Kuukua and the Haunted Hair

Hello, and welcome to the third installment of my On the Ceiling series!

(Update: individual OTC stories are no longer available, but you can download them all in a single PDF collection on my OTC site.)

[Slightly related: two rather old blog posts that have a similar theme to this fictional tale: Why Some Ghanaian Kids Don’t Speak And Don’t Want To Learn How To Speak A Ghanaian Language and Another Language Rant (Which I Should Have Released in September 2015.)]

Back of Kuukua and the Haunted Hair

“You have a pet spider, and it lives on the ceiling,” Yaw wanted to confirm. And, as insane as he sounded, he was perfectly right.

“Yep,” I confirmed.

“And her name is Charlotte.”

“Also true.”

He was merely repeating the facts I’d just told him back to me. Apparently, this is a thing people do when they’re struggling to grasp something: repeating things that are somewhat impossible to believe the first time you hear them. Maybe saying them out loud, from your own lips, makes them more mentally digestible. The conversation was going very slowly thanks to this, but I decided to be patient with Yaw because honestly, I’d done this too, a few months ago, to my father, when I’d found out the thing I was now preparing to tell Yaw.

Truth be told, I didn’t know how to handle the situation, or how to explain, or where to begin. So, instead, I started rambling: “Charlotte is a golden silk orb weaver. It’s one of the most common kinds of spiders, really, and the reason it’s called that is because of the circular shape of the finished web – you know, like an orb. And golden because the webs glint golden in the sunlight. Of course, you can’t see it glittering right now, because we’re inside, but if we weren’t…”

“Kuukua,” Yaw interrupted.

“Yes?”

“Shut up.”

“Okay.”

“How and why the hell do you have a pet spider? I’m very sure you hate spiders.”

That was kind of true. Spiders had always made me uncomfortable, and I preferred to stay away from them. When I’d woken up one day, a couple of weeks ago, to find this huge orb on one corner of my bedroom ceiling, I’d been alarmed. I’d gone right downstairs to get a cobweb brush to scoop the web up. In the middle of this cleaning process, its builder had appeared, and upon seeing her (I didn’t know how I knew it was a her, but I did), my heart rate accelerated. She wasn’t Aragog kind of huge, but she was way larger than any common spider I’d ever seen. All six of her red eyes seemed to be staring right at me, her black-and-yellow legs suspiciously still. Taking a deep breath, I’d gently swiped her too onto the ceiling brush, taken her outside, and let her go off into some garden. By evening, I had a new, huge orb web in my room in the exact same place, and its maker sat quietly at one of its edges; I was sure it was the same spider. She would not be uprooted.

It had taken me ages to get used to the fact that there was a spider living in my room and that there was no way to get rid of it. I’d called my father into the matter, and he was the one who’d told me of its species, characteristics and so on. He hadn’t been surprised in the least. The spider, he said, was mine, that all the Ananses usually had one or more of their own “personal spiders” which turned out to be very resourceful. “You think we own so much spider-silk thread in our family because we buy it?” Daddy had asked. “No. We extract it, from our very own spiders’ spinnerets. I’ll be teaching you how to do that soon, now that your own spider has appeared.”

I had thought, when I’d been told about this whole Ananse business, that there was nothing really supernatural about us; we were all just regular humans with above-average gifts. But the part about being so specially connected to arachnids? That sounded a lot like a superpower to me, and less explainable as “coincidence” than even the trend of born-on-Wednesday Annans.

To help myself get used to it, I’d decided to name “my” spider, and, awful as it was, the first name that had come to mind was Charlotte.

“She just appeared,” I told Yaw, truthfully.

“She just appeared?”

“Yes.”

“You know none of this is making sense, right?”

I sighed. I should just tell him now, I thought. Once and for all.

“Yaw, there’s something I need to tell you. Like, a lot of things.”

“Damn right. It looks like there’s been a lot of stuff happening with you lately. Nowadays, you’ve just become more…unavailable. I’ve been feeling like something is going on, and that if it is, you really shouldn’t be afraid to tell me, because you can tell me anything. You know that, right?”

“Yes.”

“I mean it, oo. Like, anything. You don’t have to keep avoiding me.”

Avoiding you? You think I’ve been avoiding you?”

“That’s the vibe I’ve been getting. And if there’s anything I’ve been doing that’s making you feel uncomfortable, you seriously should just let me know.”

