Fear, My Frenemy

Fear has always held a morbid fascination for me. From its chemistry, to its power over people and life in general, to how it can be harnessed for good or evil alike. To many folks it is an intrigue akin to an evil tyrant that holds painful sway over their lives. To some it is an enemy to be crushed under foot. To others, a mere footnote in the book of life. Some others consider it a kind of neurosis, in which we invent future disasters for ourselves where none actually existed nor will ever exist! This is a meager truth when one thinks about.   Whilst to some, it is a friend or a foe depending on what point in life they are at.  For me personally, it has been a ‘’frenemy’’ more than anything else.

Fear and I have been engaged in quite a strange dance for as long as I can remember. From being a wee boy of about 4, back when its favored cloak was darkness, back when falling asleep in a dark room, for example, was quite a fright.   To the encounter of the mere music video, ”Thriller”, that made a chicken of me, aged 5. (Yea, them false teeth and all held sway for like a year!) Heck! Even insects had their turn deejaying the dance:  from witnessing the winged menace of a flying roach, that had me scampering like an escapee from hell, with a train of demons on his tail, always eliciting outbreaks of laughter from friends and family alike, if God forbid, one landed on me, to my second encounter with a stinging insect, while aged 8, when I woke up in a the sick bay of an international school, after having been stung by a wasp in class.  The School nurse had endeavored to explain to me that something about the sting had caused an allergic reaction, that had caused my black out. But all my mind registered was ‘see bee and flee”. From then on, it was nigh impossible from me to remain in the presence of a flying stinging insect. Now that I’ve been driving for about a decade, you can imagine the difficulty arising from me resisting the urge to take flight in a moving vehicle I’m steering when one shows up. I feel you are getting the partial the picture. Fear and I were kind of enemies at first.

As a teen though, the experimental phase kicked in and the dance took new direction. The Horror movie genre became my number one fascination.  I loved the way the writers, directors and actors would harness the emotion of fear and the various reactions it would elicit. In that period, as my personality developed, fear became a strong motivating factor in many things I did.  My deepest, most enduring fear ironically has always been the fear of failure and getting it wrong.  A fear so deep and desperate sometimes it leaves me just plain numb. For some reason, since early childhood, the perceived pain of failing at any task was simply too much to bear. As a kid, I’d cry when my team lost, if I lost any game I was playing it would stick in my thoughts for hours or even days.  Worst of all, failure to get the grades I wanted at school, was particularly hard hitting. Especially to my-self confidence and became one of the building blocks of the perfectionism that still drives me today. It’s part of the reasons why, even though I hate rules, I rarely break them.  Luckily for me, that particular fear of failure and getting it wrong has got me where I am in life.  I read my books because I feared not knowing, getting me an education. I even fought for good grades, even becoming a high speed reader to overcome my natural concentration issues. I even learned to be good at public speech, to play sport, to dance and perform just to overcome my natural shyness.  My previous career as an I.T. specialist had the same prevailing theme: personal failure caused by me was unforgivable. Fear had turned from friend to foe.

However, as the saying goes, every rose does have its thorns.  In my instance is truly no different.  Fear has also become kind of a pain in the arse at this point in time. It’s afflicted me with the kind of analysis paralysis that infects one with constant second guessing.  It has permeated my current career path to the extent it affects my creativity, from my writing down to my performing.  I’m constantly re-analyzing, and re-thinking what I’m about to do or have just finished. For example, I can write and re- write a verse for a track, that I’m taking to studio to record, then get to studio and start changing it in the booth. Even in the booth, I’m hardly ever truly satisfied with my delivery and usually just accept my producer’s opinion that I ‘nailed it’ just in the interest of keeping time.

