To Throw a Straw on a Camel’s Back

Clarity is what broke them.

The problem with time is that it doesn’t have a respite. It can’t be saved, banked, stored for future use, traded or even farmed. For all it’s infiniteness time itself is a finite, indefinite resource. With the rise then, of the control of time came the rise of clarity.

Which would be perfectly okay if clarity itself didn’t imply a deliberateness.

When the marketplace of the deliberate met – doubt was weakness.

 

We assure you

that this product

will be 100% everything

that you can imagine

it will be.

 

When clarity becomes currency then imagination, invariably, becomes a liability. To imagine is to open possibilities. To show what can be. To be clear is to know what is. To have control. Possibilities increase within themselves infinitely. Which is to say, to open up a possibility is not just to open one possibility – but to open a number of possibilities. Any number of which, by the way, can birth possibilities of their own.

Which, of course, would be fine if it wasn’t for time. Because with the happening of time comes the compounding of possibilities and there is little time(HA!) to comb through them all. (Time happens realtime). The only thing, then, to do is lock the possibilities in place. To be clear – and to be clear now. It is in this way that with the rise in control of time came the rise of clarity.

Clarity is what broke them.

These Hands

When it comes down to it we must demand – demand – that the spaces that we end up creating make room for us. Which is to say that we need to be very conscious that our needs are takeninto account when spaces are created. After all, it is only when we create spaces for ourselves that we can really make room for others like us. It is only when we expand where our bodies are allowed to occupy that we can make room for other bodies, like ours, to step into those same spaces.

Baldwin speaks of intent – and how we were not intended to be. And it is seen in the design itself that these spaces were not designed with you in mind. They were neither made for you, nor to make room for you. Rather, they were designed to destroy you. To kill that very thing inside you that allows you to be free. To kill that very illusion that you have convinced yourself that you are chasing.

So it is no simple feat to demand that spaces make room for us. After all, the imagination can only be informed by that which is around it. And so capitalist minds continue to reproduce capitalist spaces. In creating spaces for ourselves we continue to propel this same culture of extraction, appropriation, and exploitation. Even in the spaces we create we eliminate ourselves.

But bodies with a stubbornness that cannot be ignored.

And breaking bodies speak loudest.

So even as we fight to erase ourselves our bodies demand. Our bodies demand that the spaces we create create space for us. Our bodies demand that the spaces we create allow us to live. And it is just the complicated nature of this task that kills spaces as soon as they are created.

The complexity that demands that spaces be self sustainable, and imagined differently that pushes us right to the edge of delirium. We look for different everywhere. Instead we find the same poorly imagined spaces. What then remains, but for us to look, demand and create?

Perhaps to support and imagine with. To let go of the idea that we, and we ourselves must be the sole proprietors of such spaces. And, if the goal, as it has always been, is carefree black bodies – then black bodies must be allowed to be carefree. And to imagine carefree – that’s a tall order. It makes more sense to allow for carefree and adjust oneself in relation to the shape that carefree takes.

To demand that we, like others, must be free.

Or that others, like us, must be free.

Because when it comes down to it, we must demand – demand – that we are creating our own freedom. For what is the point of breaking free if we’re only fashioning newer, tighter, cages? In the end our freedom will be the work of our hands. And that work – that work is all we have.

 

Mine

And therein lies the lie.

That there is a form a knowledge, of possibility, of being, of doing, that is outside your reach. That there is a way to be that is not only available, but readily tailored to your needs. That somehow, to exist is not only to defy them, but to destine oneself to a life of never ending torture.

And this, as has been created, has formed of itself a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the ways that stories create space for reality the prophecy has made room for itself.

In speaking as if spaces don’t exist the narrative has taken over room. Slowly eliminating spaces around it. Just like it has eaten and depleted physical resources, it has eaten and depleted mental and emotional resources. There is nothing left, there is nothing left, there is nothing left – they kept telling us this. And, in nothing being left, we took the only option we had.

 

Old paths

can only be trod upon

by those whose feet

have met time

and memory

and learned their dance.

