On Hope and Pain

Posted on by ann

It’s funny how broken teeth signal a broken body, how you can’t stay up late nights anymore because your eyes begin to twitch, and how many rage-inducing news cycles you can endure before you realize something has to change.

Intent is not enough to change, and we are the sum of our nows, every action, its reaction, its causation and so on. My now is a sum of twelve magnified months, two trips to The East Africas, and one slowly shattered heart. It turns out the best way to remember a kiss is to be kissed again and again. It’s the unremembering, the forgetting and forgiving, that adds itself to the summation of nows, that brings me to this point.

This is where I feel like disappearing. I always wondered what my life would be like if I had not found the internet as a teenager as I’m sure many of my age-mates have. Honestly, it’s a fruitless exercise, similar to wondering what our societies would look like if men had menstrual cycles. They don’t. And I’ve been an avid surfer of the ‘net since 1999. There is no unremembering to be done here.

A magnified now: Margaret Zara Joseph’s passing, and, in the weeks following, the deaths of two other brilliant Black women with online lives. Zara’s last tweet read, “I love my life and I hate it.” She had been painfully battling MS for years and her desire to create echoed throughout her tweets. In our ever-present nows, our instant amnesia, who will hold her story? Who will tell it for some transplanted Black girl of multiple diasporic iterations, fighting pain with poetry and laughter?

Another magnified moment: the unrelenting dreams of girls in trouble following my return from Tanzania. The month in Tanzania itself was a series of increasingly magnified occasions, and the dreams afterward were nearly indistinguishable from this material world. It might be a metaphor for our digital life as it continues to bleed into our material and spiritual ones, and vice versa, creating a feedback loop of noise and signal.

Then, the trending topics. We first heard about Boko Haram’s massacre at the Northern Nigerian borders in February. As usual, nothing would be done aside from a passing mention in sparse conversations with fellow Nigerians, a pitiful prayer to God, an unenthusiastic critique of GEJ’s Nigeria, and another nail in our coffins of hopelessness. We folded the news as we fold our traditional wear, in cupboards, only to be opened when an occasion ocurred.

Social media intercepted our rituals, amplified the material signal from Nigeria, obscured it with American responses, and triggered the memory of my dreams. Girls, in trouble, in buses, taking them away from their homes. I knew they would not be rescued, and I was filled with rage rooted in the fear of what would happen to them and how Nigeria would change or not change.

In regards to the well-meaning trenders of topics: intent is not enough, and we are the sum of our nows, every action, its reaction, its causation, and so on.

And yet, we deliberately, almost belligerently, ignore our causation, the diverging histories of places, peoples, and times, in the race to be the first of the nows. It does not seem this is going to change any time soon, either.

I’m an engineer, a tinkerer by nature; I need to know how things work in hope of fixing them. But understanding systems of oppression, how closely linked and deeply rooted they are offers little comfort. It’s quite grounding to realize the work we’re doing now may not see its purpose in our lifetimes, that we may not make it to the new worlds we deeply desire. I have to ask myself if my love is big enough, if I really know how to love, if I even want to love this hard.

The thing about our digital lives is that they are clear signals of what’s going on beyond our material ones. Though we sit behind keyboards and touchscreens, we’re not robots, not yet. We’re humans being human beings, accessing each others’ spiritual centers with our words and images of thousands of words, yearning for love and freedom and connection. We’re in various states of brokenness, varying places of pain and yet we can’t seem to allow another to be those things which we are.

Our words have weight. I hope we remember this as we carry on. I hope we can balance them in the future when our grandchildren ask us what the beginning of the 21st century was like for those of us at the margins and on the soapboxes. I hope we make our actions and archives worthy of those who are watching.

And I think that is the most remarkable moment of all: even as death spirals around me, I still dare to hope as brazenly, and perhaps even more, as I did before.

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Belonglessness. This rejection of arbitrary labels that have never suited or completed me leaves me feeling belongless. I squirm at being identified and I feel the foundations of what identities are crumbling. Or maybe, rather, they are being torn down deliberately. Stripped to their essences, checked for their soundness, questioned for their relevances and discarded or reconstructed accordingly until: belonglessness.

The longing to belong does not ache all the time. I imagine one can belong with all the other unbelongers in this world. Belonglessness is a state of being, not a state of feeling. It is an identity itself, one I’ve carried, unnamed, for nearly thirty years. It is the result of a metaphysical diaspora and the only way to cure the longing is… well, to return to one’s metaphysical home.

The journey continues. Existing in belonglessness is like working even though you are tired, even though you could lie down on any nearby surface and drift away in moments. You learn to work through it, understanding it’s only a temporary state of being and that, one day, you will truly be home.

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beauty is pressing me on all sides but especially inside

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Everything something amazing happens, I recoil in… well, in amazement. The ramifications of this current thing of amazement is currently rippling through my body. It’s like the moment at the top of a roller coaster. As you wait there for the split seconds before the ride, you expand with the thrill of anticipation. This is that moment, extended.

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Every Moment

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Sometimes the memories are triggered by wind and air. This moment is dark and romantic, that one full of giggles and silence…

But every moment, I knew. I knew and still I let myself love. This terrible, magical thing. I will never understand it.

