Tacked up on the wall next to me is a page torn from a shiny news magazine. Every week the glossy comes with our paper. Its bread and butter these days seems to be the opinion pieces. Mostly I ignore it, but that can be a lonely business so occasionally I make an effort to flip through. The border of the sheet I ripped out is a bit jagged. The image on the advertisement (it is an ad, after all, though posing as benevolent philanthropy) is a cracked-open egg. The viscid yolk and its runny cushion have been airbrushed clean out of the picture. Carefully nested between the austere shell halves is a proud announcement for financial support for emerging creative voices. Monied sponsors are hatching ideas to cultivate content from developing nations aka emerging markets aka untapped buyers to nourish then exploit [their terms].
Writers and artists and filmmakers in these regions, as in all regions, want to earn a living – of course they do – and Oppenheimer Funds, in conjunction with the Financial Times, wishes to contribute words to this discourse like “investor” and “advancement.” They will use the award model as the means to identify and develop this extraordinary talent they will then showcase to the world.
Gazing at the ad, I contemplate the force that self-censorship will exert on the creative work. Would Oppenheimer, for example, ever choose to fiscally reward a documentary on the life and state-sponsored hanging death of Nigerian activist Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa? Though Royal Dutch Shell eventually paid out some 15.5 million USD for its “alleged” role in his murder, surely the emergers would consider the source of the money before submitting their novels and films.
Or – does owning the stage render all content de facto impuissant? Twenty first century colonialism is so soft, so pristine. Bereft of monarchs and sloppy protein. We only wish to help the artists tell their stories the exploiters say. Yes we admit this will strengthen their ability to buy in. This is why it is so right. How we demonstrate in an unstable environment our foresight.
I hang pictures of products like this veil of goodwill around me in my slanted-roof writing studio. I do this to remind myself that as a self-interested producer I must create my own demand. I’m aware I’ve already bought in, even if I typically consider myself “broke.” My boyfriend-partner-not-husband-but-we-have a mortgage-together-guy peeks his head in every now and then. He’s a good one for prompting me to get an outside opinion on my thinking.
Most mornings, once partner goes off to an office and I, staying behind, have had proper coffee and something to eat (in that order), I blur into the background most everything in my physical environment by opening windows on the internet. There are too many too easy choices to make: go-to’s, turn-offs, de rigueur surprises. I click through and click through and at some point decide it’s time to find something to settle on. No one counts on this anymore. The settling. Deep dives for online reading are measured in minutes and can be charted by the familiar paragraphs. Here comes this reference, now that revelation. It’s a given that within this hypermilieu short form lists have become all the rage. Some of the best read long reads are artful, comforting laments over the loss of the artful lament.
(Disclosure: Sometimes I write lists for the internet. If you read this, then read that. These are the ten best things that are most like this other thing that you liked. I might be too flawed an algorithm generator because few follow my suggestions as far as I can tell, but I continue to pump them out as uncollected data anyway.)
At one of the fastest moving platforms – conversation like stock trading – I try to remember to hesitate before hopping on with a comment, but I drink a solid dark roast so it’s likely I will be inspired to blurt via my keyboard. Occasionally I even move my lips while I’m typing. This rush of activity often induces a late morning drop-off, so I must prepare to take the hit. The readying involves naming blank documents and bookmarking articles to intentionally forget about in the afternoon. I know my habits, which does nothing to change me. Self-knowledge hasn’t changed others either, it seems. Internet linking was going to globalize our connections, but studies show that nature is still nature on the web. A one-frame graphic rendering the geodigital at a website whose URL I don’t remember shows this with lines drawn across a map. There’s insular regional density online. Satellites huddling in the stars.
On the weekend my partner has extra work to do so I plan an afternoon outing for myself – a getaway. I am to walk around a nearby downtown with no overt agenda other than to go wherever the doors lead. My feet in the actual arcade. I amble about then stop to reflect on my trip as a flâneuse in a shop window. I think about Walter Benjamin fleeing Nazi persecution and his successful suicide at the border. Would he have been saved if he’d waited? We’ll never know. When my focus shifts so that I am seeing through the glass rather than in it, I realize I am in front of a sparsely stocked shop featuring African goods on its modest shelves. I go inside.
There is no one in the store as I move carefully about. I feel as if I’m trespassing. It’s curious I am left alone so long. I quietly pick up wood carvings of idols and miniature statues then try to put them back as I found them. After what seems like ten but is probably more like three minutes, the door opens and in comes a boisterous man, almost shouting. Hello! Welcome! Sorry to be away when you got here! As if I was expected, a friend. He introduces himself warmly, we shake hands. I come to find out he is the proprietor and has expatriated himself to the US from Senegal. I want to know more about this, about him. The why. The when. Who and how often. Does the word happy have anything to do with here or then? I don’t think I am enough. Happy. How American of me. He seems to be. I’m endowing the moment with fast moving frames. I say nothing. I am not not happy. It’s not about me. I notice the man shifting on his feet. I see only him. The two of us. In this store in this encounter. Nothing else. Everything else. I move toward the drums.
Ah! These are very good. He speaks his English with a French accent and demonstrates the different sizes. One between his knees, standing. Another under his elbow. The man makes the drums, or rather he strings the skins on the wooden bases, both of which he imports from back home. When he wants to let his suppliers make a little more money he gets the drums already assembled. He shows me the tones from center to rim using his palms and the sides of his thumbs. I don’t have much in my pockets, but give him three dollars for incense cones and promise to return.
On the way home, I become invested in the idea of sending my partner to the store to buy a drum. Well, I would pay for the drum, a long ago proffered present, but he would be the one to form a relationship for us through the drumming. I don’t really have the money for this, but I am able to imagine layaway. I will go back to the store every month or three weeks with ten to twenty dollars I should be saving for my share of the winter heat. I walk in the house in the middle of sentences about reciprocity. Partner looks at me strangely. I translate. I met our drum maker! You can even go every now and then for lessons. Join circles. Get help with tuning the instrument in humid weather. Isn’t this great?
Rightfully, partner feels put upon by the nature of my gifting. My generosity has an agenda, he knows me better. He politely, but firmly, refuses when I don’t let up about my plan at the kitchen island. I was so certain when I was in the store that drumming there would enter our lives I say with a hangdog face. But I fail to persuade him. And clearly I have failed so far in my vision for the future, but that’s not entirely accurate. Not yet.
So far I have broken my promise by not returning to the store. I haven’t even walked down that street. Instead I trek into the late fall woods – “Clear my head.” “Away from it all.” – and back out again. While hiking, I think about the shopkeep from Senegal. I know he doesn’t need me. I don’t, actually, know this. I do think of a title for the next document I will open that reminds me of our meeting. When I get back to my computer I will try to fill it with words for an item to appear between ads. If all goes well, I can surprise my partner with the drum for Christmas.