Daily Archives: June 17, 2010

15 Years

Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the first date between Krissy and myself, the day before that the 16th anniversary of my marriage proposal, and today, as it happens, is the 15th anniversary of our wedding. Yes, that’s right, we have a three day anniversary festival every year. It makes anniversaries easier to remember, if nothing else.

If you’ve been reading along for the last couple of days, you’ve probably gotten the (correct) intimation that even after fifteen (or sixteen, or seventeen) years, I am still insensibly in love with my wife and just about unbearably happy to be married to her every day. This is, of course, entirely true. What this elides, however — what this sort of lightly skips over — is that this happiness does not just exist; it was to be created and built and maintained. Six years ago, when I was giving marriage advice to others, I wrote: “Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.” This is something I still think is true. Human relationships are highly entropic; you have to keep putting energy into them or they fall apart. Marriages are especially entropic because they operate at such a high level of commitment, and yet ironically I think lots of people assume that once achieved, a marriage takes care of itself.

It doesn’t. But marriage isn’t an object or a thing or a pet with opposable thumbs and the ability to open Tupperware to feed itself while you’re out doing something else. It’s a system, a process, a relationship. It’s not solid state; it’s got lots of moving parts. You have to tend to it or it jams up and stops functioning. So: Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.

Work is not a bad thing, mind you. Work can be joyful and pleasurable and a thing which illuminates and gives meaning to every corner of your life. Work can be a very good thing. What makes it work is simply that has to be done.

I’m not going to give you a list of “work tips” because I think a) that’d be a little smug of me and b) different marriages are made up of different people and what works for us isn’t necessarily going to work for them. But there is one thing Krissy and I do which I think does have universal application, so allow me to recommend it to you. And it is:

Krissy and I say “I love you” to each other. A lot. As in, it’s typically the first thing we say to each other in the morning, and the last thing we say to each other in the evening, and the thing that gets worked into the conversation during the rest of the day. We say it because we mean it, and we often also say it because we mean something else by it. Depending on context, “I love you” means “I love you,” or “I need your help with this thing I’m doing” or “I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’ve asked you to take out the trash” or “thank you” or “I miss you” or “I am saying these words to remind myself that I do in fact love you because right now what I really want to do is SMOTHER YOU TO DEATH WITH THIS PILLOW” or “You should get me ice cream” or “You are a good parent” or “Damn you are HAWT” or any number of other things.

And you ask, why don’t you just say those things instead of “I love you”? For one reason, because generally speaking we could say those things to just about anyone (when, you know, appropriate), but “I love you” is reserved away for the two of us, so it’s a reminder of what we mean to each other. For another reason, in those times that we’re frustrated or exasperated or angry or tired, it lets the other of us know that even though we are frustrated or exasperated or angry or tired, that doesn’t change the fact that we love them. For another reason, as long as you mean it, saying or hearing those words never gets old. For another reason, saying the words gives you an opportunity to actually remember that you do love the other person — it’s another opportunity to cherish them in your heart, even (especially) when it’s an “I love you” of the “take out the trash, already” variety. And for a final reason, hey, you know what? We just plain like saying it to each other, and that’s all the excuse we need.

Saying “I love you” isn’t in itself a sufficient act of marriage work; words have to be backed up by deeds. Even so, I think saying “I love you” can be both performative and sustaining, the mortar between the bricks in the edifice of a married life. I’d say without hesitation that each of us telling the other that we love them, as often as we tell each other, has mattered to our marriage. It seems a simple and maybe even silly thing, but, I don’t know. If you’re too complex and serious to tell your spouse that you love them, early and often, I wish you joy in your marriage nonetheless. It works for us, we’ll keep doing it, and I recommend it to everyone, for every day of their marriage and life together.

In fact, go do it now. If you’re married (and even if you’re not), seek out that person whom you love and who loves you, and tell them that you love them. Pretty sure they’ll be happy that you said it. Which will make you happy. Which will make Krissy and me happy, on this our 15th wedding anniversary.

