Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi–A Review

Described as “… trac[ing] three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becom[ing] a truly great American novel,” Homegoing is so much more than a chronology. Young writer Yaa Gyasi debuts her talent with an expansive and epic collection of intimate histories that build up to present times from the 18th century. These myriad stories come full circle in a brilliant conclusion that binds us to our past and to each other.

One of the characters—a Ghanian teacher, Yaw—says “… that is the problem of history… we must rely upon the words of others” (Gyasi 226). He tells his students how it is the voice of the winner that writes history, and how that version is always lacking due to the missing voices of the oppressed. Though their roles were vital in the creation of the story, their input is invalid to the teller.

This book gives voice to a whole host of characters. They are all worth hearing, all powerful and virile because they are human. The smallest life is treasured and painted as a complete portrait by Gyasi. Even though the author follows the lives of many people in two different family trees through multiple generations, each character is fully developed with fears, faults, strengths, and desires. Gyasi is a master at creating the sense that we owe everything in our lives (good and bad) to those that came before us, and that we have a monumental responsibility to those who will come after. We do not stand alone in our individuality, but rather, as a link in a chain reaction, for better or worse.

Yaa Gyasi approaches history the way that the word “history” implies: as a story. Rich in detail, her book teaches about ways of life that might be unfamiliar to many: farming and scavenging in Ghana, life as a person of color in antebellum Baltimore, the struggles of living in Harlem in the 1960s. Gyasi shows a side of history we are not often taught.

If the author simply told unspoken histories, the book would be a masterful work of research. However, Gyasi couples chronology with that spark that turns words into literature, a book into an art work. Even in her debut novel, Gyasi instills great life and music in her story. Not only are we affected by decisions others made in our pasts, but we are affected by their intentions, their hopes, their fears. Gyasi gives platforms to Ghanian magic and mysticism, baptist religion, and unconditional familial connections. These unexplainable forces are just as powerful as the tangible or visible results we experience from decisions made and actions taken around us.

Yaa Gyasi’s book is called “Homegoing,” not “homecoming.” This is not a story of return, but rather, of moving forward through time while learning about and growing from your roots.

 

Featured image via Amazon

Marathon

From the day you were born

it’s been a marathon.

You should have known

something was wrong.

You tasted the air,

but took as a dare

(curling your fingers)

the blazing, bare

beams of sunlight—

bright in your eyes.

Here, your first lesson,

you learned to care

—to close your eyes—

to survive, from birth,

to show your strength,

to prove your worth.

The marathon doesn’t slow

when you sleep at night.

Fears that are the birthright

of being alive

teem inside your mind

and try to drive a wedge

between possibilities

and dreams.

The marathon doesn’t slow,

even though potential

and your goals are within reach,

they just need some light,

a green thumb, and time

to grow.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/marathon/

via Daily Prompt: Marathon

 

Infinite

She didn’t believe in ghosts or an eternal afterlife. So you could imagine her confusion when she stood, surveying the end of the world, and heard voices. The sole survivor, she had been underground for almost a year, tunneling away from the burning, toxic surface. But one day, she looked across at the same dirt wall for the hundred thousandth time and thought, “What am I waiting for?”

Pushing open the heavy, titanium hatch, she emerged into a wasteland, still smoldering. Little, spitting pits of fire sent off streams of black smoke as far as she could see. The sky was red, the way she had learned that it was in the ancient days. She stood on the hot hatch in her tunic, arms crossed, and didn’t even realize how picturesque she was, alone, with dreadlocks and dressed in rags, breathing in poison at the end of the world.

She walked away from the hatch, looking for anything else on the flat plain. Her feet sank in layers of ash as thick as snow. It had been difficult to grow up a the end of time. Everything was virtual, intangible, and for the normal person like herself, pretty inconceivable. Birth and life in that era were accidents. The people who mattered had already been preserved in the hive mind thousands of years before. Maybe even now the hive mind was still functioning somewhere in a virtual reality, or another dimension, or some other method of existing that had never been explained to her.