Guilty feet

have got

no rhythm

Careless Whispers

 

But a monolithic world is about as interesting as waiting for the internet to come back. And freedom is nothing more but possibility. Imagine we are in a room. We have planned to stay in this room for the rest of the week. If a friend locks us in – have they taken away our freedom? Now imagine a thought. Singular. Independent. Imagine it alone in a void. Around it a sea of nothing. Now imagine this thought is you.

How does it feel?

 

Between the stones

There are souls

 

Make sure your feet are

Clean.

 

Now zoom out until you can see another thought slightly distant from the first.

Move out further.

And another.

And another.

Until all that is left is a sea of independent thoughts bobbing to the ebb and flow of consciousness. Tell me that there is a place in this sea that a thought can’t reach. Tell me that there’s a place, save for deliberate action to stop an idea, that an idea can’t be held.

And thus it is the lie.

 

That somehow it is not yours to take.

 

Weary fingers

can’t grip

fractured souls

 Broken nails

let sighs fall

into the dark.

 Slipping

 

You reach out your hand.

Freedom Interrogations

But what do you know of the freedom that you seek? Do you think you will find it somewhere in the middle of the street between njugu za ten bob and knock off sunglasses? Do you think it can be mass produced? What do you know of this freedom beyond chanting slogans and sharing dreams?

 

I know that at night, while the world is sleeping, I go to the roof and listen to the stars. I know that I hear them echo the dreams of a sleeping city. That, we who transcribe our dreams have journeyed into each other’s dreams and met by the shores of the river of knowledge. There we have looked into the emptiness and filled it with further emptiness, like the Arabs we found it important to quantify absence. And, in quantifying absence we have stumbled upon a very apparent flaw.

I know that when a gun is held to your head, there are no secrets.

I know that a few weeks ago tires flared along Kibera station road protesting building on grabbed land. And that the building steadily continues to rise.

I know that in 1992 Kenya moved from being a single party to a multi party state. In 2002 from a dictatorship to a somewhat democracy. In 2012 from a somewhat democracy to something else. I know that 2022 is not that far in the future.

I know that freedom continues to be a place we imagine, like poetry or a mobile phone 100 years ago.

I know that, even though it seems to be standing still, we continue and must continue towards liberation.

I know that, when we are finally free, we will have to start again.

 

Explain to the committee what makes you the perfect candidate for this.

 

I’m not.

But isn’t that the whole point of the exercise? We are no freer than those we consider chained. And to imagine ourselves as freer is to imagine away the very reason we continue with the work and the labour that has been given to us. Chained to our illusion of freedom we continue to try to explain why we are the free ones, hoping that this insistence will further others towards a space of freedom.

As with most things, we could not be more wrong.

But isolation is a cage that masquerades like open space. It is easy to mistake loneliness for freedom.

It is easy to mistake fear for love.

It is easy to mistake lies for revelations.

People make mistakes.

So what does it mean then, to consider the weights that we tie to ourselves to make sure our freedom doesn’t alienate us from the other freedoms? It means, often, to remember that I’m not the perfect candidate. No one is.

(I still want the gig though)

How many different ways can you divide a path in 6 before it completely disintegrates? Back up your answer with relevant data/references.

 

Occam had a razor. This always baffles me because other people got theories, laws and hypotheses but Occam was stubborn. When approached by the board about his fantastic theory he politely corrected them, it wasn’t a theory – it was a razor. This is exactly what happened (no, it’s not). Does this discredit the validity of the fact that the simplest solution is often the correct one?

When I was a child (forgive me for not remembering what age it was, my childhood was way too much of a whirlpool for how old any memory is to matter) I threw some loquat seeds in the garden. A few weeks ago my mum reminded me of this as she talked about thinking of cutting down my tree. It had been so long I forgot that I planted the tree. Is the tree still mine? Or has it grown a life of its own? Does it suffer from a neglected teenage hood? No, silly, trees don’t have feelings. Except maybe when you touch a touch me not and it recoils in fear. Or when a sunflower follows the sun across the sky, hoping to be noticed. Or when, alerted to the sorrow in the world, the jacaranda falls making each path the path of royalty.