“Ah, what are you saying? How can I be uncomfortable around you? If anything, I’m more comfortable around you than anyone.”

“Really?” His facial muscles looked like they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to break into a smile or scrunch up in anxiety.

“Yes. Ah. Are you okay? I’m starting to get worried.”

“Erm. Well…” And then, strangely enough, he suddenly became unable to properly meet my gaze. His eyes began roaming all over the place, and in a few seconds, they landed once more on the spider web.

“Aha, the spider!” he exclaimed, like he’d only, right that second, remembered it. Is that not what we’d been talking about this whole time? “Why do you have a pet spider? I still don’t have an explanation.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about what’s on your mind?”

“What’s on my mind right now is the spider. I need explanations.”

Read the rest by downloading the mobile-friendly PDF linked at the beginning of the post. 🙂

-Akotowaa

 

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Ei, another Kuukua story again? (and another thing)

Yes, another Kuukua story again.

Here’s the plan: to have an 8-part series, with one story released at the end of each month. Since I began in May, the last story should come out at the end of December.

This series, by the way, is called On the Ceiling. I call it OTC for short. OTC #3, Kuukua and the Haunted Hair, will be released on Monday, here on this blog.

If you haven’t read the first two, check out

OTC #1: Kuukua and the Magical Markers

OTC #2: Kuukua and the Twisting Tablecloth

And here’s the cover and blurb of the third:

And another thing: Flash Fiction Ghana just released a FREE ANTHOLOGY, to which I’m honored to have contributed. I strongly suggest that you check it out, and you can download it here. We can read it over the weekend together. 🙂kenkey for ewes

Hehee. There’s a spider web on the anthology cover and that makes me happy.

-Akotowaa

An Ephemeron Story (and I’m the bad guy, BTW)

I’ve had periods in my life where the ugly in me has really shown. This was one of my ugliest.

This story in particular has been sitting on my heart for a while, and I do this thing where I talk transparently to random people on the internet through blog posts. SMH.

Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

In other words, I know what I believe – or say I believe, or say I know it. And then I push my beliefs to the back of my mind when I’m clearly not acting in accordance with what I (say I) believe. Like how I acted towards J when I was fifteen immature years old.

I’m thinking, when I wrote Ephemeron, I did a disservice by only telling half the story – the part that didn’t incriminate myself. But then also, life is altogether too big to fit into one spoken word poem, so I forgive myself, and I’ll just tell the story here. Bear in mind that the poem Ephemeron is about multiple people/couples of people, and the story I’m about to tell involves only one couple.

I was in a best-friendship group for a full year with this dude called N. N is an amazing human being. He’s sweet, funny, kind and shares so many of my likes and interests. More than once, I have been introduced to a fascinating and enlightening part of pop culture, whether news article, piece of history, book series, music album or anything else. N was the best. (There is, by the way, no romantic charge here, as several people assume of all my Ephemeron stories. In any case, N is my cousin, and I have no incestuous interests.)

In our second year, the thing that changed was the introduction of an external factor: a girl called J. J was in the class right below us, so she was new. And she became, as far as I can metaphorically describe it, in everyone’s minds, the 3-D version of the thing I’d only been a silhouette of, among my friends; everything that I was but somehow better in nearly all aspects.

This was a period in my life when I had something of a snowflake complex. I made “weirdness” my god, and being “different” one of my ultimate life goals. Almost every time I got called weird, special or unique, I’d blossom with pride. (These were sad times, but adolescence does awful things to us in phases, you know.) The problem with J for me was how easily and effectively she destroyed my snowflake bliss by being too damn much like me.

People who were and weren’t my friends never seemed to tire of reiterating to me how similar they thought J and I were. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “You two are like the same person!” It made me incredibly upset. N had started spending way less time with me and far more with J. It was impossible for me to logically accept that J and I were equal, that we offered the exact same things out of our personalities or presences. If that were true, I reasoned, her arrival should have changed nothing about the actual dynamics of my life; the general reaction should have been more like, “Oh, you’re really cool, but we already have someone who does everything you could do for us, and we don’t necessarily need a duplicate, so we’ll just stick with what we’ve got.” (Foul thoughts, but I’ve had worse, TBH.) This wasn’t what was happening, though. In reality, people seemed to prefer her to me. That could only mean that there was something more that she was offering, which I didn’t have.