Growing up as one of the sole consciousnesses with a body, she had been forced to be an existentialist. The hive mind was one, big, harmonious entity that flowed together like billions of layers of music–all the same song. Trudging about below, she was very aware of waking up each day and the sixteen or so hours of decisions she would have to make.

She hadn’t minded living alone, or struggling to find food in a society where not that many people ate anymore. She did these things and kept herself alive each day the way an animal does, never asking why. Whatever she took from the earth, she gave back. She saved away corn kernels, potato eyes, and apple seeds to plant; she grew trees, starting new forests each year; she couldn’t really do anything about the water she took, but somehow never felt bad about it. She knew that the ancients had made art, music, and recorded history, but the hive mind had no need for these things–it had transcended them. Sometimes she hummed a little to herself, but she could almost see the sounds floating away from her and falling to the ground.

When she had gone underground a year ago, it had been purely on instinct. Fight or flight, and you can’t fight ultimate destruction and desolation. Hiding deep in the earth with meager provisions and a slow drip of water from the ceiling sustained her for ten months, but those were running low. Planting apple trees in the spring from the seeds she had spit out in the autumn had somehow been fulfilling enough for most of her life, but now she was simply sitting in the dark, working her way through a finite source of food and water at the end of the world in the bottom of the earth.

Before the devastation, the hive mind society had not needed her. The world did not depend upon or even acknowledge her existence, but, heavy feet firmly planted, she had always had a strange sense of place. It was as if, supposing she had died years before, there would have been a hole shaped like her in the fabric of this time.

Above ground again, she walked through the fire and what she thought must be burning sulfur, a little bit curious now about what the end of the world looked like.

She arrived at the edge of a plateau or a cliff. It was the world the way the ancients described it: a flat piece of land with edges that cascaded away into nothingness. She was standing at the edge of ruin, emptiness and smoke and flames so far below, they might as well have been a distant star. She looked out through the decayed atmosphere into space.

There she heard the voices. It was as if the humming she had sent out over the years was reverberating, soft but strong and in a multitude of bodiless voices. Hot wind pushed her a step closer to the edge. She closed her eyes, listening, feeling the flying embers and thick air.

She knew that an old culture called the Norse had believed that time was cyclical; that when this world was destroyed, a new one was birthed out of its destruction, with a few gods and relics surviving to see the establishment of the new world. In this way, there was no beginning or end of time and earth, but only a circle.

Science, history, religion, and mythology had little place in her life, so she really couldn’t be sure, but she had a strong feeling that the world she had just lost must also have been born under fire and song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/infinite/

Gone

I’ve been taking lessons for a long time–gathering notes, making observations, keeping careful records. I guess because I’m so fastidious (perfectionist? maybe just a little bit, sometimes), something inside me innately sought out unsurpassed teachers for the job. I’ve always been able to surround myself with the best in the business, and I’ve never even had to try. It just happens.

Here I am, at series nineteen: the nineteenth teacher, fresh and ready for lesson two. I’m ready, too. Mental notebook jotting down every subtly, I don’t miss a thing. I’m an excellent student.

Though my teachers have come in all shapes and sizes–father, first-ever-best-friend, co-worker, even child-I-used-to-nanny–this new teacher is among a fan of similar five in the cohort of nineteen. This one is among the lovers. New and shiny, I can’t call him a boyfriend, no no, lover isn’t even correct. Crush, love interest, just-a-guy-I’m-talking-to.

The boy is textbook. Asking too many questions about me, brushing off my questions about him. Keeping the compliments and wine from the carafe on the marble bar flowing. I talk around my red lipstick, trying to not get it on my teeth. I’ve started wearing red lipstick all the time. Red is the color of power, passion, and no one wants to kiss you when you’re wearing it. They start thinking about you without it.

This boy is looking alternately among my eyes, the restaurant surroundings, and my mouth. He’s tilted his fine jaw down, just a bit, so he’s looking up at me somehow, even though he’s significantly taller than I am. One elbow resting on the bar, his fingers are in the air, loose and empty.