Last night, just before I fell asleep, I thought of a lover.  I often do. I haven’t learned how to put it off yet. Love is always a present, never a past. But there are many things that distract me. Like listening to India Arie and writing. Or, reading My Ngoc talk about pain in more ways that I had previously considered possible. Or going the roof and listening to the silence of a city that dreams of freedom.

Don’t you see? There is no path. Only life, and long forgotten dreams.

Look Up

(For Geoffrey Githaiga 1987 -2015)

 In rugby, as in life, play what’s in front of you.

Few things are more embarrassing than being the forward marking the base when a scrum half throws a dummy pass.

The idea of writing tributes is confusing. Words are not enough to capture essence, or to pick you off the ground after the scrum half makes the break on your inside shoulder.

What’s in a name? No one’s really sure – Shakespeare argues that roses show significance. Still, I’m yet to see a rose that can wear a number 9 jersey.

If roses could play rugby would we still lay them on your grave? Or would we mourn in sequence.

Crouch.

Memory is the real cloud. How many times has your essence been stored in the cloud? Did you swing by, collecting a video montage of passes off the ground? Did Katsumi the boatman read out your statistics as he rowed you across the sea that leads beyond what the living know?

Bind.

If a tree falls in the forest all the other trees gather and mourn in silence. The sound scares birds from branches, worms come out of the ground in wonder. Slowly the tree feeds the forest and rebecomes part of it. If a tree falls in the forest, the forest grows. The forest is trees falling in perpetuity and the trees continue to mourn. In many ways, the forest is a place of mourning dead trees.

Is the tree dead? Friends and family are yet to confirm – a forest holds its breath.

Set

We listen to the forest for the sound of fallen trees. A song floats to our ears “is he higher than the highest mountain?”

There is no response. So we collectively hold our breath hoping that this too, is a dummy pass. That hope feeds and slowly rebecomes us.

But the dust refuses to settle, and the wind tells no lies – a forest mourns.

Bubbles

Even silence

is a language

that takes years of learning

to master.

 

Have you ever watched as tea goes from a small simmer to a boil? The bubbles start at the edge of the sufuria. At first they are few. But the heat continues to excite the atoms impressing them to do more. Do you think the first bubbles get tired? Do the bubbles that burst ever get to hear that the tea boiled eventually?

I’ve been thinking about exhaustion recently.

Perhaps it is because I have been feeling tired.

But I have been thinking about exhaustion and the impact it has on the work. (What is the work? That’s a question that demands more words, and less tiredness). Ahmed writes that when we write about the things we come up against we come up against the things we write. By this logic then to stop coming up against things would be as easy as to stop writing about them. But then Lorde reminds us that silence will not save us.

But of all the apparent things

only three remain:

That you were,

that you are

and that you will be

until you aren’t

what you once was.

 

Time, love and memory are all functions of the same device. This is to say that we only know what we remember and we only know how to love what we know. And since we can only remember what we have experienced through time then love continues to be a labour of time and memory.

All this is what we already know in different packaging.

 

“We have to keep repeating the same things because they keep doing the same things.”

– Wambui Mwangi

 

To continue on the path of the work of memory is to manufacture the raw ingredients. What then do you chose to remember? Perhaps it is important to see the self loathing of a people and dissect it to begin to understand why it exists. Maybe not because there is anything more worth quoting than the fact that there is what is, and to begin to ask why this thing finds itself here. The why naturally will lead to a what, when, how and eventually a who. But, once this information is fully understood then the next step is, how do we change this?

How else but to keep repackaging the content to be understood?

Without the new packages we are then madmen, standing on the corner of the street, shouting the same thing on repeat. Like those first bubbles we continue to vibrate in the same spot, trying to share a heat. Like those first bubbles, many of us burst. Like those first bubbles, we are fueled by a source that is distant and has only reached us through others like us.

Still, we rise.