Back then, I didn’t have the (self-)knowledge that would allow me to name my affliction for what it was: intimidation. There were a lot of factors that contributed to my intimidation, and though I am no longer intimidated, there are some things I can’t yet pass off as completely false:

  • She was/is smarter than me
  • She read more books than me
  • She was/is prettier than me
  • She was/is better at making friends and dealing with people in general than I was/am
  • She had more musical talent than me
  • She was funnier than me, and kept my (then) friends more entertained than I ever could.

The list could go on.

I reacted in one of the most immature ways possible: going out of my way to be mean to her – out of no fault of hers. I almost wish (but kind of don’t) I could remember some of the nasty, unwarranted, malicious comments I threw her way during this time. I think it’s all so ugly that I’ve successfully managed to obliterate my actual words completely from my memory. Thank God for forgetfulness. But the snide comments were consistent. And there was some serious cognitive dissonance going on because every time I said something awful, the next second, my own brain would be like, “OMG that was evil and stupid – why would you ever say that?” And the shame would be acute, but consequently useless because:

  1. My pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge or act upon my shame in order to do something sensible like, I don’t know, apologize.
  2. I’d just go ahead and do it again the next day/next available savagery opportunity.

In this period, what was annoying me about N was that there were moments when it seemed like our relationship was returning to normal, when we could be ourselves again, when J wasn’t there. But it would only last for a few minutes because J had this uncanny ability to just freaking show up wherever N was, and whenever she did, N would rather discourteously leave me and ignore me for the duration of J’s presence. It completely baffled me how he didn’t seem to realize how he was hurting me.

I had one redeeming feature at this point in my life, though, and that was my ability to verbally articulate what was worrying me (in the instances when I actually knew how to define it) to the relevant persons. And so I told N of my woes. Sensible boy that he was, he agreed that something awful was happening with our friendship group (J was only one factor among the multitude of those fracturing us – but she was my personal biggest headache, because N was my favorite friend then, and shh, don’t tell the others), and it needed to be addressed. He even suggested we all have a meeting about it. LOL. A whole meeting, oo, imagine. Anyway, the meeting either never happened or was fruitless, and he continued to act oblivious to my pain – and I continued to be a serious prick to J.

I got increasingly bitter as a result of how good-natured J acted, actually. She behaved just about as oblivious as N was acting, and to me, that was honestly some BS. How can you come and steal somebody’s best friend, watch as she gets hurt, and be happy all through it? Even more annoying was how unaffected she seemed by my meanness. Like, at some points, it seemed like she was for real trying to be nice to me. See, it was not making sense. The thing about bullies (and trust me, I was a bully, just in a more subtle way than we see on American TV shows) is that they need you to be aggravated when they aggravate you, dammit! React! Cry in shame! Flinch! Show me that I have the power to affect your emotions, so that I can satiate my inferiority complex, yo! But she just kept refusing to drop the grace and retaliate. Nothing could have been more infuriating.

The world, or God, or whatever does the orchestrating, has a strange way of arranging the chess pieces of life such that things are sure to happen, whether good or bad. My divine orchestration came in the form of seating arrangements. My high school had set breakfast seating arrangements that changed at the end of every semester. Guess who I found on my table for a semester. Yep, that’s right: J. I had to see her face, sitting right across me every. damn. day. Unfortunately, my meanness went on.

…Until suddenly, one day, she’d had enough. It was during one breakfast meal. All it took was one of my stupid comments for her to lose it, and in about seven seconds, blast me for being so nasty when she hadn’t done anything worthy of such evil, tell me that she was sick of it, and that I better stop – and just like that, all my negative shame melted away instantaneously, to be replaced with positive shame, the kind of shame that actually incited me to repent and change my ways. It was like the breaking of a spell.

I surprised myself entirely with my reaction. Yes, I was ashamed, but it wasn’t my inferiority complex that responded to J’s tirade; it was the self under the complex, the one that had been suffocating, thankful for being spontaneously freed, who replied, “Why didn’t you do that earlier?” (Blow up on me, that is.)

And from that point onwards, it was an upwards process, fixing myself and coming to terms with my ephemeron in relation to N and J, both of whom are pretty awesome people, both of whom I am not particularly close to (anymore).

Is there a moral of the story? Maybe not. But if there is, maybe it’s something like “Yell back at your oppressors so that they can finally see sense.” But that’s probably not it.

Anyway, I hope I’m never, ever this ugly again. Low point. Very low point. Also, may God give me the strength to deal sensibly with fracturing friendships in the future. Amen.