This is date two. Date one was a casual morning coffee. Date three will be at his place, he knows it. His knee is touching mine. There’s nothing offensive or sleazy about the guy, he’s probably fairly stand-up, with good grades, good part-time work, and a decent relationship with his mother.

He’ll probably be so proud of me, this, my nineteenth teacher. Arriving home after our date, I took off my makeup; chose a big, dark, infinite hole, one among eighteen; and walked through it to the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/gone/

via Daily Prompt: Gone

Interior

 

Somewhere deep

in the freezing dark,

buried behind stars,

comets, sparks, and

endless worlds

we’re here.

 

Huddled safe

beneath a thick

and sometimes nourishing

atmosphere–

dotted about–

between the seas

and mountains:

stand houses.

Or homes, rather,

there is a difference

between living in

an extension

of yourself and

mere existence.

You stand inside,

comfortable, at home,

no need to hide

or protect yourself

or guard your eyes.

Your mind

is yours to free.

 

Building nests behind

brave brick faces–

behind the walls

of spaces that we call

“home,”

that we made our own

with painted walls

and beds and art,

you stand,

hand to chest,

feeling the beating

of your heart

inside

pumping like a

rhythmic song.

Within the valves

and warm red walls

there is a cosmos

of your own

with never ending light,

galaxies and planets

still unknown.

Inside of you

there is a place,

dark and dense,

nebulas with

unseen colors,

infinite time,

brilliant space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/interior/

via Daily Prompt: Interior

Hope

Don’t get me wrong, she thought I like Emily Dickinson as much as the next person. But hope is no thing with feathers, and the last thing it does is perch in the soul. 

Two years in, Tam had stopped speaking aloud to herself, again, and for the final time. That–saying full sentences aloud to herself, asking herself questions, answering–had begun about a year into the trip. The first few months alone, she had been comfortable in the quiet. Then she had stumped her toe and said “Ouch!” but it had come out more like “Hruowf!” She had told herself it was from phlegm, but she started talking to herself out loud soon after. Someone in flight school had grown up as a military kid and told her that you knew you were really getting the hang of a new language when you started dreaming in that language. Tam’s dreams had been neon-blue, black, bright, and silent.

Emily Dickinson just knows something I don’t, I guess, Tam thought, as she went through her daily checks: support systems–still online and operating; filters–cleaned; comms–still down and no responses. Hope definitely doesn’t sing. No singing ‘…the tune without the words.’ There’s no wordless song, just wordlessness. 

Even though she had undergone all the tests and been pronounced “exceptionally psychologically sound: a prime candidate for a three year solo space mission,” and been through the entire year of seclusion on Earth, Tam could never have been completely prepared for where she was now. Firstly, the test on Earth–a year of encapsulation on a simulation-space craft underground–was just not the same as actually being alone in space for three years. On Tam’s ship Elpis, there was no big red ALERT button that would open the hatch in the ceiling to reveal sunlight and palm trees and a psychiatrist holding a sedative syringe.

Also, while on the underground simulation, emails and voice messages had always operated perfectly. Other mechanisms had failed, causing their appropriate amount of anxiety. The oxygen filter had gone out one night, sending the entire system into panic-mode. Red emergency lighting; a bone-shaking, guttural, MEEP MEEP MEEP had begun and not stopped until Tam had fixed the twisted blue line that she found in the second repair hatch she checked.

When communications went down in the Elpis, Tam had spent 32 hours awake checking and re-checking every hatch, line, power grid, switch, button, and process in the entire ship. Without communications, she not only was left completely alone mentally and emotionally, but also navigationally and mechanically. Any solar flare or debris impact came completely unexpected and affected her and her alone. Six months into the trip, when she had to change course to make way for that asteroid belt, she realized how little she and her command center had really known about her trajectory. They knew she wouldn’t hit a planet or star. That was about it. Everything else was too small to detect from Earth. At the time. Were all of the commanding officers in the space program Dickinson fans? They had been anticipating access to better and better technology as Tam’s mission had progressed. They were supposed to be able to help her in the future with problems they couldn’t understand at her launch by using uninvented tech that they knew was simply inevitable.