You are here

But even though

they try to forget,

to hide your pain

behind layers

of unbecoming;

remember that

you are here.

Remember that

you

are

here.

Gukira recently asked about being present; about the demands to be present active and alive. To be aware in the moment and notice that there is now. I’ve been wondering about what we mean by present. How we define now, the moment, the existing? If a tree bears fruit in the forest, is it still sweet? What is the present but occupying the moment that you have, where you are, how you can? What are the demands to be present?

What do the demands to be present in the frames of the present make of us?

If, in my dreams, every night, I am running away from something, am I running? Or is it that my mind, unable to comprehend what is going on, moves away from itself? Am I there? Or am I in my bed? Tossing and turning, waiting for the night to wait itself out into the patience of day. Day, which will then wait itself out to the rush of the night and so forth until the sun decides not to rise again. How do we situate ourselves somewhere here?

“I died from merely existing. As me.”

– Neo Musangi, Lamentations

 

To address any question of how to exist cannot begin without thinking about who we allow to be present. This space, this “now” that has been created, who is allowed to occupy it? Who is decidedly, later? Where are they to wait? Is there a line where the other nows line up, saving their time for a later that is close enough to hope for but far enough to not be now? Whose presence?

Even when you speak

they will try and keep you

silent.

 

They will try

and keep you

silent.

 

Speak anyway.

 What happens when those that we have decidedly excluded from now begin to occupy spaces in currentness? Is currentness even a word? Is there a shred of phenomenology in a moment that can only be described after the fact? (Or is that the complete essence of phenomenology?) I return to Gukira:

“The present cannot be written, for all writing is always in the past tense. An easy lesson. And one that causes despair. This thing slips away. Or turns away. The present turns its face against us.”

– Being Present

So how do we begin to write about something that is happening? What is it to state that something is happening? What is it to demand to be a part of now? How do we create spaces for ourselves and for those around us that they too can exist in and of themselves? Is it even possible? Creating new forms of love and care are often sidelined to forms of labour and affect that are not worth considering. Or, now considered – then what? The imagination of masculinity refuses to open up to places where it has refused itself to go. How do we crack the code?

In a mall a man refuses to walk into the make up aisle because those things are for women because, somehow, the idea of those things being for women, means that there will be something taken away from him. What does this mean? Just as the demand for presence speaks, what does the demand for absence say? I will *not* be there. I *can’t* do that.

That’s why art continues to be such an allure. There’s a way art persists, art demands. Art stands somewhere and refuses to be unheard, to be unseen. Art navigates it’s way through whispers and shouts, through gaps between what is being said and what is being heard; what’s being seen and what’s unseen; what’s being felt and what has been tucked away. Art finds a way to be heard, because, in being heard, the present is grown. The present is occupied. Even if by the time it is occupied, it is the past. And, because the past becomes the present becomes the past becomes the present it somehow creates space for now. And that’s what the power is, right? The power to create paths, the power to create different forms of imagination.

 

Have you ever walked

on the shards

of ideas you once had?

If you’re not careful

you might cut yourself

trying not to unbecome

you.

 

Trust your art.

Kairos (An Echo)

“I hear this whispers

getting louder

in the streets

of the inner city.”

– Tarrus Riley, Whispers

Whispers continue to carry significance. A little speech here a little speech there. Conversations, I am reminded, are more like poetry than prose. Words leave little clues that tell you where minds have been. As if somehow there was a tree on the side of the road and a dog under the tree. Or, perhaps that there was a tree on the side of the road and the odor of a dog at the base of the tree. Or that there is no tree, no dog but a bad smell and with the smell we have imagined both the tree and the dog.

As if a smell can’t be made in a room by a person with a test tube and good intentions.

The road to hell has a tree and a dog.