-Akotowaa

The Problem With Miracles

After the excessive drama,
the screaming, crying and the mess of the all-night,
after the echoes of the tongues of prayer so loud that they left your ears ringing for hours,
after all this, you are alone.
The buzz has worn off.
Your life returns to the regular,
the last embers of fireworks in your chest die,
and they die quickly.
Routine overshadows the ephemeron of the extraordinary,
the brief period of invincibility,
when you felt like you were capable of anything,
when you felt (like) God.
But now, you don’t know where the God in you went to,
and life is disappointing when devoid of explosions.

I regret your miraculous experience on your behalf.
It was like a too-bright light that obscured all the street lamps shining softly to guide you home.
It made you forget how to appreciate the complex beauty of a heartbeat,
or photosynthesis
or moonlight –
all the miracles that breathe quietly,
unaccompanied by your pastor’s screams of “Holy Ghost fire!”

The problem with miracles
is how easily they can make you forget
that you are one.
-Akotowaa

The Things They Don’t Tell Creatives

[Part 1 of 2]

1 of 4: You are faculty in a prestigious school. A student from this school has just won an international art competition. You do not hesitate, when an alumnus forwards it to you, to email this news to the whole school, to make it widely known that this prime achiever attended your institution and that he is something to be proud of. You have miraculously and deliberately forgotten the number of times the prefect of his house reported him to you for breaking lights-out, for always being somewhere drawing when he should have been sleeping. You punished him several times. You are not in favor of rule-breaking, and he was fond of breaking too many rules. In fact, and maybe no one ever told you this but… he was so creative that he channeled his dislike for you into satirical comics that featured you as a caricature and showed them to his friends, who all laughed upon seeing them. His creativity was disobedient. Now you praise him. He doesn’t show enough appreciation, though. Isn’t he an ungrateful soul?

2 of 4: There is a writer you used to teach primary school literature to, who just got published. “I taught her English in primary school,” you say to everyone who will listen. You try to ignore the slight pangs of shame that come with remembering how she was one of your worst students; a brilliant writer with so much potential, who, unfortunately, never followed the rules. Can you believe, as you taught your poetry classes, she zoned out on you completely, and instead of listening to you, she began to write her own poetry? The utter disrespect. And you also remember how she scored such low marks on all her essays because they were always too tangential; she rarely answered the question at hand. She didn’t understand, you surmised, that there was a time for creativity and a time for following instructions, and putting one’s writing to good use. You will probably never understand that her creativity was rather autonomous about when it showed up, and those “bad” essays weren’t her fault. She’s made the news now for making a breakthrough, writing the kind of novel that has never been written before. You say to yourself, “Yes, I always knew she was special,” and try to laugh off your cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t make sense that not all writers are good at literature.

3 of 4: There is a new voice on the music scene; he produces all his own stuff and is now an unlikely hit on the radio; unlikely because his music isn’t the kind of mainstream sound known for turning into radio hits. It’s unconventional but it’s fantastic. You used to give him piano lessons when he was a kid, but he was horrible at it. He found sight-reading boring, and was more interested in intuitively creating and recording than reading, or making tiny, perfect crotchet heads fit into blank manuscript staves. You always sent him off after class to practice the classical pieces in his music book, but he never did, always abandoning the attempt to learn Minuet in G in favor of messing with strange-sounding chords and composing his own stuff. He failed the same ABRSM exam twice before he finally convinced his parents to let him quit. You told him he was hopeless at music. He’s on top of international charts now. You listen to his music. It isn’t familiar. You don’t like it. You turn it off. You forget how the classics were not classics when they were alive; just folks crazy enough to make things uniquely enough or consistently enough to have their names be permanently attached to their styles of creation. But how can it be possible, that success is independent of following classical structures?

4 of 4: You run a creative enterprise and you have hired employees whose applications stood out to you because they could be proven to be extremely creative. Now, you have hired her, and she is only doing what she’s been tasked to do half the time. The rest of the time, she’s at the computers, designing logos and illustrations that are not related to work in the least. She always starts with good intentions, opening up a document for that poster you want designed. But then something strange happens, and she gets ideas that don’t fit the current design, and now she has to create a new document and put it there before she forgets; but then idea after idea keeps occurring and they all have to be documented, and she loses track of time, and before any of you know it, two hours have passed, and she’s barely done any of the work you asked for. You hired her because she was creative, but you didn’t want her to be creative like this. But the work needs to be done; people cannot be paid to play.