“Yet – never – in Extremity, [Hope] asked a crumb – of me.”  Fucking Dickinson. This was the part that really got to Tam. Well aren’t you just a lucky bitch, just little Miss Lucky-Luck Emily. The sun just smiles down on you. Maybe because you never got out from under it. Tam didn’t think Emily Dickinson had ever experienced an Extremity like being completely alone in the hostile vacuum of space. The comms had gone down four months into the three year flight. Tam still could have turned around.

It had been three years and four days since Tam had launched. This is Extremity, Emily, and it sure feels like Hope has been asking a hell of a lot out of me. 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/hopeful/

via Daily Prompt: Hopeful

Discover: Something New Today

We all lined up, white and fluffy like marshmallows waiting to be skewered for s’mores. The Director marched past, eyes forward as he handed out our clipboards. I looked down at mine. Tidy sheets of stark white paper; a small, brown pencil under the metal clamp at the top. As usual, my assignment began with Archive. The full title read Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By John Sterling In 1832.

The next day, we all lined up and received our clipboards. Mine read Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By Andrew Schell In 1835.

I traverse the centuries with Macomb under my arm all the way up to Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By Paula Rivers In 2087.

It took almost two months to archive the history of Macomb. This little town in Illinois, though it had been around since 1829, only had a population of 21,516 in 2014 when it began it’s slow decline into devastation, along with the rest of what used to be the United States of America. Macomb was unremarkable. But some people had written about it. My fellow marshmallows and myself are archivers, so we collect and keep every history ever written by anyone about anything. Paula Rivers was a local Macomb girl who wrote about her town a few times in her diary when she was eight years old. This is history and it must be kept, they tell us.

Though I didn’t choose it, I like my job. Looking back in time gives me a strange comfort, like the feeling you get when you come to graduation: standing on that stage watching the Director get closer and closer as he comes down the line. We weren’t marshmallows then, we wore sober black. His hands are full of documents. There’s no “I hope I can make enough money to support my family someday” or “I hope I can get a job I love with this degree” like the stories I read about in the archival material. As you stand there, you find comfort knowing that the scroll the Director is handing to you will assure you a job, money, a home, and a purpose until you die.

Archive: The History Of Pillows As Recorded By Agnär In 2 AD.

Then, one day, the Director with his dead-fish forward-facing stare hands me a clipboard. The heading is Discover: Something New. I look around. My fellow ‘mallows are starting to disperse. No one looks concerned or confused. They must have all received their normal “Archive:_____” clipboards.

Did this clipboard get lost and end up in my hands? This is surely someone else’s who works in some other department. This clipboard was certainly meant for someone who is trained to explore: an adventurer. Someone who wonders about what’s outside those doors; or under our skin; or deep in the darkest corners of our minds, the places that we’ve been conditioned to put mental vaults around with chains and bars and codes that no safe-cracker could ever figure. Someone who tries putting things together to see what they will do. Someone who likes to taste strange colored or textured foods from far away places. Someone who gets to listen to music.

I shouldn’t keep it.

 

 

 

 

 

Discover

via Daily Prompt: Discover

Cheat

There is a plethora of methods to cheat: cheating on your partner, cheating on a test, cheating on a diet. There are so many people you can let down when you cheat.

But what about cheating yourself?

Some people don’t struggle with this at all. I know some such people: they’re confidant in themselves—their choices and their abilities—the way that the rest of us can only envy. Due to some kind of allowance of independence since childhood, these go-getters do what they want and somehow what they want is always what’s right. They read the best books, listen to the best music, eat well, indulge in entertainment, have their dream job, and through it all: never appear to think twice about any of these daily decisions that scare the rest of us into passivity. What should I eat for dinner? It can’t be carbs, it can’t be fats, it must have protein, but I don’t like what I have in the fridge, I shouldn’t spend money, should I waste time cooking? PBJ again and pretend this never happened?

Those hyper-confidant friends are like sharks: they have to move to stay alive. Action is existence.

Conversations with ourselves like the one above can grow to consume our every move. This practice of neurotic forethought can be applied to anything and everything we do—and eventually construct a bubble of uncertainly around us. Then there we are, immobile. We gotta swim, friends!