A stray wind carries a lazy thought. I call the thought lazy because, had it thought of working properly it would have found a way to fight the wind. The waves can only be stopped by antiwaves. Stories run the world, stories continue to be told. A stray wind catches a lazy thought, a lazy thought rides the waves of air current rushing giddy through the downtown Nairobi streets “vipi bro, umecheki wale wasee walitoka huko hivo jana?” “Zi! Kwani Walido?” “ata sijui, lakini walionwa zao mabare.” “Na bado wanarudi?” “Saa unataka wafanye? Ndio maisha, hii dough lazima ipatikane.” Lazima ipatikane, ni kama kuna place wameificha na shida ni kutafuta. But isn’t that it exactly? Imefichwa na bado ina tafutwa? No one is really sure. Maybe because they are too focused on the dog and the tree.

Hoping that surely, if the dog can be found and killed; then somehow the smell around the tree will disappear.

“If you don’t like my peaches, why do you shake my tree?

Stay out of my orchard, and let my peach tree be.”

  • Ella Fitzgerald (via Kibali)

 

So now a crowd gathers under the tree. The sun is setting and forensics have their floodlights focused on the area. Olfactory experts are giving commentaries on all major news networks. Close, they say, we are close to isolating the dna which will enable us to test all the dogs to find out which dog it is. Heated debates speculate on the breed. It must be purebred, the smell has concentrated itself around the base of the tree. No one touches the tree – no one tastes the peaches. The world is excited. A stray wind carries a lazy thought. In the distance whispers continue to get louder.

Did you hear?

There’s a tree that has

the most beautiful peaches

hanging from it’s branches.

Time for the harvest.

this week on a dependent observer

Dear Stand King,

With regards to your last letter I offer no apologies as to why it took me a while to respond. You know, or so I’d hope, that the nature of my advise column is usually directed towards your subjects and, particularly, those that do not agree with you. So it is with this in mind that I took my time trying to ponder the questions you asked me and asked for advice from my trusted scholarly advisors (two of whom are currently in the cellar under the castle in which you will probably read this letter). I did, invariably get round to writing some form of response and, while I’m still thinking about what it really means, I think this could be the starting point of some form of understanding the problem.

This is all mindless pitter patter, it’s best I just start.

It is widely known that it is in the saying something that something is said. Much like the idea of existence we know that standing, sometimes on one leg, sometimes on two, is something that we cannot do without first getting up. Which is often the most difficult part of any morning to most people. But most people do not think like most other people. Most people are special, unlike most people. So we then have to think about whether most people have or do not have this problem.
This is obviously a question that has been pondered by many scholars very often. As a matter of fact Sir bob bobbybob of bobbyville became quite famous for his quote “standing, like existence, exists in an upstanding manner,” which was spoken of globally for having both the logic of plato and the wordplay of Wordsmith.

Theoretically it could be argued that they were right. That the things they had said within the context of the worlds they were living in were perfectly logical conclusions to arrive at. After all, if the idea of existing wasn’t so inherently intertwined to standing by societal norms and pressures then surely how was someone within the same society meant to challenge ideas of existing seated?
What you didn’t know is that people had been sitting, lying, running, dancing, walking, playing, rolling, sexing, tickling, living and loving for as long as others had been standing. What you didn’t know is that there are other ways to exist.

So when you looked up it must have been horribly startling to realise that a whole world was happening around you. It would make sense that you wanted to destroy it. You imagined that this world had only come into existence. That the existence of this world would mean the destruction of yours. You were so used to being alone, and so engrossed in your aloneness that you imagined that there was no other way to be. And in there being no other way to be then the other worlds weren’t. And if they weren’t then they were objects at your disposal.

This was where the problems *really* began.

You started with the people who were not upright. After all, how can they stand if they won’t even get the right posture? Once you were through with them you went after the movers and did everything you could to slow them down and, eventually, you stopped them.

And your world was perfect. Save for a few isolated incidents everyone was standing. You could exhale.

But you forgot something.

You forgot that a dancer will only give birth to a dancer. A runner will only give birth to a runner. No matter how straight you make them stand, a walker will keep on walking. No matter how good their posture is they will always be who they are. That for generations their minds have been pounding feet in an unmoving body, building up momentum. You forgot that a dancer can feel the rhythm of the earth. A runner can see themselves miles away. A roller will never grow moss. And a lyer will dream.

