting yourself up for failure. I use lists all the time and usually find that once I write something down on that list, I'm much less likely to forget it simply because my mind had to pay attention when I wrote it down. I understand your fear, my father died from Parkinson's so I could live my life afraid of every tremor or lapse of memory. But I chose to practice the exercises (writing lists, physical exercise, etc.) that have been shown to help prevent or impede these diseases. Help yourself. Hopefully that will help you feel better about yourself and not so afraid. Also, remember this anagram: F.E.A.R. is "only" False Evidence Appearing Real!!! It's my mantra now, and it helps! I wish you all the peace and beauty this life has to offer us. Thanks for coming by my blog and commenting. I wish you and your father well.

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  7. I G+s you, tweeted this and pinned it too! So very lovely...

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    1. Hi Lisa. I do write lists sometimes. I should do it more often. So sorry to hear about your dad. He raised a beautiful daughter. Writing is definitely a good way to exercise the mind...and reading. Exercise...I'm trying to do more on that front too:) F.E.A.R. is a great way to remember fear, what a great mantra to have, I'm following suit. Thank you for sharing my piece across the media platforms.'Following you too. Wishing you happiness, light and good health always. Lots of love to you, Lisa.

      ~Adura x

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  8. Hi Adura,

    Beautifully expressed and heartfelt, loved your post for the courage too. Very moving. I don't think you need have any qualms about your writing not being "good enough", because you are one talented woman and it's not just this post I am basing it on. Wish you every success with the book, looking forward to reading more of your poetry. And also wishing you good health and peace.
    Nilanjana.

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    1. Thanks Nilanjana, for taking the time to be here, for your thoughtfulness and generosity. I know it is a hectic time with the move and I do appreciate your support. Wishing you wonderful memories and the best of what life has to offer in your new home.

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  10. Dear Adura,

    Thank you for your kind words about my post for WEP. Welcome back!

    Your post is a moving tribute to your father. I agree with both Lisa and Nilanjana, you ARE one talented woman and I think you should consider Lisa's suggestions of writing lists to help your memory.

    Adura. You are such a fine writer. With Nilanjana, I also wish you good health and peace of mind. I'm sure that you will find a way.

    Best wishes,
    Anna

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    1. Hi Anna,
      Hope you and your family are good.
      It's nice to hear from you again. Sorry about the late reply. Since my book got published, it's been almost impossible to be everywhere that I need to be. And my health challenges do not make it easier. Thank you so much for your support. I feel great to be back in our WEP club. Hope I can rise to the challenge with our lovely Denise's prompt for this month. I look forward to reading your piece if you are entering for this month's prompt. I'll be over at yours anyway. Have a great weekend.

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  11. So lovely and inspiring to read! It is through our most painful journeys that we find our courage, and with the support of your family and friends you are well blessed. Such a wonderful tribute to your father, and the fearlessness with which you write is the gift you share with us. We too are blessed!

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    1. It has not been easy. Facing our fears does have a way of propelling us forward.Thank you so much for your support and for your kind words, Yolanda. I never told you this but you're one of the people who inspired me. Seeing how you progressed on your own writing journey helped me to see what was possible. For this I'm also grateful to you, Yolanda.

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