Too often we get in our own way. Simple as that. There’s no divine or karmic roadblock that is preventing us from being happy—unless you consider yourself divine or karmic. If so, you’re on a whole other level, please leave.

Let’s just give ourselves a chance to be whole. I’ve found a few ways to get to a better place mentally to achieve this.

  1. Imagination. Regularly picture your life the way you want it. If you see yourself as a super-intellectual librarian, awesome! You have visions of yourself running a five-star restaurant in New York, cool! You feel your feet twitch as you picture a world-class ballet stage. Ah yeeuh! If you find yourself looking like a goddess and starring in a superhero scenario, bravo!
  2. Now picture ways to make these visions realities. You can’t develop superpowers. But you can be a tall, strong, beautiful, smart superhero to that neglected kindergartner in your class: you can create projects and activities that make that kid feel like he’s worth saving.

These are two pretty big mental adjustments, and each comes with a lot of baggage to sort through. So a few smaller, easier tips:

  1. Allow yourself the things that you see the people you admire doing:
    1. Manage your money well so you can visit coffee shops. Eventually, you’ll have found your signature drink that you can order with flair and finesse, like some kind of connoisseur.
    2. Manage your time well so you can get on Netflix and watch shows or documentaries; buy a gaming console and plunge into that whole world of virtual reality; make playlists on Spotify or iTunes; try lots of different podcasts until you find one that resonates with you, that you cannot start your morning without.
    3. Manage your weekends well so that you can travel, start a new hobby, volunteer, or host a get-together.

This is all easier said than done. Sitting down to start learning a new instrument, writing a blog, or any other thing you always thought you would like but never tried is the hardest part. There’s so much self-doubt, and adults give up really easily…

So here’s where the imagination comes back in. Grab that guitar, and imagine that you are Future-You: laid-back, confidant, and most of all—capable. Why is it so scary to give yourself things? Give yourself time to learn. Give yourself instruction, whether that’s getting another university degree, getting a tutor or teacher, or making a YouTube playlist of instructional videos. Give yourself grace: sure you can only play one chord, but could you do that yesterday? Give yourself treats–you made a DIY indoor herb garden and kept it alive for a week? Bust out the chocolate covered pretzels.

Just try stepping out of your own way once. It’s a lifelong challenge and an every-day obstacle, but after one time of seeing the path in front of you clearly without a roadblock that’s weirdly shaped just like you, you’ll be addicted to that freedom.

Don’t cheat yourself out of the reward of success.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/cheat/

via Daily Prompt: Cheat

Youth

When you were fourteen, you wanted to be sixteen: driving a car, getting a job, and–since you’d thus far been pretty sheltered–maybe finding another human who wanted to put their face on your face??

When you were sixteen you wanted to be eighteen: going off to university; doors to a new, smart, sexy, powerful you opening up around every corner; opportunity in the form of internships, study abroad, awards, applause, fingers tracing someone else’s naked skin danced just out of reach, but visible–seemingly.

When you stumbled out of that graduation ceremony, you glanced back. Just a quick look, checking to make sure that your past as you remembered it was still intact considering the person you are now, emerging from hallowed halls of learning with a diploma stating experience and capability in a field you never dreamed you would pursue. But as you look, quickly, just checking–you can’t turn back towards the future where that crushing press of responsibility and ignorance and wrinkles and loss emanates.

When you were twenty-five you wanted to be eighteen: fresh skin and wide eyes, seeing each new task and chore as a challenge. Still cultivating hope. Looking through a telescope of potential at an imminent career in which you were going to thrive.

When you tried to look back, at eighteen from twenty-five, to see if where you are now is where you had wanted to be, just checking, the telescope broke and shattered glass around your feet.

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Youth

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/youth/

Identifying Your Goals

 

You can be at any stage of life and still feel like you’re struggling to “live the dream.” Everyone around you seems to be fulfilling their destinies, while you’re barely taking steps in the right direction.

Do you even know what direction you’re going?