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How to Miss You

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My dad calls and asks me not to stay up too late. I’m laughing and suddenly crying. This work is so real and important to me that I don’t even notice the time. I remember when it was warm, I would work downstairs. Before long it’s 2am and the only reason I’m shutting off the computer is because you are on the couch, pretending to be working too. Your snores give you away and I nudge you and tell you to go to bed. I only slept because you tried to stay up.

This is what we dreamed: building together, working together. And that is what we had.

I sleep during the afternoon and work throughout the night. It’s quieter and I get to catch the sunrise and turn over the memories. If I ever get lost in the wanting, the dull ache of loneliness, may I always remember the work we did together.


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My Many Parts

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Part of me wants to let go and open up again, to laugh and smile and be all right. Part of me is angry at herself for becoming what she told me she would not become. Another part of me is angry with him for initiating this because I never would have gotten the courage to do anything. Still another part wonders if, aside from knowing and telling my truth, I could have done anything differently.

Another part is still reeling from wanting something and someone so badly, getting it, getting him, and having it crumble in a few short conversations. And another part knew this was going to happen. Another part holds me up to myself and shows me the choices I made; though I don’t regret them, I know I could have made better ones. Yet another part craves touch again, but refuses to remember those moments in this story.

But it takes all of me to move forward, one step at a time. It’s all of me that closes that part of my heart to him; he doesn’t deserve it and nothing in our past can change the last year of our lives. All of me knows that I made a decision not to give any longer; sometimes I don’t even muster a good morning. The cut is so deep, the realization of what I’ve lost is so heavy, that I am stunned into silence when I turn it over in my mind.

And for me, it’s all or nothing. The parts of me that are scattered in the aftermath are finding each other, slowly, so that even if it’s not whole, it’s getting there, one piece at a time. I thought I was getting all, but I was settling. I was convincing myself and fooling her into heartbreak. Now I know.

Peace to the pieces. May you become whole again.

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The Worst Part

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The worst part of all this is feeling alone. My brain knows I am not alone: my sisters, both given and chosen, have been amazingly supportive. I am learning to seek out activities that are inline with my vision and get me out of my comfort zone just to avoid the loneliness. And yet, I stare down this fear of being alone daily. Some days it’s bigger and nastier than other days. Tonight it’s especially sharp.

I am used to being invisible and visible at the same time. I am used to being spoken over, interrupted, misinterpreted and flatly ignored. The sting of those feelings are familiar and temporary, but I can’t seem to shake this aloneness. It sucks. And this in-betweennes – not fully American, not really Nigerian, not really African-American, not really white, either – does nothing for me. I want to feel a part of a community. I want to belong. I want to fit in. That is at the root of all the things I have ever wanted.

Recently, when I go down this path, I find myself thinking of the story of Jesus in the garden right before he was turned over to the Roman authorities. Although he had created this close knit community of men in his disciples, during the most desperate time of his life, he was alone. The three men he had called out to pray with him fell asleep. While he was pouring his heart out to God, communicating the deepest agony of his soul, the people he was supposed to be able to depend on (after all he had done for them!) failed him. And he said it to their face. He expressed his disappointment to them, even while he loved them.

Jesus knew he was going to be tortured and killed. I can’t even imagine holding that kind of knowledge within me. No, really. I have no frame of reference for that. At the time he most needed his posse, he also knew he couldn’t depend on them. While he asked them to pray, he also went straight to the source, to God. “Daddy,” he said. “Everything is possible for you. If it’s possible, take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

He was in agony, kind of where I am now, but in the end, though his love is eternal, God didn’t stop Jesus from being killed, and Jesus knew he had to go through it to the end. The destination was just too glorious to let the matter of death stand in the way.

This makes me wonder what my destination is, how glorious it is, how far away from it I am now. And since I am nowhere near the type of agony Jesus was, I can keep going along this path right now. This is my peace: trusting that God who led Jesus through torture, death, ressurection and glorification, is the same God who is leading me through this time of loss, heartbreak and growth.

Lord, everything is possible for you. Give me the grace to pass through this and even greater things than this. Let your will be done. Amen.

What are you going through right now? The only way out is through and I believe your destination is glorious, so keep going.

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In Which I Consider Another Liminality

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The space between what you feel and what you know to be true. What do you feel? I can only answer for myself. And this moment I feel foolish, having open my heart wide to someone who I thought would do the same. Instead, that someone gave me back to God, albeit in a roundabout, hurtful kind of way. At a time I thought I would not stop feeling all the things, and I considered the weight of each feeling: anger, hurt, sadness, shock, fear. Foolishness seemed the least lethal, so here I am.

And what is true? That you are surrounded by a radical, unconditional love. Radical, meaning it is at the root of all things, that it is elemental. Unconditional meaning without condition. You tell me, but love always has conditions; after all, it can be taken away once you’ve been hurt. But this is radical love I’m talking about. It is the creative power that keeps this universe together; it is everywhere; it is endless; it is divine. For a brief moment in time it was fully human and fully divine. Yes. This love is God. God as love exists regardless of what you feel. This is the only sure, immeasurable thing: Love. God. God. Love.

That is the space between what you feel and what is truth. Love. Never forget. You are surrounded by it.

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Fresh Work: Africans in the Diaspora

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Check out the work I did for Africans in the Diaspora. From identity to web development and even a custom map application, I worked closely with a team of dedicated Africans to bring this vision to life.

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