Making your way forward in a world on fire

Because you fucking must

I feel like this could be the title of every letter I send this year.

Only in June, I sent you What to do when you don't know what to do, and rather than anything changing significantly since then, it’s only intensified. We literally have days before the US decides who gets to alter the course of a large part of the world for the next four years, and one of those contenders is a racist authoritarian-in-waiting. Up in my homeland of Nigeria, today’s youth are organically finding our voice for the first time and have poured into the streets for 7 days straight, protesting police brutality with the #EndSARS campaign, so loudly that we have gotten global voices like TD Jakes and Diddy from all the way over the pond to scream in solidarity with us.

But these two are only the tips of my iceberg. Your iceberg could be more dented by other things happening this same week, like the US government trying to push forward a puppet judge who could roll back years-long gender equity advancements, while selectively censoring racial and gender discourse and education via executive order, while targeting international student visas, while you wait in the longest lines ever to exercise your civic right of voting. This, plus the daily requirement of putting food on your table (I, for one, am deep into copy edits for Son of the Storm—*whispers* currently on preorder!—while wrangling 45 undergrads who are just as scared of their present and future).

Most days, I—and I know you, too—feel like the dog from this meme:

Why 'This Is Fine' Is the Meme This Year Deserves - The New York Times

The question: If this barrage is relentless, how do we continue?

The answer: Because we fucking must.

I don’t excuse my language here. Not really. In reading poet Maggie Smith’s new book, Keep Moving, and finding hope in those little quotes, I realised one thing: we owe ourselves the duty of staying the course, by any means necessary. (Okay, not any means, but you get the gist.) The difficult takes a long time, they say, and the impossible even longer. I swear I’m not about to drop out in the middle of this race for better, and neither should you. We deserve a world that makes us all better people, and fighting for it day-by-day is simply a part of that journey. As Swami Vivekananda puts it: The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong. And get strong, we must.

But strong doesn’t always mean what we’re thinking. Sometimes, it lies up there with the things we think: soft. My use of the word “making” in this title is not accidental, for instance. As an author, moving forward despite this barrage requires creating, continuing to examine and be critical of my current existence and making the futures and alternate existences I desire. It requires me hanging on to weekend soccer games and keeping up with Sunday episodes of Lovecraft Country; from stepping out into the streets in protest to scheduling a one-on-one with a flailing student; from buying that lemon tea that makes me feel ensconced in warmth to insisting on wearing a mask even when no one around me is. Making my way forward in these little steps is strength, and mostly, it is sufficient.

So it is, for you too: when you buy a plant or adopt a pet; donate to a cause or volunteer to improve something; examine your biases or educate yourself and step outside of your comfort zone to have difficult conversations. When you eat that whole jar of ice-cream or buy that ergonomic chair just so you can have a better day. When you repaint the sitting room and cook that chicken curry. When you do these things, you are making your way forward. And therein lies the strength you need to continue.

The world will always be on fire. And though the size of that fire will differ, depending, it will always exist, and you will always need to be strong enough to make your way forward. Here’s to hoping you can find that strength in the small things.

Because you fucking must.