That’s what I want to talk about a bit in this post. I’ve been floating around for YEARS trying to live to the fullest, make an impact on those around me, create something unforgettable, basically: become a legend. Aaaand sometimes I feel like I’m in the exact same place as I was years ago.

As a youngling, it feels like you’re headed for greatness when you attend that bazillionth piano lesson, win first at the gymnastics tournament, or get all As again. There’s this vision that graduation from school will result in an automatic launch into a new life: a smart, put-together, attractive, successful you.

But—surprise—you have to construct your own future. Already in my 20s, I finally (finally!) realized that the world doesn’t know or care about you. It’s your responsibility to convince the world that it should invest in you and your goals.

Great, that all sounds good.

But what if you don’t even know what your goals are? Those piano lessons really led you to believe you’d be on a concert stage by now. So where the lights at, hm?

That’s kind of what happened to me. I grew up playing and performing music. I was making money playing music three years before I was legally allowed to get a “real” job. I started teaching music two years before I graduated highschool.

So heading off to university, obviously, I should play music, right? But for whom? What would be my job? It’s amazing to look back and realize how those things just didn’t concern me. I had always played music and always would.

But as reality set in and the inescapable truth that music school is ridiculously expensive and that music jobs that actually pay are ridiculously scarce, I began shifting my focus without even intending to.

It’s unbelievably difficult to look friends and family in the face and tell them that you’re transferring schools and doing a different degree from music. You can see them thinking “Ah, she’s giving up on her dreams….”

BUT AM I?

Music can now be a part of my life every day without becoming a chore. I can play the music I want when I want. If music were my job, I would have so many limitations and demands on my daily approach to music. If one’s goal is to play in a symphony, then those demands are welcome challenges, but my goals with music—when it really and truly came down to it—were to play music for small, casual audiences. I can do that with a different day job. In fact, I can do that even more effectively with a different day job than with a music day job.

Thus and finally, we arrive at the point of this post. How do you identify your goals? Some of the best advice I’ve been given along the way was “Don’t think about what you’re willing to do every day, think about what you’re willing to do to get to a place where you can do that thing every day.” In other words, don’t think: ‘I’m willing to be a freelance musician—working weird hours, performing and dealing with nerves.’ Instead, think, ‘I’m willing to learn to be an entrepreneur—computer skills, business management, customer service—I’m willing to spend hours practicing to record, compete, attend festivals, collaborate, and take lessons; play what’s listed on repertoire lists for auditions; and spend time and money building a studio of students, supplying them with music, theory books, maybe even instruments, and designing individual curricula for each of them.’ If you’re not willing to do those things, you need to think about what you ARE willing to do.

Something that took me a solid twenty-five years to understand is that, yeah, you want to be passionate about what you do for your day-job, but things like daily, weekly, and yearly schedule; pay; and benefits really do matter. If you are able to work 7:30-3:30 and have weekends off, make decent money with healthcare benefits, you have more time and money to follow your hobbies and passions in those off-hours. Hello, music.

In the end, structure your goals around your lifestyle rather than your passion. You WILL choose something to do every day that you are passionate about. You might not be particularly passionate about financing, but you’re passionate about people: so there you go, day-job in a bank—who would have thought? This lifestyle also allows you to pursue your vast amount of hobbies and interests in off-hours and on the weekends. There’s security in salary and benefits. You feel comfortable and excited to use your spare time to try new things, build on old skills, meet new people, travel. Whatever takes your fancy.

Make a list of the Dream You:

  1. Dream day job: something that fits my lifestyle in terms of hours, salary, benefits, preparation work, environment (office, classroom, lab, etc).
  2. Passions: hobbies that you used to love, new things you want to try, things that will benefit your Day Job, things that will make you feel powerful and invigorated.
  3. Daily goals that you want to make into habits: “Drink water, exercise,” “Make a schedule for cleaning and organizing the house regularly,” “Practice the Adobe Creative Cloud suite every day,” etc.

The little stories I told today are just a few vignettes, I realize, and this list is pretty sparse. There’s no step-by-step guide to YOUR life. Only you can fill in the blanks.