 

[Part 2 of 2]

They like to praise creatives, but they don’t like to have any on their hands, or in their families, or in their classrooms.

They don’t like to tell us that we are creatives. We find out anyway. Once we know, they don’t like to tell us how much of a struggle it will be to live life the way we are expected to. We find out sooner or later; we don’t particularly have a choice.

Ideas occur to us at the most random, usually very inopportune times. The world has to stop for us to write down the idea, or write the poem, or find a guitar immediately, or pull out a recording device because we really just need to find out how a certain harmony sounds and it can’t wait; we swear it can’t wait.

We have several problems so ingrained in our makeup that us “solving” them feels like it would kill some part of us. They don’t tell us, though, how often we will come close to destroying our own lives because we just couldn’t help it.

When we wake up in the middle of the night and are too excited about some idea to make our brains and heart rates quiet down enough to sleep, even though we have an appointment early the next morning.

When, the day before an exam, we cannot take ourselves away from a passion project long enough to do any substantial studying.

When we know we are failing a class, don’t understand a bloody thing and should probably listen to our professor’s lecture once – just this once – but we can’t because our fingers are drumming some beat on the wooden table, accompanying a melody that won’t stop playing in our heads, and we are panicking because we know we are sabotaging ourselves and we are freaking out because nothing can stop it.

They don’t like to tell us that “inspiration,” this strange, possibly over-romanticized and possibly misnamed or misunderstood thing, is not convenient at all. When they tell us that “we can draw inspiration from anything,” they forget to add that inspiration, many times, isn’t sought; it isn’t respectful; it assaults; it shows up and disrupts our lives. And they don’t tell us that the ones who told us how inspiration supposedly works will be annoyed when it hits us in their presence. Why, they might want to know, do you have to bend to its every whim, sitting there as they are talking to us as our eyes are glazed over and our ears shut down to their lectures: Why can’t you hold it in, the way you can hold your pee, and then activate it later? In fact, we would like to know the answer to that one as well.

They don’t like to tell us how obsessive we can be about projects that have no purpose and are certainly not necessary. The things that – although no one knows about them, that probably won’t be used for anything, that probably won’t even be usable – we cannot stop thinking about and really feel like we might explode if we don’t immediately create what every bodily cell and thought is commanding us to.

But most importantly, they don’t tell us that sometimes, we can pour out everything, whether intentionally or by irresistible compulsion, that we can suffer in self-sabotage and destruction, that we can spend ages and ages on creating something that wouldn’t leave us alone…they don’t tell us that despite all this, the result, nevertheless, is never even guaranteed to be good.

-Akotowaa

What We Mean When We Ask For An Artist’s Assistance

We give the artist an idea and tell her to bring it to life with creativity. We have not said what we really mean; it is not her creativity we desire to see; it is our own.

We have decided, for some reason, that what we want done, we cannot do ourselves – not because we find ourselves lacking in vision and imagination, but because we find ourselves lacking in technical know-how.

We have asked the artist for her skill, not her artistry. We have failed to understand that a handwritten note does not look like a typewritten one, and that if we wanted photocopies done, we should not have gone to a calligrapher.

The artist is not a machine; she infuses creativity into her interpretation of an idea, and this is not always a favorable trait to us.

The artist is not a mind-reader. We want her to be, though, and she knows. Our commissions come with our vague instructions, and when she asks for clarification, we tell her to get creative with it, that we don’t mind. We receive our products and realize that we minded after all, that we always had our own visions in our heads, which we never had the language to articulate. And we expected the artist to have seen our invisible thoughts, despite everything. We have seen that this is ineffective.

Now it is up to us to begin to expect art when we request an artist’s assistance, or come into consciousness of how badly we want artists to be reduced to mere technicians. We have another option: to become artists ourselves, so that we may get what we want, as we want it – but this path is the hardest to follow.

-Akotowaa

I was broken and I wrote and

I was broken and

I wrote and

I was pathetic about it, and

I whined, sniffed, groveled and

self-pitied my way to the last full-stop and

when it was done,

I found I had the stamina to keep going and

to want to live.

Nothing about my life changed, but

I had allowed myself to strip naked

in front of a mirror and

gave myself permission to stare, and

hate myself and

accept myself and

judge myself and

decide to love myself through it, not

in spite of it and

that made all the difference.

-Akotowaa