And then there was another isolated incident.

And then another.
And then another.

And now you’re panicking. 10 miles away, reports of a group of dancers choreographing. Across the world whispers of a race can be heard. Loud moans were heard somewhere between time and the moon. Some of the reports are even more outrageous, people are claiming that they have jumped. That they have sung. That they have flown.

Some even have the audacity to demand to be exempt from existing standing. Demand. They don’t even ask. They don’t see that there’s only one way to exist! Standing!

Or at least you wish you were that convicted.

You used to be. You used to have no qualms just sending the ones that want to live standing straight off back to the reprogramming factory. But now you’re not so sure. So you’re scared.

I understand all that.

I really do.

You should be. Because they are talking to each other. Dancers are talking to walkers talking to runners talking to sexers talking totalkingtotalkingto……

And they’re beginning to figure it out.

In fact, many of them already have.
So I understand your fear.

What you don’t understand is that there’s room. They don’t want you to stop standing. They just want to move in peace. They just want to stay lying down, seated. They just want to be. What you don’t understand is, before you stopped them they were – and so were you.

And that’s why they’re coming.

Because you don’t get it.

But you don’t get it.

So they’re coming. Be prepared.

But be warned – they’re stronger than you.

Regards,
A dependent observer.

Postcards on Dictatorship

The problem, I have come to realise, is that some bodies just refuse to be passive. You ascribe certain narratives. These narratives are meant to fully inform all decision. It is all the information they need. The problem continues to be that some bodies ask “but what about that other stuff?”

Refuse:

verb

Indicate or show that one is not willing to do something.

 The problem is that some bodies are not willing to do the things that you told them to do. That some bodies having been willed, show that they will not.

The problem, it seems, is that some bodies will.

Willing bodies are an indication that bodies can will. Bodies, aware of their capacity for will tend towards it. So maybe the problem, then, is that wiling is infectious. That my dress my choice echoed, gathered and infected voices globally. That the class of students who thought they were pushing at a wall in Lang’ata were actually toppling a domino. Perhaps the real problem is that in being willing they remind others of their will, and in reminding others of their will, they will others.

Possibly the real problem is in the math. In realising that the people being willed are more than the people having the will thrust upon them. That tyrannical numbers mean nothing against (un)willing bodies.

“Your current frequencies of understanding outweigh that which you have been given to understand”

– Saul Williams

The solution thus is to keep them unwilling. Make them chase versions of themselves that they cannot attain. Remind them that true happiness lies in a dark Lamborghini, outside a villa, by the beach, with a perfectly chiseled ‘opposite sex’ partner, with more money in the bank than you can spend. While doing this remind them of the values of a real job. A steady one in a steady company. Remind them of stability. Remind them that their bodies are imperfect, in need of constant fixing. Tell them that whatever natural features they have are a problem. That hair must be straight, curly, full bodied, without growth, unsplit ended and constantly fresh. That skin must be perfectly smooth – a single pimple is cause for alarm.

To ensure this works make sure you keep them untaught. Create a disdain for knowledge. Start a dichotomy between book smarts and street smarts. Make sure that street smarts are valued over book smarts. Keep the school curriculum as far away from real life as possible. In conversation throw your opinion about the real value of reading, something casual like wrapping meat. Remind them that the idea of knowledge is foreign. That reading is unAfrican.

To further enforce this take away their time and money. Not only should pursuit of knowledge be useless; make it a problem. Make it that they have to ask themselves whether they’d rather eat or buy a book. Make it that they don’t have time to read. If, by some anomaly, they do find the time make it that they can’t afford to buy a book. If, by more anomalies, they have both time and money, make it that they have no interest.

If some bodies still insist on willing react disproportionately. Violent outbursts are vastly encouraged. Turn them against each other. Make them so scared that they begin to silence willing bodies on their own. Use this fear without prejudice. Use it to make them blame each other. Use it to deflect conversations from yourself.

Keep them scared.

The problem, you see, is people willing – don’t let them.