My writing too is no different. Several months ago I decided to myself to start up this very blog. But as one can witness this is only my third time actually posting on it. I’ve thought and re –thought what to write about almost into a neurosis. From fearing whether I have what to say, to have something worth saying to fearing whether a person would even bother reading this post, to wondering whether I could write it ’just right’’.  I often times wonder, where the courageous bravery of my youth has disappeared. I remember being able to tackles things with only the goal in mind, with what if’s far off in the back of my mind. I’m not sure whether age creates the perception of the stakes being higher or what.   I also remember not being so busy rehashing things in mind to the extent of it turning me extremely introverted. I remember recently, hanging out at a friend’s Kasiiki, when an industry colleague commented that she’d noticed I’m often the quiet one in the corner quietly observing everything at the function.   I must admit because of my constant mind tennis, I often end up quiet amongst a gathering of many people.  As I listen and observe them go about their interaction, I‘m often stuck wondering how, what and why I should say anything. The chief problem is if I don’t believe I will accomplish a task successfully, to the utmost degree of excellence I could impact on it, 9 out of 10 times I simply won’t commit to doing any part of it. Whether it’s accomplishing some feat or task, or merely talking to a stranger at a party or some fly fashionista, who caught my eye at a function I’m at, that particular trait is a constant.  You see what I believe tends to feed into my perception of reality. But of late I’ve begun thinking maybe that should change.  I want to be free like in my younger days.  Able to find things like interacting with strangers, or just accomplishing a feat less of a thought, analysis marathon.  I suspect maybe at heart I’m not as positive a person I once was. I suspect the fear of failure and getting it wrong might have taken an ultimate toll. So starting right, here right now, I’ve decided to take a leap into the unknown. Though the urge to over analyze and fear is strong, I feel it is time to harness the power of courageous initiative. Hence forth, fear and I will dance a new dance. I’ll try dancing to the false evidence appearing real tune and see where that gets me.  Hopefully, I’ll be back soon with some more writ.  Till next time, so long.

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Why I Love Hip-Hop

Why I love hip-hop

Hip-hop is one of those things that is understood by many and likewise misunderstood by the many. It’s one of those things which few can define. Folks don’t know whether it’s just art, or a culture or for some just a plain menace. One thing that’s for sure though, is hip-hop is menacing!  It is menacing, in that it is so powerful!  Hip-hop hailed from the ancient oral traditions, in which lessons, song and poetry were used to speak to the masses, to open their minds to the world around them and to keep them informed.  It was also developed as a way for the voiceless to be heard and to spread their message, whilst keeping the truth of their message from their oppressors.  Especially in black America, which is where it took root and grew into the vibrant entity it is known as today. Oppressed on all sides by the cruel world around them, the government from above, the greedy elite and racism, the black in the Americas found a way to be heard. A way to express their humanity, critique their national society and empower themselves. They also made sure that the world started to find out the truth about what was going on around them, through their spoken word. Another dimension hip-hop has taken on in recent year s, that can’t be over looked is that of the chief form of expression of the youth of the world.

Being an 80’s child, I was born in an era in which hip-hop was beginning to take root. Having been a lover of music at an early age, attracted in particular to music with a message, I had found it interesting that there existed a form of music, in which much more could be said in very short a time.  My first encounter with hip-hop was as a wee lad aged 6. That was about the time when I discovered that the words in songs I would hear on the radio meant sense to me. Because of lyrical content I had fallen in love with the type of musicians who used to have messages in their songs. Naturally I gravitated to blues, country, rock and a few pop artists like the late K.O.P Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie who always had something to tell you in their songs. However, it was becoming apparent they all had a very short time to tell you their stories and to share the messages on their minds. That soon changed though when I encountered the first hip-hop song I learned from back to front. ‘’I need love’’ by L. L. Cool J.

When I listened to it, I was struck by the realization that a person could tell such a detailed story in the space of about 5 minutes, in poetic fashion, over a music accompaniment, without really singing. It was a concept alien to my senses but I quite liked it! As time progressed, I got exposed to the likes of Grand Master Flash, Run DMC, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Queen Latifah older songs like ‘’Rapper’s  Delight’’  by Sugar Hill Gang, plus the work of hailed MC’s of the time like Kurtis Blow. A whole new world was exposed to me. Through it I fell in love with poetry and the written word, starting to learn about the goings on of the lives of other blacks that lived out there in the world, where I couldn’t reach or see.

Surprisingly though, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that I really became immersed in the culture of hip-hop. It was about the time of the gangster rap craze, and the G funk music, crystallized in the work of super producer Dr. Dre and his protégé Snoop Doggy Dog in the iconic album ‘’Doggy style’’.  Slap in the middle of the ‘Yo MTV raps’ era. That was when I truly fell in love with hip-hop. At the time in the school I attended, there was rap crew called ‘’No Name’’, that had one of my best friends at the time named Sadjiwa (a.k.a ‘Dr Sadj’) was a member.  I used to watch those guys tear things up at school shows, city shows and how everyone bounced off their energy, commentary and took in all the used to say and was driven to want a piece of that pie. Luckily for me, Dr Sadj was willing to teach me the art of rhyme and I was hooked.  Soaking up every lesson like a sponge.