The Big Idea: Nnedi Okorafor

What do spiders have to do with stories? For most of us, not much of anything, unless the spider gets into the book you’re reading, in which case it might get very physically involved in the story when you squish it with the book. But for Nnedi Okorafor, whose latest novel Who Fears Death is receiving breathtakingly good reviews (“A fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review), spiders came to mean something very important during the writing of the novel — something integral to storytelling. Here’s how Okorafor stopped worrying and learned to love the spiders… or, well, if not love them, at least learned to appreciate them metaphorically.

NNEDI OKORAFOR:

I’m terrified of spiders.

Something about them makes me jumpy. Of course, because they are sneaky and tricksy, this is reason for them to always be present in my life. Wherever I go, I bring spiders. They get in my car. Land on my computer. Scramble across my desk when I’m teaching a class (my students enjoyed my reaction that day). There was the large pink spider (with an ample hairy backside) that lived in the vent of my car. One day, it had the audacity to come out and stand on my dashboard while I was speeding down the highway. While in Nigeria, there was the legendary spider that was the size of a dinner plate. This cousin of Shelob was hanging out in a hallway corner in the house.

When I was deep in the writing of Who Fears Death, a spider kept appearing in the same spot in my bedroom. Spiders prefer shadowy places, but this black wolf spider came out in the open. It would stand in front of my bed. I smashed it with a book twice (I don’t normally kill creatures…but this spider was huge and in my bedroom), I sprayed it with Raid, I sprayed the spot with Spider Killer (this is supposed to keep spiders away for 6 months!), I had my brother capture it and put it outside once. Each time, it returned to stand on that same spot (or some other spider took its place).

The spider returned six times over several weeks. By the sixth visit, I left it alone. I had a feeling that I was being visited and that it had something to do with what I was writing. In West African culture, spiders tend to represent creativity and storytelling. That recurring (or shall I say reincarnating) spider in my bedroom might have been sent by the famous storytelling Ghanaian spider named Anansi.

Or maybe it wasn’t Anansi at all. Maybe it was the lesser-known but equally formidable Nigerian story-spinning spider named Udide Okwanka. He is the supreme spider artist who toils beneath the ground, in the ekwuru (the spirit world). He possesses the power to gather fragments of any object and shape them into a new object. Maybe Udide Okwanka had gifts to impart to me, writing tools, perhaps. Sounds like magical realist mumbo jumbo, doesn’t it? Imagine that! But see, this is my Big Idea—The Story.

Who Fears Death is a novel that delves into several charged issues, but first and foremost, it seeks to be a grand display of storytelling. I should love spiders, for I love stories. For me, stories snap the world into focus, add new dimensions, hybridize old ones, and present me with a new vocabulary of smells and sounds. More than once in my life, stories have kept me sane. Who Fears Death is my homage to the oral tradition of my Igbo heritage and the writing tradition of my Western upbringing. It is no coincidence that I have written an oral story in book form.

We begin with a woman named Onyesonwu (which means “Who Fears Death” in Igbo) sitting in jail because of something terrible that she has done. She will be executed in two days. She doesn’t have much time but she must speak her story. If she does not, who will? The individual documenting her words will type them onto a laptop computer. From oral telling to written document.

Onyesonwu’s story is an intense weave. It deals with dark issues including genocide, rape, female circumcision, child soldiers and the rough tight constraints of fate. Nevertheless, the story bathes in light, too. There is the truest love, deep friendship, hope, valor, plenty of consensual sex (*blush*), and there is great adventure. And yes, there are strange spiders in this tale, too.

Who Fears Death is NOT a “look how bad Africa is and doesn’t that make you feel better about what you have?” kind of novel. Nor is it a romanticized view of Africa. It is “real” fiction. I wove this tale from the fragments of stories I gathered from family, friends, from within, from the atmosphere, from underground. This is a vision of a part of “Africa” from the inside that could not simply be explained or documented in a textbook, biography, or traditional African novel. I could only present this vision by using the spider’s tools, a.k.a. The Story.

In Birds of Heaven, Nigerian author Ben Okri wrote:

“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibility. They work with the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read and tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” (34)

How close his description of stories is to that of spiders. And no matter how bothered I am by spiders, I have to admit I’m fascinated and rather obsessed with them, too. And they seem to feel the same way about me. Go figure.

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Who Fears Death: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Nnedi Okorafor’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.