Coincidental Inspiration by Way of Danger and Perspectives: Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Graphite on paper by way of the digital world

Still of day 302

The Creative Meanderings #7: Coincidental Inspiration by Way of Danger and Perspectives

 …art is like a coincidence, a place for perspectives to weave themselves together, to grow open in their difference.

For the past 6,868 days or so, I’ve been breathing. In the past 6,868 days or so, most inspiration has come from coincidences. From those moments when unrelated elements of the world weave themselves together, without control or expectation. From those moments when perspectives collide and the world begins to make a bit of sense. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s came into my life when one day a rather small book with a mostly purple dust jacket found its way to me. This book was Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. A childhood friend wrote Adichie asking how to raise her new daughter to be a feminist. And the answers range everywhere from the beginning of the first suggestion, “Be a full person.”, to the beginning of the last suggestion,

“Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice, but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.”

After her words to Ijeawele, I quickly turned to Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, then placed Americanah on the top of my reading list. Reading her stories was like ingesting nutrients, my brain chewed and absorbed the writing. With each word, the world I knew grew. 

Almost one year ago, I took a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) from HarvardX. “Religion, Conflict and Peace” approached cultural studies and religious literacy not though doctrines of religions and cultures, but through perspectives. The class began by encouraging students to contemplate our “situatedness”, a term inspired by historian Donna Haraway’s “situated knowledges”. “Situatedness” is the concept that knowledge and perspectives, arise out of particular social/historical contexts and therefore represent particular rather than universally applicable claims.” 

In other words, a perspective or piece of knowledge is not universal, instead it belongs only to a person, situation, culture. What is universal are the culminations of our perspectives and knowledges. To illustrate the importance of diversity in perspective, “Religion, Conflict and Peace” encouraged us to watch Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”. This is where the first flicker of coincidence began, rooted in correlation of the familiar. 

Growing up in Nigeria, coming to the United States for university, Adichie observed singular stories that people from one culture had about people from another. Her ability to weave stories, kept me enthralled, and kept my eyes and mind open. Her talk concludes by expressing that, 

“when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Then the coincidence flourished, weeks after I watched “The Danger of a Single Story”, as I walked past our house’s living room and found my family watching to Chimamanda’s TED Talk. I had not shared the talk with them, we had all come to it on our own, by way of our own stories and perspectives.

And so I found myself watching the talk over again, only this time, it didn’t just spark awareness, but inspiration. Inspiration that sticks with me as I observe the world, the past, the present, and what humans just might become. 

In this world, so incredibly full of people, we seem to forget that we each have a perspective. Sometimes we find ourselves communicating with each other, as people, as cultures, by asserting perspectives onto one another. And sometimes we seem to forget that no once else can, or ever will, share the same perspective as us, no matter how hard we may try.

Yet, through art and story, our perspectives have a chance to connect. Through words and images we have the chance to perceive bits of each other’s minds and feelings, cultures and hopes. In this way art is like a coincidence, a place for perspectives to weave themselves together, to grow open in their difference. 

Day 302 and Adichie, photo credit: Mamadi Doumbouya

Creative Prompt: How Many Perspectives in a Moment?

  1. Find a public space full of at least three people, name the space (i.e. “park”, “restaurant”, “library”).
  2. On a piece of paper, count how many people are in the space.
  3. On the same piece of paper, record in verbs or quick sketches of what the space is and what people may be doing in the space (example: a park, trees, walking, meeting, running, fighting, picnicing, crying).
  4. Take 20 minutes to try and make up a different perspective each person could have about their expereince in the space (example: what is the person on the bench thinking? Or why is the baby in the stroller crying?).
  5. Now, represent the space only with the made up perspectives through a list of words or descriptive images untill the traditional descriptions of the space disappear.
  6. Share your observation. If you share via Instagram or other social media sites use the hashtag #cogneyezant.