 

Ever since that time, my love for hip-hop continued to steadily grow. At the time like most teenagers, I had growing pains in domestic life and at school yet hip-hop used to serve as my escape. Hip-hop was like a mirror to me. Like the proverbial mirror in the fairy tale Snow White. Through it I learned to see myself, see my future, view others in different light to how I had normally seen them and it used to also speak to me. When I was down it lifted me, when I was pissed off with the world it related with me, it was like a constant friend. Teaching me and at the same time criticizing me and teaching me that the world around me could be affected by me and that knowledge was the path to getting ahead. Most importantly though, it taught me how to express myself in word.  Because of hip-hop I learned how to arrange my inner thoughts for an outer audience. From poetry, to song, to formal written composition, it taught me how to tell stories or to get a message across.   Through it I found me and because of it I found my calling in life.

 

Recently, while chilling with a producer pal of mine, we were watching a Google debate on whether hip-hop was degrading or uplifting society.  That debate brought home the fact that hip-hop really was a mirror and a broadcaster of the state of affairs in our world today.  There was  set of people looking at hip hop and acting like it only spoke about a certain type of people and only noted a certain type of class.  When the fact is like poetry, hip-hop is about all people. But mostly its critique of society at large. Constantly highlighting the darkest parts of our society and board casting there realities to the world. It has consistently also been away to make people think about ways to improve those societies whenever it has touched the conscious element of our human psyche.  Hip-hop is one art form that has succeeded in fulfilling the enormous potential of the spoken word that was first found in poetry.  Allowing for a depth of self expression unforeseen.  A reason above all other as to why many folks like me love hip-hop.

 

 

 

 

The Return

This is set to be my first blog post, the first in a line of many, I hope. For long I’ve wanted to wade in the churning waters of blogging, but alas! For a time I had forgotten how to ‘’swim’. ‘’Swim?’’ you ask. Oh yes! I had forgotten how to do just that! I tend to use the analogy of swimming for writing, for once upon a time I was pretty prolific at the stuff. I was amongst kids in English class others loved to hate when it came to composition. If you gave me an inch, I’d run a mile! I was ace at just sitting there and coming up with stories in minutes. Poetry too! I loved to disappear into a world where I could connect random characters and things together and bring them to reality on a page. I was like a well of living writing. It was such a joy for me. Through it I had won awards at school and accolades from friends, family and surprisingly foes alike. For (thank God) they actually quite liked what I could write…

Fast forward many years, I was a fledgling of a lad, a free lance writer for a sports column for the Monitor newspaper. As the dawn of the era in which fledglings enter the corporate world arrived, I was there as a happy writer, planning for a possible future as a pro. In my heart, I had dreams to one day be able to write a poetry anthology, a book or a film script. I thought it would be nice to be able to add that to my other passion, which was song and rhyme writing. Though I was a trained IT specialist, I just knew it was just a means to an end. I often pictured myself happily churning out creative writ for a living in the distant future. But little did I know that other plans lay in wait for me. Plans waiting to leap on me like the un suspecting prey that I was. For it was about that time, I came face to face with the mean tyrant that is writer’s block.

About that time, the final year of university had been real stressful and balancing my free lance sports writing with school had begun to take its toll. It was becoming harder and harder to focus on my work load at school and still produce the mid week piece on time. So about that time when management changed at the paper, and the sports section was being re arranged, I opted out of continuing the column. I had thought to myself that after a break, I’d probably be able to pick off where I left off. After all, with internet blogging beginning to blossom at the time, I had fancied taking a piece of that pie at a future date. The future seemed bright as a blue sky summer’s day. Little did I know however, that the fates were looking upon  me with questioning eye. They probably had thought to themselves that this lad thinks it’s all too easy and doesn’t appreciate the gift he had been given. For from that day forth, I came face to face with writer’s block for the first time in my life.

I remember in the first few months after campus sitting in front of a paper and realizing something was wrong. Try as I might words, of all shapes and forms couldn’t come out of my head. I poked and prodded, hemmed and hawed, danced a jig to my favorite music. Yet still nothing happened! The blank paper stared at me like an unforgiving child with a questioning look at it’s mother, querying why she can’t feed it even though she had the means to. It was all so strange a feeling. But at the time I brushed it off. I thought to myself that maybe it was just one of those days. That I had finally come face to face with the infamous foe that many a writer had talked about. But I was a pretty confident fellow. I knew I could beat that foe in his chosen chess game and prevail. So I was on to the next one. But that became the next and the next one. Minutes turned into, hours into days, days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months in to a full year! Now I was getting scared. I felt sure the fates had sent me a gremlin with an Indian sign, who hung it over me with glee whenever I faced a page. For every time I attempted to write, I was like a mathematician torturing himself in front of the idol named proof. The write still eluded me. Yet that state of affairs continued for another year. At times I could almost see the little imp dancing around me with his sign, like Rumpelstiltskin, cock sure that the young lass he had beguiled into accepting his help would never find his true name.

Then like a shot of light in pitch darkness, up popped some ability to write. I was at work, with my work mates talking about all sorts of stuff, when we landed on the topic of music. One of them then revealed he had a passion for hip-hop and had been penning rhymes and making beats. At the time I had thrown myself headlong into beat making. For I had creative urges, yet I had lacked a suitable out let to quench their thirst. So as we talked back and fourth, we had decided for the sake of it to pen something to a beat he had made. After some 10 minutes out popped an entire verse! Man, I was overjoyed. In my mind I was like ‘’Take that writers block! ’’. In my mind I was back! But nah! I was plain mistaken… Even though I was once again able to write in rhyme and song, little else had changed. Try as I might, I couldn’t pen anything else creative. Whenever I dared to face a page, it just sat there and it mocked me! I was like the proud waves of the oceans unwittingly hemmed in by the continental shelf. There was an invisible line that I somehow couldn’t cross. Just like the late Michael Jackson song said, it was too high to get over, too low to get under and I was stuck in the middle. For the first time in my life I was face to face with a foe I felt I couldn’t defeat. More time continued to pass under the bridge as my raging battle continued. I tried everything, from writing clinics to retreats. Yet nothing changed. I was like some kind of schizophrenic, a writer only able to write specific stuff. It was driving me crazy! I came pretty close to picking a night to strip naked and dance around a fire chanting under moonlight. Yah man! I was that far gone. So I eventually did what I have never before in my life. I just plain gave up….

Then several years later, a tragedy occurred. Sometime this year, one of my child hood heroes, Whitney Houston, past away. As the feelings of loss crept around in my head, accompanied with the realization I was plain getting old, surprisingly, I found solace in the pen. I penned my first poem in ages, shared it with a few friends renowned for their mastery of the art of writ, and was pleasantly surprised that they liked it. However, I was still afraid. Once beaten, twice shy as the wise once put it. In my head I could still remember the endless battle with that old foe. Even though the urge to maybe start some form of regular writing again, begun to take root. I still simply would shudder at the thought of facing a blank page.

Luckily, a few days ago, while in conversation with a good female friend of mine, the issue of writing came up as a topic. As I shared about my experience with my foe, she gave me a perspective had never occurred to me. She intimated that if I had true writer’s block I wouldn’t even be aware of it. At first the idea failed to register properly in my brain circuits. So as we chatted, I just left it sitting there somewhere in the ‘’to deal with later’’ center of my brain, as the ‘’does not compute’’ error went firing off in my head. A day later, whilst on a trip to the village to visit my grandfather, I began to process the idea. It occurred to me that I had probably become so obsessed with writing that I had left myself open to analysis paralysis. Having been a long sufferer of the perfectionism disease, it seems I had got stuck with the ‘’I must get the perfect opening sentence’’ syndrome. That is why, try as I might, when it came to writing things beyond the safety net of a song or hip-hop rhyme, I could never find the tools to prepare the right food for the starving unwritten page in front of me. So armed with this new found insight, I said to myself I’d try one more time.

So now , here we are. A brief journey through the slightly mad world that is mine and the writ. Finally I dragged up the courage to write something different and start up this blog. I don’t know what the future holds, or where it will take me. All I hope is for my river of writ to not be blocked off this time. Furthermore, since I’m grossly out of practice, If I did bore you, I can unashamedly blame the gremlin and his Indian sign . ( Chuckles). So till the next time I attempt to climb this mountain. I sign off by saying see you around next time. If you dare to visit my realm of the blogosphere….

Dope Flow Ke’Mo